I'm going through Genki, and for questions, it gives the example,

りゅうがくせいです (I am an international student) can be turned into a question by adding ka to the end.

りゅうがくせいですか (Are you an international student?)

But then it starts saying that you use nan desu ka to make a question, like in,

せんこうはなんですか (What is your major?)

So when do I use na desu ka, or just ka, or just nan, or what?

1 Answer 1


I couldn't quickly find a duplicate, but I wanted to address what Genki had to say (my emphasis):

It's very easy to form questions in Japanese. Basically, all you need to do is add ka at the end of a statement.

Ryuugakusee desu.
(I am) an international student.

Ryuugakusee desu ka.
(Are you) an international student?

It goes on to point out that this was a "yes/no" question. In other words, you can take a basic statement (that would be the answer to a yes/no question) and turn it into a question by adding か at the end.

It then follows with

Question sentences may also contain a "question word" like nan (what). In this lesson, we learn how to ask, and answer, questions using the following question words: nanji (what time), nansai (how old), nannensee (what year in school).

せんこうは  なんですか。
Senkoo wa  nan desu ka
What is your major?

(せんこうは)   えいごです。
(Senkoo wa)   eego desu.
(My major) is English.

In other words, when you want to ask WH-question like what?, you use a question word like the above. Notice that the first question was not a WH-question. So a WH-word was not used.

For context, you will later learn to drop certain words in casual speech, like です and か in questions.

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