There are definitely many questions about the usage (or lack thereof) of か in casual speech. Although it is relatively common in anime, it sounds harsh, maybe rude in everyday casual speech.

Alright, understood. My question then is: when do we use it? I know of embedded questions, such as:


"do you know what they bought"

But I'm not interested in those. I know of 何か and 誰か as distinct words, but I'm not interested in those either. I think I've heard things like:


Where the か is in a quoted clause, and I am interested in those, as well as things like:


Which I understand can mean something like "as if I could do it".

Basically, besides embedded questions, when might we actually use か in casual speech?

Edit: although sundowner's answer is helpful, I'd also like to hear maybe a more informal description, with examples, of when casual questions use か, since sundowner's answer only says that questions can take か.

  • Also if the sentences I've presented are really odd, please do correct me. Like specifically the first two since I've presented these as "probably correct".
    – Riolku
    Apr 28, 2022 at 0:49
  • Did you check a dictionary? E.g. 終助詞 definition at dictionary.goo.ne.jp/word/%E3%81%8B/#jn-34860
    – sundowner
    Apr 28, 2022 at 1:03
  • I don't think telling people to read japanese dictionary entries is in general the best idea, given that most people including myself don't have the level of japanese required to get a nuanced understanding from a dictionary entry in the language they are learning.
    – Riolku
    Apr 28, 2022 at 1:42
  • maybe helpful. quora.com/…
    – sundowner
    Apr 28, 2022 at 2:22
  • I guess casual question simply drops か. So you are asking when a question uses か AND sounds casual?
    – sundowner
    Apr 28, 2022 at 2:58

1 Answer 1


OK, foreigners' grammar does not seem to focus much on each particle per se. This is more or less a translation of the dictionary definition linked in the comment.

Sentence-ending か could mean:

  1. Question marker
  2. Question marker, with implied negative.
  • どうしてそんなことしなければならないのか Why on earth do I have to do it (I don't think I have to).
  1. When denying the interlocutor's assumption
  • そんなこと知るか How am I supposed to know that (= I don't know!)
  1. Let's
  • ご飯食べようか Let's eat
  1. Urging (mostly appears as ないか)
  • さっさと宿題やらないか Why not start working on your homework (The speaker is urging to do the homework)
  1. Surprise, exclamation.
  • 誰かと思ったら君だったか I was wondering who it was, and ah, it was you.

The distinction between 2 and 3 is a bit fuzzy.

か in かとおもう is still a question marker, but practically it means maybe. E.g. your sentence means I thought maybe the girl liked me, but.

できるか could be a simple question (rising tone) or means 3 (decreasing tone, usually stressed). Particularly in a manga, it is a common scene where A tells B to do something impossible and B says できるか!, which means How could I?

Hopefully the following clarifies your question.

Consider the following

  1. きのう何を食べましたか?
  2. きのう何(を)食べました?
  3. きのう何(を)食べた?
  4. きのう何を食べたか?

As you say in the comment, 4 is weird. But note 2 is possible in ます form. Also in 2 and 3, を tends to be omitted, which is possible in 1 as well.

On the other hand, all of the following are possible.

  1. きのう学校に行きましたか?
  2. きのう学校に行きました?
  3. きのう学校に行った?
  4. きのう学校に行ったか?

5-7 are common with decreasing politeness. 8 is possible, but sounds strongly masculine, like from someone superior in some sense. I don't know a proper English word, but in this case for example a father can say 8 to his child.

One possible explanation is that non-ます-form + か sounds masculine, and in case of wh-question like 4, it sounds almost military. For example, an officer could say to subordinates この非常事態を何と心得ているか What do you think of this emergency?

  • "foreigners' grammar does not seem to focus much on each particle per se" sorry, what do you mean by this?
    – Riolku
    Apr 28, 2022 at 2:28
  • @Riolku I mean I can't find online article that lists meanings of particles, particle by particle. Most online grammars seem to be explaining by sentence form.
    – sundowner
    Apr 28, 2022 at 2:29
  • Hm ok, thanks. For the invitation usage, is it always with volitional? Could we write デートに行かないか? Sounds wrong to me.
    – Riolku
    Apr 28, 2022 at 2:33
  • デートに行かないか is perfectly fine for inviting, but technically it is more of a question. It should be similar to Don't we go out together? which is semantically an invitation.
    – sundowner
    Apr 28, 2022 at 2:36
  • I think you mean "why don't we go out together". Can you compare 行かないか with just 行かない?
    – Riolku
    Apr 28, 2022 at 2:38

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