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Vietnamese question structure

<h1>How to ask it Vietnamese</h1>

Xin chào các bạn! Hello everyone!

Unlike many other Vietnamese Duolingan (new word I made) here, I don't take Vietnamese course to check the quality, so I don't know if there is enough detailed references on lessons, but I have read the comments. As I was browsing comments on lessons in Vietnamese courses, I see that many people here are still confused by Vietnamese question structure (as well as many other parts of Vietnamese language). I don't decline that, Vietnamese is a hard language, and I'd say it is among the hardest (in common languages only, of courses). Therefore, I'll start posting references on Vietnamese grammar (maybe some other part).


The so-called Wh-question in Vietnamese can be divided into 10 types (way too many): Who: Ai What Cái gì (also: Cây gì, Con gì, ...) What does... do: Làm gì How: (như) thế nào Where: (Ở) đâu When: Khi nào (also: Lúc nào, bao giờ, ...) How (instrumental): Bằng gì (also: ...như thế nào, Làm thế nào) Why (reason): Tại sao (also: Vì sao, Vì lý do gì, ...) Why (purpose), or to be more precise, What for: Để làm gì Which: [CLASSIFIER] nào

To make a Wh-question in Vietnamese, you simply replace the word that answer the question.

Cô ấy là Hồng. --> Cô ấy là ai?
Cô ấy là Hồng. --> Ai là Hồng?

Đó là một cái cây. --> Đó là ?
Anh ấy là/làm giáo viên. --> Anh ấy là/làm gì? (occupation is treated as an object)

Nó đang học bài. --> Nó đang làm gì?

Khu rừng này rất rộng. --> Khu rừng này (như) thế nào?

Tôi đang ở trường. --> Bạn đang ở đâu?

Ngày mai trời mưa. --> Khi nào trời mưa?

Tôi đến trường bằng xe đạp. --> Bạn đến trường bằng gì?/Bạn đến trường như thế nào/Làm thế nào bạn đến trường?
(Note that these Wh-words must be in the places)

Tôi không thích Văn (bởi/tại) vì nó quá khó. --> Vì sao/Tại sao/Sao bạn không thích Văn?
(Note that the Wh-word in this type should be at the beginning)

Tôi nói để bạn biết. --> Tại sao bạn nói?/Bạn nói để làm gì?
Tôi viết tắt (để) cho nhanh. --> Tại sao bạn viết tắt?/Bạn viết tắt để làm gì?

Tôi đến từ Việt Nam. --> Bạn đến từ nước nào?/ Bạn đến từ đâu?
Tôi thích quả bóng này. --> Bạn thích quả bóng nào?
Tôi thích thịt luộc. --> Bạn thích món nào?

Or questions

Although there are two synonyms for "or", hay and hoặc, but only hay is used in Or questions. It is replaced at exactly the same place as in statements.
Đây là mít hoặc sầu riêng. --> Đây là mít hay (là) sầu riêng?
(This is jackfruit or durian. --> Is this jackfruit or durian?)

Yes/No questions

There are mainly two ways to form a Yes/no question in Vietnamese:

Way 1: Adding à/(phải) không (questionous word) to the end of the sentence

A positive word (có) can be place before the verb if there is no adverb (called phó từ in Vietnamese): đang, đã, sẽ, rất, chưa, ... before the verb.

Bạn (có) biết về Ngô Bảo Châu không?
Bạn (có) thích đọc Harry Potter không?
Bạn (có) đi chơi không? (NOTE: different from Bạn đi chơi à/phải không?)
Bạn chưa ăn sáng à/phải không? (NOT Bạn có chưa ăn sáng à?)
Bạn (có) phải làm bài thuyết trình không?

The difference between à, phải không and không here:
không can only be used for thích (like), yêu (love), biết (know), phải (must), nên (should), cần (need) or else it will be the questions of choice. The former sentence in the third line means "Do you like to go out?", while the latter means "Are you going out?".
phải không can be preceded with a comma, while the other two cannot. à and phải không is more like tag question in English. Let's take the last sentence: If you use à or phải không, it means you think it is more likely that the other person have to do the presentation. There is also a word "á", which is filled up with surprise. "Bạn biết tiếng Pháp á?" would mean "You know French, really?".

Way 2: Just make a rising tone at the end of the question, like what you do in English.

Nothing to note.

E.g. Bạn biết tiếng Pháp?

Negative questions

If you don't like beer, how would you answer this:
Don't you like beer?
You'd say "No", right?

In Vietnamese, that's different. Bạn thích bia à? = Do you like beer? (Normal question) If you like it: "Có" is unnatural here. You should say " Ừ" (for those who are equal or younger than you) or "Vâng" (for those who are older than you).
If you don't like it: "Không"

Bạn không thích bia à? = Don't you like beer? (Negative question, note that you can't use "không" here as a questionous word)
If you like it: "Có", or even "Có chứ", but you can also say "Không"
If you don't like it: "Ừ"/"Vâng" is preferred here, but you can also say "Không"

Look, Vietnamese is ambiguous. I agree. Even a native speaker sometimes need to ask again if someone say "Không". To be clear, you can say "Không, có chứ" if you like or "Không, tôi không thích" if you don't. If you just say "Không", it is more likely that you will be assumed to like it than not to like it.

Let me know if you don't know the meaning of the example sentences, or if there are any typos.

Tell me in comments if you'd like me to write references on anything.

Next: Vietnamese conjunctions

Also see: Classifiers

April 21, 2017



Thank you. Could you write a reference on Vietnamese conjunctions?


I'm glad that it helped you. Sure, I will write one about conjunctions.

[deactivated user]

    Thanks for being so active on the discussion boards. I will definitely rewrite these notes when I take the question lessons in tieng Viet.


    I'm Vietnamese and this post is still informative to me :)) Thanks for systematizing and sharing it here. I haven't really thought about these before.

    One thing I'd like to say. The answer to "Don't you like beer" is equally as confusing in English. If you say "yes", it could either mean "yes, I like beer" or "yes, your assumption is correct" (yes, I don't like beer) and it has come up in movies and jokes numerous times. So "có chứ!" is equivalent to "yes, I do!".

    I've also heard a lot of "có" as the answer instead of "ừ", at least in Southern Vietnam so it's not that unnatural. If i have to translate then "có" = "yes" and "ừ" = "yup". It's also common in phrases like "dạ có" or "có ạ" ("dạ" & "ạ" used to address a senior, "ạ" can also make the sentence more polite). There are many other alternatives but we'll leave that out for now.

    Anyhow, it's very interesting to learn my own language from a different perspective like this


    For the negative questions part: When someone asks "Bạn không thích bia à?" and you want to answer that you like beer, we don't say "Không" but "Đâu!" with a rising intonation. At least in a Northen Vietnamese's perspective :)


    This post is really helpful and informative. Thank you


    Very detailed and useful, thank you so much sir/madam


    can you please change everything to the literal translations of the vietnamese sentences. It can be very confusing using the proper english translation as the answer for a vietnamese sentence especially when they arent similar in structure


    As a former language teacher I have been asked this sort of question before. Whilst I sympathise with your frustration, IMO it is much better especially in the early days to understand sentences than the components of the sentences(words / grammar etc). It is helpful to learn grammar, however it will be a long time before you understand enough grammar to cope with every scenario and it is important to be able to understand meaning even when you do not fully understand the underlying grammar. Can I suggest that if you really do want to have a literal translation (which can help as it allows you to learn the grammar independantly from the vocabulary) that your request becomes can you add literal translations rather than replace the existing translations. I personally would find the approach of using literal translations instead of accurate translations highly confusing.


    Huy--or someone else--please answer this question about 'khi nào'.

    When doing the exercises we often are presented with a choice between answering something like this:

    Khi nào bạn sẽ đi đến sở thú?

    Or writing:

    Bạn sẽ đi đến sở thú khi nào?

    And for the life of me I can't figure out why one is being zapped and the other is accepted. Recently, in passes through completed material, I am noticing that some of these seemingly arbitrary answers are being redone to accept both constructions.

    But anything that one can offer as an explanation about this usage will be most appreciated.


    When 'khi nào' is at the start of the question, it's asking about the future. When it's at the end of the sentence, it's asking about the past.

    I can't remember if Duolingo ever taught that specifically, probably not, so it probably won't help you navigate the arbitrariness of DL, but that's how's it's used in the real world :)


    So to make sure I'm understanding this when 'khi nao' is at the start, it can be translated as "when will...?" but when it's at the end 'khi nao' is translated as "when did...?"


    Yep, pretty sure that's the general rule. It'd be good to hear from someone native about it


    They're both correct. In casual conversation you can use both interchangeably. Ruairidhmac made a good point but you have to remove "sẽ" (will). The questions should be

    "Khi nào bạn (đi) đến sở thú?" (when will you arrive at the zoo?)


    "Bạn (đi) đến sở thú khi nào?" (when did you arrive at the zoo?)


    wow. you are the best. good kamma, good man.

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