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"Who are they?"


November 18, 2017



The word order is not very clear to me. In particular why is it different from the previous very similar questions were the "who" was placed at the start of the sentence?

Thanks in advance!


I'm also a learner and not that knowledgeable in Chinese. What I say may be a total nonsense. Someone can confirm or correct this.

I think that's because "they" is a pronoun. My native language is Korean which is surprisingly completely different from Chinese, but same thing applies to Korean.

When the pronoun is on the left hand side, this pronoun refers something that was mentioned before. It gets determined first, so "who" that appears later isn't awkward.

When the pronoun is on the right hand side, it's a bit confusing because it's unclear what "they" refers to. The sentence like that in Korean is unnatural and sounds like "who did something to them" and it feels like "who" and "they" are different people, but still that sounds wrong or incomplete.

If it's not a pronoun, either "who is your father" or "your father is who" both works because "your father" is already fixed or determined.

Again, this may be a total nonsense.


Someone please help


The question word goes in the same place in the sentence that the answer information will go.


Yet to be confirmed by a native speaker but I think it has to do with words placement in a sentence. You will find some nice introduction here : https://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/Chinese_word_order

My guess is that it is linked to the subject of the sentence. In "Who's your dad?" 谁是你的爸爸,the subject is actually "who" 谁 while the rest of the sentence is a complement giving us information about the subject (the subject is your dad).

In the current sentence, the question is "who are they?" as in "concerning the subject 'they', what do we know?". Hence the subject, placed first in the sentence is "they" 他们 while the question part is placed after the subject it is about. 他们是谁?


Why is the word order for this one 他们是谁,whereas "Who's your dad?" is 谁是你的爸爸?


Is it the case that if if 'who 谁' is placed at the end of a sentence that automatically renders it a question hence the omission of 吗 "ma" whereas if it is placed at the start, it typically needs the 吗 ? at the end OR is it when a personal subject(mother/dad) is being mentioned than the who 谁 is placed at the beginning of the question sentence as opposed to the the more general 'they 他们 '?


吗 is for yes/no questions, so that wouldn't apply here anyway. But for the placement, I think it has to do with where a noun would have been placed, had it played the same grammatical role. So compare the sentence "他们是老师" and the question"他们是谁? ".
But I'm still a learner myself, so someone more knowledgeable should weigh in.


I might be wrong but I heard someone say the first case is asking a general, "who is that?" so thats the order. The 2nd scenario is like when there is a group of men and you are being asked to identify which one is your father, so thats why the "who" comes first. It may be situational.


I tried "她们是谁", can someone explain why it's wrong, or confirm that it's right so it can be reported in the future


The answer is probably looking for general "they" rather than feminine "they". The word bank should not have contained both choices or should have accepted either choice.

Interestingly, the subsequent question I received was to translate "Are they in the UK" with feminine they as the only word bank answer.


Why is 谁 written "shui" instead of "shéi* in Duo's right answer answer and hints?


Yes. turns declarative statements (e.g., "他们是The Beatles") into yes/no questions (e.g., "他们是The Beatles吗")?

In this example, indicates that the sentence is already a question, so you don't need 吗.

If you're curious, here is a link that explains 吗 in greater detail.


I keep forgetting this is an awkward sentence. I try to remember that in Chinese you ask the equivalent of "They are who?" Instead of "Who are they?" :(


When mistaken, the correct answer show "shui" instead of "shei"?


Shui is also correct but shei is said to be more commonly used nowdays. It may be a regional thing so just research it a bit, but I have come across this before. Using shui is apparently a bit outdated. That what I learned.

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