The Japanese question particle, か (ka)

By | February 16, 2014

Many of the Japanese particles are not easily understood by foreigners studying the language, but fortunately there are a few that are quite simple to grasp and use. か、sometimes called the question particle, is one of these (along with も).

As you might expect, this particle is sometimes used when asking a question. It is placed at the end of a sentence, somewhat like a question mark.

  • お酒は好きですか?
  • Do you like sake?

However, you have to be careful because this usage is mainly used when speaking in polite Japanese (desu/masu form). A beginner might try to create a question in a similar way using the following sentence

  • ビールは好きか?
  • You like beer?

While the meaning would still be understandable, using the か particle in this fashion carries with a different nuance. It has a bit of a harsh connotation and sounds like you are an older man, a feeling which could be called おっさんくさい. Depending on who you are and who are are speaking to, this might be appropriate, but odds are it will convey an undesired undertone. When using non-polite Japanese, you would usually just omit the question particle in cases like this (ビールは好き?). However, there are some expressions like そうか which are natural to say and don’t carry the same connotation (or at least not as strongly).

Another very common usage of this particle is an extension of the above meaning. It can be used for embedding a question inside a sentence. One great thing about Japanese is that when embedding a question, you don’t have to mix the order of the words around. Generally, you can just insert the question as-is without changing the word order. For example,

  • 今日、何をしたい?
  • What would you like to do today?
  • 今日何をしたいか分からない.
  • I don’t know what I would like to do today.

か can also be used to describe selecting between two alternatives, like the word ‘or’ in English.

  • チョコレートかアイスか、どっちにする?
  • Which will you have, chocolate or ice cream?

Sometimes the second か (after アイス in this example) can be omitted.

A very useful expression is かどうか, which can be used to discuss doing something or its opposite.

  • 日本がフロリダほど寒いかどうか分からない。
  • I don’t know if Japan is as cold as Florida (or not).

Occasionally you will see the literal opposite used instead, as in 寒いか寒くないか, but it’s relatively rare.

A final common use is by combining the question particle with な, which is used when wondering something to yourself or expressing ‘maybe’. This is often used with the の particle in the combination のかな, as shown here:

  • 今日、雨がふるのかな。。。
  • I wonder if it will rain today…

When you want to express wondering about something you will do, you can use the しよう form (“let’s”) but without the の。

  • 今日どこに行こうかな…
  • Where shall I go today…

When expressing a similar sentiment with polite Japanese, the particle combination かね is used more frequently.

  • その映画は面白いと聞きましたけど、実際どうですかね。
  • I heard that movie is interesting, but I wonder if thats really true. (literally: “… but I wonder actually how it is.”)

Image credit: The featured image of a question mark was downloaded from

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2 thoughts on “The Japanese question particle, か (ka)

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