Question Markers: か and の

Question Marker の

Last time, you learned how the explanatory のだ (んだ) works like “これがゆきなんだ.” The functions are to express reasons, interpretation, discovery, summary (rewording), and preliminary remarks. This can then be utilized for question markers. In this lesson, you will learn how to make interrogative sentences with the question markers か and の.

Interrogative Sentences with Question Markers か and の

Interrogative sentences can be divided into two categories. The first is Open Question, which has an unlimited number of answers and generally means wh-question, e.g. “What fruit do you like?” The second is Closed Question, which has only two answers: yes or no, e.g. “Do you like fruit?” We will tackle closed questions first and open questions in the next lesson.

Plain Question Marker か

This is a basic question maker and thus you can use this without much considerations. The function is just to make questions. Let’s check the conjugations.

(Casual) Nouns and Na-adjectives: to Replace だ with ?

Is Tanaka-san a university student?
Do [you] like dogs?

(Casual) I-adjectives and Verbs: to Attach ?

Are big dogs scary [for you]?
As for tomorrow, will [you] study?

(Polite) All Elements: to Attach か?


In interrogative sentences, the last letter is always pronounced with rising intonation. Some people actually use different forms from the above depending on their dialects or age. However, the intonation remains the same, thus you can figure out whether it’s an interrogative sentence or not by paying attention to the last sounds. 


(Casual) なかさんは大学生だいがくせい?↑
(Polite) なかさんは大学生だいがくせいですか?↑


(Dialect) なかさんは大学生だいがくせいです?↑
(Literary Style) なかさんは大学生だいがくせいか?↑

Connotative Question Marker の

The origin of the connotative question marker の comes from the explanatory のだ. Although the functions don’t match exactly, the basic idea remains the same. First, take a look at the conjugation.

(Casual) Nouns and Na-adjectives: To Replace だ with なの?


(Casual) I-adjectives and Verbs: To Attach の?


(Polite) All Elements: To Attach か? to the Polite Form of のだ


In colloquial expressions, の becomes ん as we learned that のだ is formal and preferred in writing while んだ is casual and preferred in speaking. Here we show you examples with ん. And also, just like the plain question marker か, the last letter is always pronounced with rising intonation.


(Casual) なかさんは大学生だいがくせいなの?↑
(Polite) なかさんは大学生だいがくせいなんですか?↑


(Dialect) なかさんは大学生だいがくせいなん?↑
(Dialect) なかさんは大学生だいがくせいなんです?↑
(Literary Style) なかさんは大学生だいがくせいなのか?↑

Connotation: To Seek Clarification

The connotation that the の has is to seek clarification based on background contexts, while the か doesn’t require any context. With the following examples, the speaker tries to clarify something.

なかさんは大学生だいがくせいなの / なんですか
Is Tanaka-san a university student?
*Said when you came to think he might be a university student after having conversations.
いぬき(なの / なんですか
Do [you] like dogs?
*Said when you saw that someone looked very happy while watching dogs.
明日あしたべんきょうする( / んですか
As for tomorrow, will [you] study?
*Said when you saw that someone neglected studying today.


When you bump into your friend, you ask “Will [you] go to the festival with me?”

一緒いっしょにおまつりに(く / きますか)?
=> Natural
一緒いっしょにおまつりにく(の / んですか)?
=> Unnatural

The first example sounds making invitation. However, the second one sounds something like “Are you sure that we will go to the festival together?” It’s obvious that you should not use the second one for inviting. Be careful. The plain question marker か allows you to just ask yes or no while the connotative question marker の allows you to clarify something that you doubt about. You may sometimes be rude if you suddenly try to clarify something without contexts.


  1. The question marker か expresses plain questions.
  2. The question marker の seeks clarification.
  3. The last letter in interrogative sentences is pronounced with rising intonation.

Again, contexts are the key to choosing a proper question marker. In practice, native speakers often use both of them and so you should also try to use both while looking at contexts. Now, you know how to make closed questions. Next, you will learn one of the important concepts for making open question: demonstratives.