What Are You Doing? Using the Phrase “干吗?”

learn to use the Chinese phrase “干吗?”

One of the hardest parts of learning the Chinese language is understanding the various meanings of the same word, and then knowing how and when to throw them into a conversation. Today we will take a look at a simple, yet versatile phrase: “干吗? (gànmá?)”
First off, let’s break down the phrase character by character. “干(gàn)” means “to do” while”吗(ma)” is a particle added at the end of sentences to denote a question, as in “你好吗?(nǐhǎoma?)” for “How are you?” and “可以吗?(kěyǐma?)” meaning “Is it ok?”
When combined, the characters “干吗?(gànmá?)” can generally take on two meanings. The first usage of “干吗?(gànmá?)” is relatively straightforward, as you might guess from the direct translation of the two characters. It can be used to ask about what someone is doing at the moment or what he or she wants to do.


Nǐ zài gànmá?
你  在 干吗?
What are you doing?

Zhèshì wǒde diànnǎo, nǐxiǎng gànmá?
这是    我的   电脑,    你想     干吗?
This is my computer, what do you want to do with it?

As you may have previously learned, “什么(shénme)” is also used to turn a statement into a question. Unlike “吗(ma),” which is always placed at the end of the sentence, “什么(shénme)” is placed directly following the verb. “干(gàn)” can also be used together with “什么(shénme),” as in the phrase “What’s he doing?” “他在干什么?(Tā zài gàn shénme)?” which has the same meaning as “他在干吗(Tā zài gànmá)?”

Now let’s take a look at how to use the phrase “干吗?(gànmá)” in a fun way. This usage of the phrase takes on a more expressive meaning, something like “Why “or “Whatever for?”


Nǐ gànmá chuān zhème duō?
你  干吗     穿       这么    多?
Why are you wearing so much clothing?

Zhāng Míng: Nǐ gànmá bù gēn wǒ yìqǐ chīfàn?
张        明:  你  干吗    不  跟   我 一起 吃饭?
Zhang Ming: Why aren’t you having dinner with me?

Líng Ling: Wǒ yào qù yīyuàn kàn wǒ nǎinai.
玲    玲:  我   要  去  医院   看   我   奶奶。
Ling Ling: I have to go to the hospital to visit my grandma.

Do you think you have a good idea of how to correctly use today’s phrases? Still not sure? Don’t worry, the following will you help you better understand.

HSK 3 quiz

1. All of the following are ways to say “What are you doing?” except _____.
A. 你干吗?(Nǐ gànmá?)
B. 你去哪?(Nǐ qùnǎ?)
C. 你干什么?(Nǐ gàn shénme?)

2. You can say “你干吗这么做?” when _____.
A. You want to ask if someone is on his or her way to work.
B. You want to ask the correct way to do something.
C. You want to ask someone why he or she doing this
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