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How to ask someone’s nationality

Speaking about citizenship is part of self introduction.
Victor Kengo Umeuchi: “Zhānglǎoshī”, I bring some pictures of my favourite. Do you know him?
ZHANG Yanli: Yeah. Tā shì Qiáobùsī.
Victor Kengo Umeuchi: Nà, lǎoshī, tā shì nǎguórén?
ZHANG Yanli: Tā shì Měiguórén.
“guó” means “country”, such as “Zhōngguó”,”Měiguó”, “Yīngguó”, “Hánguó”.
But not every country’s name has to include the character “guó”, sometimes it can be omitted. For example, “Rìběn”, “Yìndù”.
When we put “rén” after a country’s name, it then refers to the people of this country, such as “Zhōngguórén”, “Měiguórén”, “Yīngguórén”, “Hánguórén”.
In the question “Tā shì nǎguórén?”, “nǎ” means “which”. So “nǎguórén” is used to ask someone’s nationality. Let’s do some practice. Tā shì nǎguórén? Tā shì Zhōngguórén. Tā shì nǎguórén? Tā shì Měiguórén. Nǐ shì nǎguórén?
Victor Kengo Umeuchi: “Zhānglǎoshī”, here’s a couple. Do you know them?
ZHANG Yanli: Bù, wǒ bù zhīdào
Victor-Kengo Umeuchi: They are my dearest in the world.
ZHANG Yanli: Are they your parents?
Victor-Kengo Umeuchi: Yeah.
ZHANG Yanli: Nǐbàba shì Rìběnrén ma?
Victor Kengo Umeuchi: Duì,tā shì Rìběnrén.
ZHANG Yanli: Nǐmāma shì Fǎguórén ma?
Victor Kengo Umeuchi: Bù, tā shì éluósīrén.
ZHANG Yanli: Oh. Did you notice that those questions all ended with the word “ma”? When “ma” is added to the end of a declarative sentence, the sentence becomes a question and the “ma” is a question marker used for a general yes or no question. For example, “Nǐ shì Zhōngguórén ma?” The answer to the question with “ma” can be affirmative or negative. If the answer is affirmative, we say “shì/duì”. “Duì” just means “correct” or “right”, which is more casual. For example, “Duì, wǒ shì Zhōngguórén.”
If the answer is negative we say, “bù”. For example, “Bù, wǒ búshì Zhōngguórén.”
Now let’s answer the questions. Nǐ shì lǎoshī ma? Nǐ shì Měiguórén ma?
Victor Kengo Umeuchi: Zhānglǎoshī, nín shì Shànghǎirén ma?
ZHANG Yanli: Bù, wǒ búshì Shànghǎirén.
Victor Kengo Umeuchi: Nà nín shì nǎlirén?
ZHANG Yanli: Wǒshì Lánzhōurén. Lanzhou is the capital of Gansu Privince, which is situated along the Silk Road. Do you notice that the answers for “Nǐ shì nǎguórén?” and “Nǐ shì nǎlirén?” are different? When Jiànwǔ asked me, “Nǐ shì nǎlirén?” I answered with my hometown, “Wǒ shì Lánzhōurén.” So if you have known somebody’s nationality, and you want to know his or her hometown, you may say, “Nǐ shì nǎlǐrén?”
Do you still remember the other two Chinese teachers? If you want to know their nationalities and hometowns you may just say, “Nǐ shì nǎguórén?” “Nǐ shì nǎlǐrén?”

Speaking about citizenship is part of self-introduction. First, let’s take a look at the following words about countries and citizenship.


“你是哪国人?(Nǐ shì nǎ guó rén?)” is used for asking someone’s nationality. “哪(nǎ)” means “which.” “国(guó)” means “country.” “人(rén)” refers to “people.”

Here is an example of how to answer this question.

  • 你是哪国人? (Nǐ shì nǎ guó rén?)
  • 我是中国人。(Wǒ shì Zhōngguó rén.)
If you have known somebody’s nationality and you want to know his or her hometown, you may ask “你是哪里人?(Nǐ shì nǎli rén?)”.
  • 你是哪里人? (Nǐ shì nǎli rén?)
  • 我是北京人。 (Wǒ shì Běijīng rén.)

“你是北京人吗? (Nǐ shì Běijīng rén ma?)” is a general yes/no question. “吗(ma)” is a question marker for this kind of question.

If the answer is affirmative, we say “是(shì)/对(duì)”, “对(duì)” just means “correct” or “right” which is more casual sometimes. If the answer is negative, we say “不(bù)”.

If you still have any difficulties about speaking your country and citizenship, please let us know by giving us comments.

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