One of the most useful questions words is なに or なん. Both are pronunciations of the kanji 何 and both mean "what". So, how do you know which pronunciation to use?

Quick and Dirty なん: Pronounce as なん if it comes before a word beginning with T, D, or N. For the most part everything else is pronounced なに. If this sounds complicated, just learn examples and you'll eventually get it.

For Example:

(なん)ですか? What is it?
[It is なん because it is before a "D" sound.]
英語(えいご)では、(なん)というのですか? How do you say that in English?
[It is なん because it is before a "T" sound.]

This is a good rule, but here are a few other "rules" that might be more concrete.


Pronounce as なに if it is by itself or before a particle. Also pronounce it as なに if before a noun (except when asking what day of the week).

(なに)?! What?! [By itself.]
(なに)()きですか。 What do you like? [Before a particle.]
何色(なにいろ)()きですか。 What color do you like? [Before a noun.]

(なに)もほしくないです。 (I) don't want anything. [Before a particle.]


なん: Pronounce as なん before counters, when asking the day of the week (the exception above).

何回(なんかい) how many times [Before a counter.]
何枚(なんまい) how many pages (of paper) [Before a counter.]
何曜日(なんようび) what day of the week [The exception before a noun.]

Other Forms:

(なに)も nothing; not any [Takes a negative verb.]
  ->  (なに)()かりません。 I don't understand anything.

(なに)か something
  ->  (なに)()みますか? Would you like something to drink?
(なん)でも anything; whatever; any
  ->  (なん)でもいいです。 Anything is fine.

(なん)で Why? What for?
  -> (なん)()なかったの?Why didn't you come?

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