Daily Mandarin Lesson: Using "When" in Chinese

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The Mandarin Chinese phrase for "when" is 甚麼時候, or 什么时候 in simplified form. This is an important Chinese phrase to know in order to schedule meetings for business or leisure.


The traditional way to write "when" in Chinese is 甚麼時候. You will see this in Hong Kong or Taiwan. The phrase can also be written as 什么时候. This is the simplified version, which can be found in Mainland China.

The first two characters 甚麼 / 什么 (shénme) mean "what.” The last two characters 時候 (shí hou) mean “time,” or “length of time.”

Put together, 甚麼 时候 / 什么时候 literally means "what time." However, "when" is a more correct translation of the phrase. If you want to ask "what time is it?" you would usually say: 现在几点了(xiàn zài jǐ diǎn le)?


The phrase is made up of 4 characters: 甚麼時候 / 什么时候. 甚 / 什 is pronounced "shén," which is in the 2nd tone. The pinyin for 麼 / 么 is "me," which is unaccented and thus has no tone. The pinyin for 時 / 时 is "shí," which is in the 2nd tone. Finally, 候 is pronounced as "hou." This character is also unaccented. Thus, in terms of tones, 甚麼時候 / 什么时候 can also be written as shen2 me shi 2 hou.

Sentence Examples 

Nǐ shénme shíhou qù Běijīng?
When are you going to Beijing?
Tā shénme shíhou yào lái?
When is he coming?

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Su, Qiu Gui. "Daily Mandarin Lesson: Using "When" in Chinese." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/shenme-shihou-asking-when-2278710. Su, Qiu Gui. (2023, April 5). Daily Mandarin Lesson: Using "When" in Chinese. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/shenme-shihou-asking-when-2278710 Su, Qiu Gui. "Daily Mandarin Lesson: Using "When" in Chinese." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/shenme-shihou-asking-when-2278710 (accessed June 6, 2023).