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A common confusion students of Chinese face is “DuoShao” versus “ShenMe”.
A student asks:
In lesson 5 you say “nin de dian hua hao ma shi duo shao” for what is your telephone number. Why isnt it “nin de dian hua hao ma shi shenme” (lit: your telephone number is what). why do you use “how much” in place of “what”?
Sometimes, Chinese is very logical, and the rule is that whenever you are inquiring about the number/quantity , you should use DuōShǎo, like in the example you’ve mentioned. Also, translating things directly from English won’t always work, since you can encounter many “false friends”.
什么 ShénMe is used for asking about the object of the sentence, and you could use it like this:
Nín De DiànHuà Shì ShénMe PáiZi? “PáiZi” means “brand”.
What brand is your phone?
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of QQ, it’s a Chinese instant messenger. A QQ ID is a series of numbers, therefore you’d ask:
Nín De QQ (HàoMǎ) Shì DuōShǎo？
What’s your QQ username/number?
But, if you are asking for a Skype ID, you’d say
Nín Skype De YòngHùMíng Shì ShénMe? ” YòngHùMíng” means “username”.
What is your Skype username?