In this lesson, we will discover how to say the question word “which” in Japanese. This lesson will be about the “which” used in questions. Although “which” may at times correspond to other things in Japanese, the words you will learn in this lesson cover the fundamental meaning of “which.”
Curriculum Note: This is a new lesson. Once 50 new lessons are made along with it, a new level will be introduced and all lessons will receive updated numbers to reflect these additions.
There are three primary words that mean “which” in Japanese: dore どれ, dochira どちら, and dotchi どっち. Generally speaking, they are distinguished in the following manner.
Dore どれ: Used for when pointing out from three or more things.
Dochira どちら: Used when pointing out from two things.
Dotchi どっち: Used when casually point out from two things.
Kagawa-san no kaban wa dore desu ka?
Which is Mr. Kagawa’s bag/briefcase?
Sentence Note: In Ex. 1, there are most likely more than two bags/briefcases present.
Dochira ga hoshii desu ka?
Which do you want?
Sentence Note: In Ex. 2, only two options are likely being offered.
Nihongo wo benkyō shihajimeru mae wa, dochira ga chūgokugo no kyōkasho, nihongo no kyōkasho ka ga wakaranakatta deshō.
Before studying Japanese, I probably wouldn’t have figured out which is the Chinese textbook and which is the Japanese textbook.
Kono kaiwa de wa, dotchi ga ii ka wakarimasen.
I don’t know which to use in this conversation.
Sentence Note: Although dotchi どっち is used colloquially, it still works well in polite speech. However, in formal situations, it gets completely replaced with dochira どちら.
Arukōru no yowai osake wa dore desu ka?
Which drinks are low in alcohol?
What we have seen thus far are the forms for “which” when used as a noun. When used adjectivally, you will need to change dore どれ to dono どの and add the particle no の to dochira どちら and dotchi どっち.
Dono michi wo erabu ka mayotte imasu.
I’m wavering on which path to choose.
[Dono/dochira no] toshokan ni henkyaku shite mo ii n deshō ka?
Which library would it be alright to return (it) to?
Dono eki de orireba ii desu ka?
Which station should I get off at?
Dono chiimu wo ōen shiteru no?
Which team do you support?
Dono kamoku wo sentaku suru ka totemo nayandemasu.
I’m really worried about which subjects to choose.
(Watashi ni wa) dono iro ga ichiban niau to omoimasu?
Which color(s) do you think fits me the best?
Kekkyoku, dore ni sureba ii no?
In the end, which should I go with?
Dore ni shiyō ka mayotte imasu.
I’m wavering on which to go with.
Grammar Note: Shiyō しよう is the volitional form of suru する (to do). If you were to remove what’s after ka from the sentence, you would get a sentence that equates to “which shall I go with?”
Dore no どれの is seldom possible, but it does exist. For instance, it can be seen in dore no koto どれのこと. In this case, no koto のこと is added to emphasize ‘what’ is being discussed.
Roguin aidii tte dore no koto wo sasu n desu ka?
Which thing does login ID indicate?
Dore no koto wo itte iru no ka wakarimasen.
I don’t know which thing (he/she) is talking about.
Aside from the truly basic sentences we’ve seen thus far, somewhat more grammar needs to be introduced when listing the actual things in a sentence with “which.” Because the underlying grammar is same across three ‘which’ words, we’ll use the English word ‘which’ in discussing the grammar patterns used with them.
The basic grammatical pattern used when listing the actual things ‘which’ may refer to is “X to とY (to と) de wa では.” When listing things with the particle toと , it was once the case that Y was always marked by to と. In making comparisons, this archaic grammar remains relatively used. Even when there are three or more elements, in which case (to) de wa （と）では would be after the final element, it is still often used.
Domein wa, dotto komu to dotto netto (to) de wa dotchi ga ii desu ka?
For a domain, between “.com” and “.net,” which is good?
Jogingu wa, asa to yoru de wa dotchi ga ii no?
As for jogging, which is best, morning or night?
Sentence Note: The lack of to と before de wa では is largely due to the sentence being more casual. After all, the use of to と after the second element is optional and indicative of older grammar.
Taijū mo shinchō mo asa to yoru (to) de wa kanarazu chigaimasu.
Both one’s weight and one’s height always differ between day and night.
Sentence Note: Although “which” is not in the sentence, (to) de wa （と）では is still used to create the phrase “between…and…”
(Dōshitsu to) besshitsu to dotchi ga ii?
(Between same room or) separate rooms, which is better?
Sentence Note: Whenever the first element is deemed to be obvious, it may be omitted from the sentence. In this example, the only thing that could reasonably be compared with besshitsu 別室 (separate room) is the phrase for “same room,” which is dōshitsu 同室. Though rather unrelated, also note that the “which” in “which is” is neither a noun nor an adjective, meaning it doesn’t correspond to the “which” phrases in this lesson.
When listing three or more phrases, you can use no naka de (wa) の中で（は）instead of (to) de wa （と）では. The difference in nuance by using the word naka 中 is that the translation will usually include “among” rather than “between.”
Inu to neko to, usage [(to)/no naka] de wa, dore ga ichiban suki desu ka?
Between/among dogs, cats, and rabbits, which do you like the most?
Grammar Note: The use of the particle wa は is to emphasize the choice being made. In effect, it highlights the pool of choices. In the next sentence, wa は is not used. The reason for this is because the four seasons are quite finite and there is no need to add special emphasis to the options at hand. However, adding wa は would not make the sentence odd or ungrammatical.
Haru, natsu, aki, fuyu no naka de [dore/dochira] no kisetsu ga ichiban o-suki desu ka?
Among spring, summer, autumn, and winter, which season do you like the most?
Grammar Note: Although dochira どちら is almost always used in situations in which there are only two things ‘which’ may refer to, it is sometimes treated as the formal form of dore どれ. This becomes apparent when clearly formal elements are introduced in the sentence. Here, we see that the prefix o- お～ is added to suki da 好きだ (to like) to create an honorific expression.
Monsuto to Pazudora tte dotchi ga suki?
Between Monster Strike and Puzzle & Dragon, which do you like?
Grammar Note: The second/last to と may actually be seen as tte って. As we know, this is not the only instance in which to と can be replaced by tte って. Its use here is to lessen the old-fashioned nature of marking the second element.
Phrase Note: Monster Strike and Puzzle & Dragon are two of the most popular mobile app games in Japan. Colloquially, they are referred to by their contractions as is demonstrated in Ex. 22.
The use of to と to mark the second/last element, as mentioned, is grammatically unnecessary. This is also the case when one or both elements are nominalized phrases. When it’s missing, you’ll see that the nominalized phrase essentially connects with the ‘which’ word with the particle no の.
Tamanegi wa, nama to kanetsu suru no (to) dotchi ga ii no?
As for onions, which is better, they being raw or heating them up?
Ie wa, uru no to kasu no (to), dotchi ga ii no?
As for homes, between selling and leasing, which is better?
Soru no to nuku no (to), dotchi ga ii no?
Between shaving and plucking, which is better?
Another facet of grammar surrounding ‘which’ is the optional addition of no hō の方 to the sentence after a ‘which’ word to emphasize “which one.”
Orthography Note: To avoid confusion with its other usages, 方 may be read as ほう.
Wain to biiru [(to) de wa/no] dochira (no hō) ga suki desu ka?
Between wine and beer, which (one) do you like?
Ima no tokoro, Monsuto to Pazudora (to) de wa, [dotchi/dochira] no hō ga ninki ga aru n desu ka?
Ima no tokoro, Monsuto to Pazudora, dotchi (no hō) ga ninki na no deshō ka?
Currently, which (one) is popular, Monster Strike or Puzzle & Dragons?
Grammar Note: As is seen in 27b, just as we can see “Monster Strike or Puzzle & Dragon, which one should I choose,” the lack of (to) de wa （と）では creates the same effect.
Kitsuenseki to kin’enseki, dochira ni nasaimasu ka?
Which would you like, smoking or non-smoking?
Instead of using the particle to と, the options before the ‘which’ word may be listed with the particle ka か. In this case, ka か is usually stated after the second/last element, although it may be omitted if the following ‘which’ phrases sounds like a separate statement. Regarding difference in nuance, the sense of comparison is lessened to a listing of options which may not be exclusive which may also be emphatically based.
Ohashi ka fōku ka dochira ni nasaimasu ka?
Will you go with chopsticks or fork?
Sentence Note: Although the general options may indeed just be chopsticks or forks, the option of neither is also implied. It is also open-ended enough for the customer to choose something else not explicitly mentioned.
Gacha tte, tampatsu ka jūren ka, dotchi ga ii?
As for gacha, which is better, single shot or 10 shot?
Sentence Note: As mentioned, the sense of comparison is open-ended but is also more subjective and emphatically based. By posing the question this way, the speaker may expect follow-up questions regarding the nature of the options or personal experiences from others with said options.
Word Note: In mobile games, gacha is an internal prize that you get, often by utilizing in-game currency.
Ai ka okane ka dochira ni shimasu ka?
Which will you go with, love or money?
Sentence Note: Ex. 31 is a perfect example for the subjective, emphatic nature of ka か. Clearly, there is more behind “love” and “money” alone, but it is this fact that also drives the emphasis behind the question itself.
Monsuto ka pazudora, dotchi ga osusume desu ka?
Monster Strike or Puzzle & Dragon, which do you recommend?
Chintai ka mochi’ie ka dotchi ga toku ka nado hikaku shite wa ikemasen.
You mustn’t compare on the lines of like whether renting or owning one’s home is the better bargain.
In addition to what we’ve seen, it is also appropriate and very common for the second/last element of a sentence with ‘which’ to be followed by a conditional phrase.
Taiheiyō to Taiseiyō da to, dochira (no hō) ga ōkii no deshō ka?
If it’s the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, which (one) is larger?
Taiheiyō to Taiseiyō (to) de wa, dochira (no hō) ga ōkii no deshō ka?
Between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, which (one) is larger?
Grammar Note: The use of da to だと adds to the sense that a definitive comparison is being made.
Keieisha to rōdōsha nara, dochira (no hō) ga yoi deshō ka?
If it’s between being a manager and being a worker, which (one) is better?
Grammar Note: The use of the particle nara なら is used in order to ask for a suggestion.
Kuruma wo kau nara, shinsha ka chūkosha ka dotchi ga otoku na n desu ka?
If you’re buying a new car, which is a better bargain, a new car or a used car?
Kuruma wo kōnyū suru ba’ai wa, shinsha to chūkosha (to) de wa, dochira ga otoku na n deshō ka?
In the case of purchasing a vehicle, which is the better bargain, a new car or a used car?
Sentence Note: Ex. 38 is a more formal version of Ex. 37. As you can see, the phrase ba’ai wa 場合は is used to mean “in the case…”
Deceiving Translations from English
At times, the use of the word "which" doesn't correspond to either of the 'which' phrases discussed in this lesson. However, it is almost always the case that the English can be paraphrased into something else, and it will be that something else that translates smoothly into Japanese.
Shinshi-fuku uriba wa nangai/nankai desu ka?
Which/what floor is men’s clothing?
Word Note: The opposite of “men’s clothing” is “women’s clothing,” which is fujin-fuku 婦人服.
[Doko no/dono] toshi ni sunde mitai desu ka?
What/which city would you like to live?
Another word meaning “which” is izure いずれ. It is the original form of ‘which’ that became dore どれ over time. It, though, remains as “which,” often in set phrases like izure ni shite mo いずれにしても, meaning “at any rate/in any case.” You will also see it frequently used as an adverb meaning “sooner or later.”
Kanojo wa izure wasureru deshō.
She will surely forget sooner or later.
Shikei haishi, sonzoku, izure ni shite mo muzukashii mondai na no da.
Abolishing the death penalty or continuing with it, at any rate, it is a difficult question.