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Traditional Simplified

什麼

shénme

什麼 as “what”

In Chinese sentences, 什麼, meaning “what”, simply takes the place of the information you’re asking about. Let's look at the sentence 撞倒 which means, “That car crashed into this tree.” You can replace the tree, so it becomes 撞倒 什麼 which means, “What did that car crash into?” Or you can replace the car, so it becomes 什麼 撞倒   which means, “What crashed into this tree?”

喜歡 什麼
Nǐ xǐhuān chī shénme?
What do you like to eat?
桌子 東西 什麼
Zhè ge zài zhuōzǐ shàng de yuán yuán de dōngxī shì shénme?
What's this round thing on the table?
什麼
Nǐ gēn tā shuō le shénme?
What did you say to him?

什麼 as “everything”, “anything”, and “all”.

什麼 + / 什麼 + noun + /

When paired with or , 什麼  takes on the meaning of “everything”, “anything”, and “any”

什麼 語言
Tā shénme yǔyán dōu huì shuō.
He can speak any language.
什麼
Wǒ shénme yě bù pà.
I am not scared of anything.
什麼 尊重
Tā shénme rén dōu bù zūnzhòng.
He doesn't respect anyone.

There are some instances in which 什麼 means “any” or “anything” even without the or  pairing.

冰箱 什麼 好吃 食物
Bīngxiāng lǐ yǒu shénme hǎochī de shíwù má?
Is there any tasty food in the refrigerator?
什麼
Tā bù huì zuò shénme huài shì.
He won't do anything bad.

Essentially, it takes on this meaning when used as a modifier instead of a question word.