What is the difference between kai and ka particles for questions?

The question particle kai is used at the end of sentences in place of the ka question particle. It's only used with yes or no questions. For what, where, and who questions, the question particle dai is used instead.

Kai is generally used by men for questions or doubts to their wives or subordinates (not to superiors), including children.

Sō kai? Is that so?
Sono manga omoshiroi kai? Good comic?

Contrast

Omae sore shita kai? - Did you do it? (softly to wife)
with the harsher-sounding
Omae sore shita ka? - Did you do it? (harshly to wife)

It is probably a contraction of -ka-yo. However, Hayaku kaeru-kai? "Are we going home soon?" isn't as argumentative as Hayaku kaeru-ka-yo?

Acknowledgements

This answer is partly based on newsgroup posts by Bart Mathias and Koji Kawakami.


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