Have you ever wondered how questions are asked in German? You probably have. Questions are just ways in which one can make interrogations or request for a thing/matter regardless of what it is.

Questions are usually indicated by a raise in pitch when speaking and a question mark ❓ at the end of the statement when writing. There are two main groups of questions in German;

  • Direct Question
  • Indirect Question

Direct Question

Direct questions involve asking a person directly in a way which you expect them to solely answer your questions. They are of three sub-groups:

  1. Tag Questions
  2. W-H Questions
  3. Intonation Questions

Tag questions otherwise known as Entscheidungsfragen refer to those questions that require the response/answer to be Yes or No. This doesn’t mean that other information can‘t go with the answer. But rather implies that no matter what else you have to say, your reply must begin with either YES or NO.

In English, the tag questions usually begin with the auxiliary verb but in German, tag questions begin with the conjugated verb. That is, the verb whose original position is always number 2 in the standard SVO order, displaces the subject. Hence, the standard order of a german tag question becomes: Verb + Subject + Object (VSO).

Usage;

  • Are you going to school today?—— gehst du heute zur Schule?
  • Will the man come?—— wird der Mann kommen?
  • Is the baby sleeping?—— schläft das Baby?
  • Should I still cook the food?—— soll ich noch das Essen kochen
  • Are you there?—— bist du da?
  • Is that her?—— Ist sie das?
  • Was he sad?—— war er traurig?

**Remember that in German, auxiliary verbs (is, are, am etc.) are never translated in the presence of main verbs except they are the only verbs available. Observe the examples again.

W-H questions otherwise known as W-Fragen or Ergänzungsfragen in German , refer to those questions that begin with a “wh” word in English. The response to these questions can never begin with either Yes or No. Instead, they require an explanation.

This type of question places the question word in the first position and the verb in the second position while the subject in the third position and so on. The standard order becomes: question-word + verb + subject + object (QW + V + S + O). The question words in German are;

German

  • Was (Nom. & Akk.)
  • Wie
  • Wieso
  • Warum
  • Wann
  • Welche*r*s*n*m
  • Wo
  • Wer (Nominativ)
  • Wen (Akkusativ)
  • Wem (Dativ)
  • Wessen (Genetiv)

English

  • What
  • How
  • How come (about)
  • Why
  • When
  • Which/what
  • Where
  • Who
  • Who
  • Whom/for whom
  • Whose

**Note that;

“Welch-” is a demonstrative pronoun which usually have various endings depending on the gender and the grammatical case of the accompanying noun. It can either mean “which” or “what”. It is translated as “which” when the accompanying noun is an animate object and “what” when it’s an inanimate object. Read more here

Illustrations;

  • Welches Auto willst du kaufen?—— what car do you want to buy?
  • Welche Farbe mögt ihr?—— what color do you like?
  • Welches Kind weint?—— which child is crying?
  • Welche Hose hat der Mann getragen?—— what trouser did the man wear?

The question words was, wer, wen, wem and wessen are used as interrogative pronouns for the different grammatical cases as described below:

Nominativ: “was” is used when the cause of the interrogatory action is a non-human factor while “wer” is used when it involves a human and is the They belong to er/sie/es column of verb conjugation. When a Nominativ verb is involved, it gives room to have two Nominatives in the question as always.

**Note that: the verb can only be conjugated to the nominative interrogative pronouns andromeda other. For example:

  • was ist los?—— what is wrong?
  • Wer kommt noch?—— who is still coming?
  • Wer bist du?—— who are you?
  • Wer ist das?—— who is that?
  • Was passiert heute?—— what is happening today?
  • Wer ist da?—— wer ist da
  • Wer mochte Kuchen bringen?—— who would like to bring cake?
  • Wer spielt Fußball?—— who is playing football?

Akkusativ: “was” and “wen”are the interrogative pronouns for Akkusativ. Just like the Nominativ, “was” is used for non-humans while “wer” is used for humans. When the interrogative pronoun is requesting for information about the verb/action in that question, then it is automatically the Akkusativ. For example:

  • was machst du da?—— what are you doing there?
  • wen sucht ihr?—— who are you (guys) looking for?
  • Was haben sie verloren?—— what did they lose?
  • Wen habt ihr gewählt?—— who did you (guys) choose?

Dativ: “wem” as the Dativ interrogative pronoun is used when the interrogatory factor is the benefactor or when the verb in the question is a Dativ. For example:

  • Wem kauft der Mann das Spielzeug?—— for whom is the man buying the toy?
  • Wem hast du deinen Rock geschickt?
  • Wem hat Maria geholfen?—— whom did Mary help?
  • Wem gratuliert die Frau?—— whom should the woman congratulate?

Genitiv: “wessen” which is the Genitiv interrogative pronoun is used when the owner of something is requested. For example:

  • Whose bag is this?—— wessen Tasche ist das?
  • Whose books are these?—— wessen Bücher sind das?
  • Whose handwriting is this?—— wessen Handschrift ist das?

Some other question words have the ability to combine with words such as adjectives and prepositions which then slightly modifies their meaning. For example:

German

  • Wie oft
  • Wie lange
  • Wie viel (singular)
  • Wie viele*n (plural)
  • wie viel Uhr
  • Wie dunkel
  • Wie spät
  • Wie groß
  • Woher
  • Wofür
  • Woran
  • Wozu
  • Wohin
  • Womit
  • Was für ein(e*en) etc.

English

  • How often
  • How long
  • How much
  • How many
  • What time
  • How dark
  • How late
  • How tall/ big
  • Where from
  • What for
  • What of
  • To what
  • Where to
  • With what
  • What kind of

Usage;

  • Wie oft fahren Sie mit dem Zug?—— how often do you travel with the train?
  • Woher kommst du?—— where do you come from?
  • Woran denkst du?—— what are you thinking of?
  • Wie viel Uhr ist es?—— what is the time?
  • Wie viel verdient sie?—— how much does she earn?
  • Wie viele Kinder hast du?—— how many children do you have?

Intonation questions under normal circumstances are statements made with a high pitch? They usually don’t have the structure of a question but are. They require a “Yes” or “No” answer in addition to more information.

When questions that are quite obvious or expected that the questioner ought to know already are asked, the positive response usually begins with “Doch” instead of “Ja” which in this case means “Yes”. But when the response is in the negative, “Nein” is used.

Usage;

1. Q; Du kannst kochen↗️?—— You can cook?
A; Doch, ich kochen gern.—— Obviously/yes I like cooking.

2. Q; Ihr seid schon weg↗️?—— You (guys) are gone already?
A; Nein, wir sind noch zu Hause.—— No, we are still at Home.

Indirect Question

Indirect questions are polite questions. They are mostly used in a formal setting. They are used in a way that doesn’t oblige the responder to reply with the intended answer if they don’t want to. These questions like intonation questions don’t follow the standard structure of questions. They are more like a statement with low pitch and a question mark at the end. They usually require the subordinate conjunctions “ob” and all “W-H words” in their formation.

Examples;

  • Ich möchte wissen, ob Sie zu mir kommen?—— I would like to know if you are coming to me?
  • Ich muss fragen, warum sie das Kind geschlagen hat?—— I have to ask why she hit the child?
  • Wir wollen nur wissen, wieso die Tür kaputt ist?—— we just want to know how come the door is bad?

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