You won’t study German for long before you need to start asking questions (and I’m not talking about ‘why am I learning this crazy hard language?!’)
In order to engage with German speakers and get to know people, you’ll need to get used to the who, where, why, how, when and what question words in German. Luckily this is quite a straightforward concept in German, and the way questions are asked are very similar to in English.
After reading this post you will know:
- The 9 question words in German
- Examples of how each question word is used
- How to form questions in German with correct sentence structure
What are the 9 Question Words in German?
The 9 question words in German are:
- Warum (why)
- Wieso (why)
- Was (what)
- Wer (who)
- Wie (how)
- Wann (when)
- Wo (where)
- Wohin (where to)
- Woher (where from)
Wie is one of those words that you’ll encounter fairly early on in your German learning journey. One of the first things you tend to learn when learning a new language is how to ask someone ‘how are you?’
Let’s take a look at a few example sentences:
|Wie geht’s?||How are you?|
|Wie ist das Wetter bei dir?||How is the weather with you?|
|Wie komme ich zum Flughafen?||How do I get to the airport?|
German also uses ‘how’ in a slightly different way to the way we do in English. For example in English we would say ‘what are you called?’ but in German we say ‘how are you called?’
|Wie heißt du?||How are you called? (What’s your name?)|
Wie viel / Wie viele (How much / How many)
Now we know how to use wie, let’s move on to it’s two close relatives, wie viel and wie viele. These are maddeningly similar and the best way to learn which is which is through hearing and reading them in every usage.
With repeated exposure you’ll get used to them, make mistakes and you’ll eventually get them the right way round.
- Wie viel = How much
- Wie viele = How many
Both are used in the same way as in English. Let’s look at some examples:
|Wie viel kostet das Ticket?||How much does the ticket cost?|
|Wie viel Zeit hast du?||How much time do you have?|
|Wie viele deutsche Bücher hast du gelesen?||How many German books have you read?|
|Wie viele Würste möchten Sie?||How many sausages would you like?|
Another nice simple one, was can be used in the same was as the English ‘what’. Sometimes, like in English, you might hear a wasss? just like the surprise exclamation ‘what??’
|Was machst du denn hier?||What are you doing here then?|
|Was ist hier los?||What‘s going on here?|
|Was machen Sie beruflich?||What do you do for a living?|
Did you know? The German word for ‘question mark’ is Fragezeichen. Frage means ‘question’ and zeichen means ‘mark’ or ‘sign’.
Wann is again pretty self explanatory and is used in questions in the same way was English.
|Wann kommt der Bus?||When does the bus arrive (come)?|
|Wann fliegst du wieder nach Hause?||When are you flying home again?|
|Seit wann lernst du Deutsch?||Since when have you been learning German?|
You can see in the last example that instead of asking ‘how long?’ in German we say ‘since when?’
The last of the easy question words in German. Wer is used in the same way as ‘who’ in English.
|Wer sind Sie?||Who are you?|
|Wer hat hier das Sagen?||Who is in charge here?|
|Wer kann mir helfen?||Who can help me?|
Did you know? Ich habe eine Frage means ‘I have a question’ in German.
‘Why’ in German is a little more complicated as there are a couple of words that can be used for ‘why’. Warum is the most common and you can get along perfectly well using just that in the early stages.
|Warum wollen Sie mich sehen?||Why do you want to see me?|
|Warum is der Himmel blau?||Why is the sky blue?|
There is another word we can use you ask ‘why’ and that is wieso. Think of warum as more childlike, asking why but not asking for too much detail.
Wieso is closer to the English question ‘how so?’ or ‘how come?’ You are asking why but you want to know more about how something is and for more details. It sounds far more ‘adult’ than warum, and I would encourage you to use it instead of warum as much as possible.
Wo is another word that has a little more detail to it. Firstly let’s look at some example questions:
|Wo ist dein Freund?||Where is your friend?|
|Wo is der Bahnhof?||Where is the train station?|
|Wo wohnst du?||Where do you live?|
So wo is used where we want to know the current location of someone or something. The object in question isn’t moving at all, it’s stationary.
Woher (Where from)
If we want to ask where someone is coming from, then we need to use a new word, woher. Just like in English, we would say ‘where do you come from?‘ Woher means ‘where from’.
|Woher kommen Sie?||Where do you come from? (formal)|
|Wo kommst du her? / Woher kommst du?||Where do you come from? (informal)|
You can see from the second example that woher is sometimes separated, with her going to the end. Just bear that in mind so it doesn’t trip you up.
Wohin (Where to)
If we want to ask where someone or something going to, we need to use the word wohin. Again, like in English we would say ‘where are you driving to?’ Wohin means ‘where to’.
|Wohin fliegst du dieses Jahr?||Where are you flying to this year?|
|Wohin liegst du die Bücher? / Wo liegst du die Bücher hin?||Where are you putting the books?|
Again, sometimes wohin can be separated, so watch out for this.
How to Form Questions in German
When it comes to asking basic questions, German sentence structure is quite straightforward and uses some simple rules.
The question word; wo, was, wer etc. goes in position 1. Next comes the verb in position 2, which is conjugated according to the subject. The subject, the person or thing you are talking about, goes in position 3.
For questions that have a bit more detail to them, in general the same sentence structure applies, but the extra details are added to the end after position 3.
|(How||get||I||to the airport?)|
|Wann||kommst||du||wieder nach Hause?|
If there are 2 verbs in the question, we use the normal German sentence structure when 2 verbs are involved. The first verb is conjugated and goes in position 2, and the second verb is unconjugated and goes to the very end.
|The Rest||End Verb|
|(What||would||you||for breakfast||to eat?)|
Note that in the third example sentence, we are using the past tense (‘where did you buy that shirt?’) Usual German sentence structure rules apply here to, conjugated haben (hast) in position 2 and the past tense verb, gekauft, at the end.
So now you know what the basic question words in German are, you’ve seen them in some example sentences and I’ve shown you how basic questions are structured in German.