Whether you’re planning a trip to Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, or you just want to have more interesting German conversations, knowing how to ask questions in German is a fundamental skill.
In this article we will guide you through the elements of German questions step-by-step, including:
- How to use the “W” questions
- How German questions can be formed in different ways
- How and when to use Sie, the formal “you” in German
- 10 must-know questions that are especially useful for travellers.
Bist du bereit? (Are you ready?)
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“W” questions in German
Have you ever heard of the “five Ws” in English?
“How?” is considered an honorary member of this group, even though it starts with an H.
In German, the “W” question words are very similar to English — except you’ll find a few more of them, including words like woher (where from) and wohin (where to):
|German question word||English translation|
|Wer||Who [nominative]; use when “who” is the subject|
|Wem||(To) whom / who [dative]; use when “who” is the indirect object of the action|
|Wen||Who [accusative]; use when “who” is the direct object of the action|
|Wozu||For what purpose|
|Wieso||How come / why|
Believe it or not, German has even more words that are roughly equivalent to “why” in English, such as weshalb (for the sake of what) and weswegen (due to what).
These additional “why” words can add some nuance to your questions. If you master warum, wieso, and wozu, though, you should be able to ask all your “why” questions, and be well understood!
Let’s take a look at how the most basic questions in German can be used for everyday situations.
- Wo ist das Museum? – Where is the museum?
- Wo ist mein Koffer? – Where is my suitcase?
- Wo finde ich sowas? – Where can I find something similar?
- Wo treffen wir uns? – Where do we meet?
- Woher kommen Sie? / Woher kommst du? – Where do you come from? [formal / informal]
- Wohin gehen wir? – (To) Where are we going?
- Wohin fährt der Zug? – Where is the train going?
- Was machen Sie? / Was machst du? – What are you doing? [formal / informal]
- Was will er? – What does he want?
- Was soll ich mitbringen? – What should I bring?
- Was können wir kaufen? – What can we buy?
- Was sehen wir uns an? – What are we looking at?
- Was machen wir morgen? – What are we doing tomorrow?
- Warum halten wir hier? – Why are we stopping here?
- Warum brauchen Sie meinen Reisepass? – Why do you need my passport? [formal]
- Warum machen Sie das? – What are you doing that for? [formal]
- Wozu machst du das? – What are you doing that for? [informal]
- Wozu denn das? – What for?
- Wozu brauchen wir diese Fahrkarte? – Why do we need this bus ticket?
- Wieso geht er nicht? – How come he isn’t going?
- Wieso nicht? – Why not?
- Wer ist dieser Mann? – Who is that man?
- Wer ist diese Frau? – Who is that woman?
- Wer hat Ihnen das Buch gegeben? – Who gave you the book? [formal]
- Wen haben Sie gesehen? / Wen hast du gesehen? – Who did you see? [formal / informal]
- Für wen machst du das? – Who are you doing that for? [informal]
- Wem haben Sie das Essen gegeben? – Who did you give the food to? [formal]
- Mit wem sprechen Sie? – Who are you speaking with? [formal]
- Wem gebe ich das? – Who do I give this to?
- Wann treffen wir uns? – When do we meet?
- Wann geht der Flug? – When does the plane leave?
- Wann beginnt das Konzert? – When does the concert start?
- Wann hast du Geburtstag? – When is your birthday? [informal]
- Wie kommen wir dahin? – How do we get there?
- Wie viel Geld haben wir? – How much money do we have?
- Wie spät ist es? – What time is it? (Literally, “How late is it?”)
- Wie heißt das auf Deutsch? – How do you say that in German?
- Wie kann ich sie finden? – How can I find her?
- Wie macht man Kartoffelknödel? – How do you make potato dumplings?
- Wie schreibt man dieses Wort? – How do you write that word?
- Wie kann ich deutsche Fragewörter lernen? – How can I learn German question words?
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Forming a question in German
To ask a simple “yes or no” question in German, you’ll use the following pattern:
Conjugated verb + Subject + Object
- Haben Sie einen Stuhl? – Do you have a chair?
- Bist du traurig? – Are you sad?
- Haben Sie das kleiner? – Do you have anything smaller? [used when getting change]
English often uses phrases like “Do you” / “Does he” or “Are you” / “Is she” to start a question.
In German, instead of the equivalent of “Do” / “Does” or “Are” / “Is,” you’d start a question with the main verb.
You’ll see this pattern in questions like, Gehen Sie? (Are you going?), which is literally phrased as “Go you?”.
When you use an indirect object, the question still follows the same basic pattern. You’ll place the indirect object (and its preposition, if any) at the end:
Conjugated verb + Subject + Indirect object
- Kommst du mit mir? – Are you coming with me?
If you include a direct object, the indirect object still goes at the end:
Conjugated verb + Subject + Direct object + Indirect object
- Geben wir es ihm? – Are we giving it to him?
Questions with complex verbs
As in English, some actions in German are expressed through more than one word. When you have a multi-part verb in German, you need to know where each part goes in the sentence.
Using question words, as well as helping and modal verbs — like werden (to become), haben (to have), können (to be able to), müssen (to have to), or sein (to be) — you can make questions in a similar way to English:
- Wann muss ich auschecken? – When must I check out?
In these and similar questions, the German sentence structure mirrors the English one: You have the question word, wann (when), followed by a helping verb, müssen(must), followed by the subject, ich (I), and finished off with the main verb, auschecken (to check out).
Questions with both complex verbs and objects
The more elements you add to a sentence, the more complicated things can get — and the more you’ll see the differences in German versus English sentence structure.
In a sentence like Könnten Sie mir Ihre Handynummer geben? (Could you give me your mobile phone number), we see the words arranged differently than in English.
The pattern for the German question would be Helping verb + Subject + Indirect object (personal pronoun) + Direct object + Infinitive verb.
In English, the German version would sound like, “Could you to me your mobile number give?”
You’ll see a similar pattern in questions like these:
- Können wir ihr eine Kreditkarte geben? – Can we give her a credit card?
- Kann ich jemanden mitbringen? – Can I bring someone? [“Can I someone bring with?”]
- Sollen wir Ludwig das Klavier geben? – Should we give the piano to Ludwig?
If you add a question word, it gets placed at the front of the question, before the helping verb:
- Wann wird das Frühstück serviert? – When will breakfast be served?
- Wie können wir das bezahlen? – How can we pay for this?
As with most languages though, you might find a few exceptions to these guidelines as you encounter more German questions from different sources. Sometimes, German speakers will change the word order a bit to emphasize certain elements of the question.
Practicing German questions
Several of these word orders might sound strange, at first. However, the more you practice, the more the German word order will become second nature to you.
Aside from repeating example questions aloud to yourself, writing them down, and trying to make your own questions (spoken or written), you might consider practicing with a fluent German speaker.
Try a language exchange app or website to find a German-speaking conversation partner. By talking about different topics in German, you’ll learn to formulate questions using many different verbs and a wide range of vocabulary.
If you want someone who can give you even more guidance, explaining German question structure in depth and customizing exercises and lessons to provide additional practice, think about working with a German tutor. Preply has a wealth of German tutors who can work with you 1-on-1, helping you become comfortable with asking (and answering!) questions in German.
Asking questions with ‘Sie’
A huge part of learning German well is understanding how to address other people in a culturally appropriate and respectful manner.
Sie is the polite form of “you.” You can use Sie to formally address one or more people.
You’ll tend to use Sie instead of du (singular, familiar “you”) or ihr (plural, familiar “you”) when you’re speaking with people you don’t know well, people older than you, and authority figures — such as supervisors, managers, other professionals, and members of the clergy.
Especially if you’re traveling in a German-speaking country, you’ll probably ask questions with Sie quite often.
Sometimes, you’ll learn a question in its du (informal) form. If you’re speaking to someone formally, you’ll need to do more than swap in Sie for du. We’ll look at a couple of grammatical considerations when making this switch from informal to formal.
Make sure your verbs are conjugated for Sie, rather than du.
In the present tense, the conjugation for Sie is generally the same as the verb’s infinitive (“to”) form, so this is fairly straightforward.
For example: Using the verb sprechen (to speak), you might say, Sprechen Sie Englisch? (Do you speak English?), rather than Sprichst du Englisch?, which is how you’d ask someone that question in a familiar way.
Possessives (using Ihr)
To avoid confusion, make sure you use the right possessive words in your questions.
For Sie, you’d use variations of Ihr to say “your.”
- Haben Sie Ihren Koffer? – Do you have your suitcase?
- Lesen Sie Ihre Zeitung? – Are you reading your newspaper?
- Brauchen Sie Ihr Buch? – Do you need your book?
Notice, in each of the examples, that Ihr changes to match the noun: it’s Ihren for Koffer (suitcase), a masculine noun; it’s Ihre for Zeitung (newspaper), a feminine noun; it’s simply Ihr for Buch (book), a neuter noun.
Could or can? (Könnten oder können?)
In English, we often say, “Can you…” when asking someone to do something for us.
To be extra polite when using Sie, consider using könnten (“could,” the imperfect subjunctive form of können) instead of the regular present tense of können (to be able to) when asking questions in German:
- Könnten Sie mir etwas bringen? – Could you bring me something?
- Könnten Sie mir bitte eine Extraportion geben? – Could you please give me an extra helping?
- Könnten Sie mir bitte eine Tüte mitgeben? – Could you please give me a bag with it?
There may be only one letter difference between können and könnten, but it’s the difference between asking if someone literally can do something (“Können SIe…?”) and if they wouldn’t mind doing it (“Könnten SIe…?”).
10 Must-know German questions
These are key questions you can use in your travels, and even when making very basic conversation.
In some cases, you might use the basic pattern of the question, but modify it to your needs.
For instance, you might ask for ein Einzelzimmer (one single room), rather than zwei Doppelzimmer (two double rooms).
Or you might ask, Wo ist der Flughafen? (Where is the airport?) or der Busbahnhof (bus station), rather than asking for the location of the Bahnhof (train station).
- Könnten Sie mir helfen, bitte? – Could you help me, please? [formal]
- Sprechen Sie Englisch? – Do you speak English? [formal]
- Was ist das? – What is that?
- Haben Sie die Zeit? / Hast du die Zeit? – Do you have the time? [formal / informal]
- Wie heißen Sie? / Wie heißt du? – What’s your name? [formal / informal]
- Was steht dort? – What does that say? / What’s written on there?
- Wie viel kostet das? – How much does that cost?
- Haben Sie zwei Doppelzimmer, bitte? – Do you have two double rooms, please?
- Wo ist ein Geldautomat*? – Where is an ATM? [*Bankautomat is also used for ATM]
- Wo ist der Bahnhof? – Where is the train station?
Among all the German words and phrases for beginners, question words rank as some of the most important and helpful. You’ll use them all the time to get more information and improve your understanding.
Knowing how to ask questions the right way is essential, whether you’re travelling or just talking with German-speaking friends.
Even if you stumble, you can always say Entschuldigung (excuse me) and keep trying. After all, wie lernt man sonst? (How else do you learn?)
Wo wohnst du? (Where do you live?) Woher kommst du? (Where are you from?) Wohin gehst du diesen Sommer? (Where are you going to go this summer?) Wann fliegst du nach Deutschland? (When do you fly to Germany?)How do Germans ask questions? ›
In German, instead of the equivalent of “Do” / “Does” or “Are” / “Is,” you'd start a question with the main verb. You'll see this pattern in questions like, Gehen Sie? (Are you going?), which is literally phrased as “Go you?”. Kommst du mit mir? – Are you coming with me?How do you ask questions examples? ›
|Who?||To ask about people||Who is your best friend?|
|When?||To ask about time||When is the party?|
|Why?||To ask for the reason||Why are you late?|
|How?||To ask about the way things happen or are done||How do you make a cake?|
The German sentence structure would be “Ich fahre heute mit dem Rad zur Schule.” Time (“heute) comes first, followed by manner (“mit dem Rad”) and place (“zur Schule”). However, German allows you to break the rule of time, manner, place as well as the order of subject, verb, object for emphasis.What are some examples of German language? ›
- Guten Morgen. = Good morning. ...
- Guten Tag. = Good afternoon. ...
- Mein Name ist Mondly. = My name is Mondly. ...
- Es freut mich, dich kennenzulernen. = I'm pleased to meet you. ...
- Wie geht's? = How are you? ...
- Gut, danke. Wie geht es Ihnen? ...
- Ich möchte ein Bier. = I'd like a beer. ...
- Es tut mir leid.
There are two different kinds of questions: closed questions, also called yes/no questions or Entscheidungsfragen in German; and open questions, also called w-questions or Ergänzungsfragen in German. The structure of open and closed questions is different.How Germans are flirting? ›
Flirting In German: It's All In The Eyes
It just means sexy eye contact could involve a little more “innuendo” than usual. This does not mean it'll necessarily be accompanied by a smile, or that you'll be invited with a lingering gaze. A favorite move when flirting in German is the “look, but then quickly look away.”
|Questions using 'to be'||Questions using other verbs|
|Where is your house?||Where do you live?|
|How is the food?||How do you like the food?|
|Who is that girl?||Who do you know?|
|When is your birthday?||When do you work?|
There are five basic types of questions: factual, convergent, divergent, evaluative and combination. Factual questions solicit reasonably simple, straightforward answers based on obvious facts or awareness.
There are four types of questions in English: general or yes/no questions, questions using wh-words, choice questions, and disjunctive or tag/tail questions. Each of these different types of questions is used commonly in English, and to give the correct answer to each you'll need to be able to be prepared.What is an example sentence to ask for something? ›
If you ask for something, it means that you want someone to give you something: I always ask for extra tomato sauce on my pizza. They asked their boss for more money, but he refused.How do you ask a question smart? ›
- Think about what you already know. Reviewing your existing knowledge on a subject can help you pinpoint any gaps. ...
- Confirm what you want to learn. ...
- Create a draft of your questions. ...
- Refine your questions. ...
- Ensure simplicity. ...
- Ask your questions confidently and politely.
Standard German sentence structure: SUBJECT + VERB + MORE NOUNS + MORE VERBS. The 2nd pattern (inverted) very simply swaps around the SUBJECT and VERB, primarily when asking a YES / NO question: VERB + SUBJECT + MORE NOUNS + MORE VERBS.What does German questions mean? ›
The "German question" was a debate in the 19th century, especially during the Revolutions of 1848, over the best way to achieve a unification of all or most lands inhabited by Germans. From 1815 to 1866, about 37 independent German-speaking states existed within the German Confederation.What is the German question in the Cold War? ›
This case study is designed to highlight the link between two problems: the origins of the Cold War, and the resolution of the “German Question”: the belief that whoever controlled Germany could dominate the whole of Europe and tilt the global balance of power against its rival.