German Question Words


In order to ask basic questions in German, you’ll need to memorize some new vocabulary. Here are thirteen German question words you can use in everyday conversation.

Toys word and wooden cube with the word WHAT?

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In English and in German, we can differentiate between two kinds of direct questions: “Ja/Nein Fragen” (Yes/No questions), or Ergänzungsfragen (problem questions). 

1. Ja/Nein-Fragen/ Entscheidungsfragen 

When forming a yes/no question or “decision” question in German, we need to use inverted word order. Inverted word order means that the subject slips behind the word. This happens in English when we ask questions with “to be”, or when we ask questions with modal verbs.

Are you tired?
Can you drive me to the airport? 

In German, we always use inverted word order for direct questions, even for questions that would require the auxiliary verb “to do”. (e.g. Do you have the keys?”

Du hast die Schlüssel.                   Hast du die Schlüssel? 
You have the keys.            ->         Do you have the keys? (lit: Have you the keys? 

Er kann mich anrufen.                  Kann er mich anrufen? 
He can call me.                ->         Can he call me? (lit: Can he me call?) 

Notice how the answer for the above questions can only either be “Ja/yes” or “Nein/no”. 

2. Ergänzungsfragen (probe questions)

Ergänzungsfragen, or “proble” questions ask about specific details, either about time, location, duration, purpose, etc. Probe questions require a question word, which will always be placed in position one, followed by the verb and the subject in inverted word order.  

question words jpg

The question words “Woher” und “Wohin” are separable. Their suffices “-her” and “-hin” can also be placed at the end of the question sentence:

Woher kommst du?  -> Wo kommst du her? (Where do you come from?)
Wohin geht sie?  -> Wo geht sie hin? (Where is she going?) 

Questions that ask about quantity “Wie viel” and “Wie viele” follow a slightly different word order. The noun for which we are asking the quantity is placed before the verb and subject. 

Wie viel Geld hast du? (How much money do you have?)
Wie viele Hunde hat er? (How many dogs does he have?)

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.