German The Question words "Was für ein" and "Welch-"


What is the difference between Welch- and Was für ein in German?

"Welch-" is often used when there are multiple options to choose from. It asks for a specific answer. Welche(…) is the direct brother of which.
Which of course raises the question what the difference is between was für and welche?
Well, just like what kind, the German was für does NOT work as soon as there’s a specified pool of choices. Then, you HAVE to use welche(…).
"Was für ein/e..." sounds more like you want to get a rough idea of the thing you're asking about. So, taken literally, was für means what for and the core idea of it is asking for options. So it’s a translation for what/which kind or simply what/which.

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1. Was für (ein)

The question word(s) “Was für (ein)” (lit. “What for one”) is used to ask what of which kind of person/place/thing, etc something is, usually in a general sense. The direct translation can cause some confusion, as in English, we would say “What kind of”. Depending on the gender and case of the person/place/thing we ask about, the word “ein” takes different endings. If referring to a plural noun, we drop “ein” completely. 

was fuer ein jpg

Was für ein Buch liest du?
What kind of Book are you reading? (neutral, singular, accusative noun)
Was für einen Wein trinkst du? 
What kind of wine are you drinking? (masculine, singular accusative noun)
Was für Bücher liest du gerne? 
What kind of books do you like to read? (plural, accusative)

In all three examples, we are inquiring about the general kind of book(s) or wine. 

2. Welch-

The question word “Welch-” (which) is used to ask about a specific pool or selection of nouns to choose from. “Welch-” takes endings depending on gender and case of the noun we are asking about. 

welch jpg

Welchen Film hast du dir angeschaut? 
Which movie have you watched? (masculine, singular, accusative)
Welches Formular muss ich ausfüllen?
Which form do I need to fill out? (neutral, singular, accusative)
Welche Bücher nimmst du mit? 
Which books are you bringing? (plural, accusative)

In all three examples, we are inquiring about a noun of a specific selection of nouns, either a movie (of a selection of movies), a form (of a selection of forms, or books (of a selection of books)

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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 sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.