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.
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 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.
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.
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
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