“The important thing is never to stop questioning.”
This quote comes from the famous Albert Einstein, according to Creating Minds, a site dedicated to promoting creativity.
Of course, having been born in Württemburg, Einstein would have said it in German: “Das Wichtigste ist, niemals aufhören zu fragen.”
Asking questions is the pathway to knowledge of any kind, and the same goes for your journey to learn German.
Knowing how to ask questions in German opens so many doors!
For instance, you can travel to German-speaking countries or befriend native German speakers.
All it takes is understanding the basics behind German questions and a general knowledge of how to answer those questions. And that’s exactly what we’re going to focus on in this post.
You’ll learn how to phrase questions in German in a variety of ways to express your desire for more information.
Because asking a question is the first step towards gathering knowledge—and attaining fluency in German!
Why Learn How to Ask (and Answer) Questions in German?
The majority of the conversations you have on a daily basis include questions, whether direct or indirect.
You probably ask your friends and family how they’re doing, how their day went and maybe even what their plans are later. Whether you’re interacting in social, professional, academic or any other spoken environment, questions come up often.
Speaking of the professional scene, it’s important to know how to ask questions to demonstrate manners.
Being polite is key to many successful business meetings. This is especially true in German, where the improper use of “you” (du (informal) vs. Sie (formal)) can be insulting.
Equally important is your ability to receive, confirm and relay the correct information in any given situation. Questioning your speaking partner to make sure you’ve heard them correctly is also key.
Finally, it’s important on a basic level to know how to manipulate the language in order to demonstrate fluency.
This is crucial when traveling. Most people pick a few key phrases they’ll memorize, such as “Where’s the bathroom?” but having the foundation to work from the words you already know could mean the difference between a memorable trip and a disaster.
Much like informing yourself about the area you’re visiting, it’s a good idea to learn how to ask questions—because you’re liable to have quite a few in your lifetime.
How to Practice Asking Questions in German
Though we’ll demonstrate quite a few examples for you below, here are a few resources you can take advantage of to further practice your questioning skills.
- PurposeGames: This German question game on PurposeGames, a site with educational games, tests your knowledge of question words and their meanings. After you’ve matched the correct meanings to their corresponding German counterparts, you’ll receive a score sheet detailing your performance. You can play this game as many times as you like.
- Deutsche Welle (German Wave): For a great model for asking questions, try watching this mock interview from Deutsche Welle, a German broadcasting company. It will do a lot to prepare you for the real thing or to simply practice asking and answering questions in German. The most important thing, as with all conversation, is to remember to speak clearly and calmly to get your point across.
- Quizlet: If you’re more of a flashcard type, check out this set on Quizlet, an online learning community. Study question words with the flashcards and then use the tools at the left to quiz yourself in a variety of ways, from typing in the correct English word to choosing the meaning from the provided responses. This game is great for beginners, as it offers suggestions for further study when you get a question wrong.
For more advanced speakers, Quizlet also offers a number of conversation starter resources. Some paid and most free, these sets equip you with useful phrases for striking up a conversation in German.
- Experteer: For even more practice, you can use these interview questions on Experteer, a recruitment and career site, to practice for any leads you might pick up in Germany. Or, grab a friend or family member and try role-playing with them to see how many you can answer.
How to Ask Questions in German: A Comprehensive Guide
Now that we’ve convinced you that asking questions is a good thing and shown you how to practice asking them, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
That burning question you’ve got of how to ask and answer a question in German?
We’ve got the answers for you, just below!
German Question Words
One of the most obvious ways to ask a question in any language is to use a question word. If you’ve ever asked who, what, when, where and/or why, you’re on the right track.
Here are common question words you’ll find in German, along with some example question and answer phrases.
Wer kommt mit dir zur Hochzeit?
Who is coming with you to the wedding?
Sasha wird mit mir zur Hochzeit kommen.
Sasha will come with me to the wedding.
Was ist los mit dir?
What is up with you?
Geh weg! Ich habe einen schlechten Tag gehabt.
Go away! I had a bad day.
Wenn sollen wir nach Paris fahren?
When should we go to Paris?
Ich glaube, nächste Woche wird es gehen.
I believe next week will work.
Genau wann werden deine Eltern ankommen?
Exactly when will your parents arrive?
Sie haben mir gesagt, dass ihr Flug um 8 Uhr landet.
They told me that their plane lands at 8 o’clock.
Sag mir, wo hast du deinen Rock kaufen?
Tell me, where did you buy your skirt?
Klar, ich habe ihn beim Einkaufszentrum gekauft.
Sure, I bought it at the mall.
Warum sprichst du Deutsch?
Why do you speak German?
Ich spreche Deutsch, weil meine Familie aus Deutschland kommt.
I speak German because my family comes from Germany.
Wie kommst du zur Schule?
How do you get to school?
Ich komme mit dem Bus zur Schule.
I come to school with the bus/on the bus.
Schade, ich habe nur zwanzig Dollar.
Pity, I have only $20.
Wieso? Ich habe dir noch gestern vierzig Dollar gegeben!
Why? I gave you only yesterday $40!/I gave you $40 only yesterday!
Wie viel kostet die Halskette?
How much does the necklace cost?
Die Halskette kostet $35.
The necklace costs $35.
Wie viele Kinder wollen Sie?
How many children do you want?
Ich will nur ein Kind.
I only want one child.
Woher bekommen Sie Ihr Mittagessen?
From where do you get your lunch?
Ich bestelle mein Mittagessen von dem Restaurant auf Lieblingstrasse.
I order my lunch from the restaurant on Love Street.
Wohin fahren deine Eltern?
Where are your parents driving to?
Meine Eltern fahren nach Montana.
My parents drive to Montana.
Wovon redest du? Ich bezahlte dich schon.
What are you talking about? I already paid you.
Nein, du hast Hans bezahlt, mich nicht.
No, you paid Hans, not me.
Welcher Hund willst du?
Which dog do you want?
Ich will den braunen Hund.
I want the brown dog.
For what reason
Weshalb bist du spät?
Why are you late?
Tut mir leid! Ich habe meinen Wecker nicht gehört.
Sorry! I didn’t hear my alarm.
Like most basic vocabulary terms in German, you should be able to memorize question words and recall them whenever necessary.
But, if you’re still not satisfied, keep reading. We’ve got more questions for you!
Using Verbs to Ask a Question in German
One of the easiest ways to ask a question is to preface it with a verb. You already know the conjugations—at least, you should if you’ve been practicing your vocabulary—so formulating the question is simple.
First, pick the correct tense for the question you want to ask. You can use nearly any tense to ask a question.
Then, simply conjugate the verb to the subject in the sentence using the proper tense.
Place the conjugated verb first in the question and the subject second. The rest of the sentence should follow.
Questions beginning with verbs are somewhat limited, however. Most of them elicit a yes/no response. However, this does make it easier to formulate an answer to these types of questions.
Here’s an example:
Spielen Sie Tennis?
Are you playing tennis?
Ja, ich spiele Tennis mit meinem Freund.
Yes, I’m playing tennis with my (male) friend.
As you can see, asking and answering the question simply requires manipulation of the main verb.
At the same time, you can also use conditional responses such as vielleicht (maybe), wahrscheinlich (probably), eigentlich nicht (not really) or any number of other responses.
Kaufst du ein Auto?
Are you buying a car?
Vielleicht werde ich ein Auto kaufen. Ich bin nicht sicher.
Maybe I will buy a car. I’m not sure.
Asking questions with a verb is as easy as picking a verb and formulating a question from it.
Try your hand at a few!
Using German Statement Additions
Asking about what someone is doing is one thing, but adding meaning to the question can be simple, too.
For instance, think about some of the questions you might ask your friend. If you’re asking something and want a certain response, you’ll likely show that in how you say it.
Du kommst am Samstag Abend zur Party, nicht wahr?
You’re going to the party Saturday night, right?
Depending upon the situation and inflection in the speaker’s voice, the “right?” inclusion could mean various things. Here, the speaker might be trying to confirm attendance to the party on Saturday night.
Another example is the colloquial phrase, “Alles klar, oder?” (Alright, yes?). Most often, this question is used sarcastically or facetiously to indicate that nothing, in fact, is clear.
Using the term “richtig” (right) can also be a type of statement addition. The terms “oder,” “nicht wahr,” and “richtig” are nearly all interchangeable. Each is requesting a confirmation type of response from the recipient.
These types of inclusions could be considered indirect questions. Indirect questions don’t include question marks but use some of the same phrasing you’d see.
Here’s an example:
Wo warst du am Montag Abend?
Where were you on Monday night?
Ich habe dich gefragt, wo du am Montag Abend warst.
I asked you, where you were on Monday night.
The direct question uses the question word first while the same word comes second in the indirect question below it.
Most often, you’ll hear the indirect question after the direct question has been asked, as a polite way to elicit a response once again.
Using Prepositions to Ask German Questions
Just like verbs, prepositions can be used to introduce a question.
In fact, you’ve seen a few examples already. Remember wohin and woher? Some prepositions, like hin and her, require the wo prefix. This is not always the case, though:
Mit wem spielst du am Sonntag Abend?
With whom are you playing on Sunday night?
Für welche Mannschaft jubelst du?
For which team are you cheering?
Questions asked with a preposition typically provide ways for the speaker to get more information on specific details. Above, the speaker wants to know who the recipient is playing and which team they are cheering for.
The answers should be directed towards this information:
Ich spiele am Sonntag Abend mit Anastasia.
I’m playing with Anastasia on Sunday night.
Ich jubele für die rote Mannschaft.
I’m cheering for the red team.
Prepositions, therefore, often move beyond simple responses elicited by wo, was and warum into more specified questions to obtain finer details.
Addressing the Subject when Asking German Questions
Finally, one of the best ways to personalize a question is to include the recipient’s name in the question itself.
This is quite easy to do in both speaking and writing. Begin with the question that’s already formed and then insert the person’s name ahead of everything.
Alternatively, you can also insert their name at the very end of the sentence.
Maria, woher kommst du?
Maria, where are you from?
Hast du einen blauen Stift Abigail?
Do you have a blue pen, Abigail?
Ben, du und deine Frau kommen am Dienstag, richtig?
Ben, you and your wife are coming on Tuesday, right?
Gegen wen kämpfst du Hans?
Against whom are you fighting, Hans?
In each case, the answer can be formed using either the question word (woher), the verb (Hast) or the preposition (Gegen), as we discussed above.
Learning is all about asking questions and seeking out knowledge.
Satisfy your curiosity by delving deeper—there’s no telling what new perspectives you’ll find!
Rebecca Henderson holds a degree in German and Creative Writing. She is the editor behind The Kreativ Space and hopes to shift your world perspective through her words, because looking out the same window every day hardly makes for an interesting life.