The German language uses question words to ask questions. This lesson introduces you to five German question words starting with a “w”: “wer” (who), “wie” (how), “wo” (where), “was” (what), and “wann” (when).
German question words
To ask questions in German, you’ll need to memorize (and be able to distinguish) German question words. Note the following down carefully:
- wer – who
- wie – how
- wo – where
- was – what
- wann – when
Try to memorize the question words well, as they’re all quite similar and you don’t want to confuse them.
Remember that the German “w” is pronounced like you’d pronounce a “v” in English!
How to form questions with question words in German
In German, the sentence structure of a question is different from the sentence structure of statements.
Simple German questions always start with a question word, followed by a conjugated verb form and the subject of the sentence.
So, this is how you’d ask somebody, “Who are you?”:
- Wer (question word) + bist (2nd person singular of verb “sein“) + du (subject)?
Have a look at the following example questions and their translation:
Wer bist du?
Who are you?
Wo ist Magdalena?
Where is Magdalena?
Was macht der Esel?
What is the donkey doing?
Wann ist Weihnachten?
When is Christmas?
Note that in the second last example, “Wie kommt es?” has been shortened to “Wie kommt’s?“. Such a shortening of the personal pronoun “es” is quite common also in other contexts.
More complex questions with “wie“
The above example questions are quite simple. However, as you advance in your knowledge of German, you want to be able to ask more complex questions to engage in meaningful conversations.
This is the pattern for forming a question that includes not only a subject but also an object:
- question word + object + conjugated verb form + subject
In a previous lesson, you have already learned how to tell the time. Do you remember how to ask what time it is?
- Wie viel (question word) + Uhr (object) + ist (verb form) + es (subject)?
Although “wie viel” are two words, this phrase is also counted as a question word.
“Wie viel” means “how much” in German. A variation of this question word is “wie viele“, meaning “how many“.
Have a look at the examples below, which use “wie viel” and “wie viele“. Can you detect which sentences have an object and which haven’t?
Wie viel kostet die Marmelade?
How much does the jam cost?
Wie viele Eier kochst du?
How many eggs are you cooking?
More complex questions with “woher” and “wohin“
Two variations of the question word “wo” are the words “woher” and “wohin“. You have probably encountered “woher” when learning about asking people where they are from.
- woher – where from
- wohin – where to
Woher kommst du?
Where do you come from?
Wohin geht Oma?
Where is grandma going?
Both “woher” and “wohin” can be split into questions, as they are a combination of two words. Thus, the above questions could also have been written like this, with “her” and “hin” at the end of the question:
- Wo kommst du her?
- Wo geht Oma hin?
The meaning of the words “woher” and “wohin” does not change at all when you split them!
“Her” and “hin” are not used as stand-alone words, but are also commonly used as prefixes to verbs, for example:
- hinfallen – to fall down
- herkommen – to come from
Example conversation with German question words
Have a read through the following example conversation and note whether you understand how the question words are used:
Hi! Wie geht’s dir?
Ganz gut. Schön, dich zu sehen. Wo gehst du hin?
Ich gehe einkaufen. Wann treffen wir uns mal wieder?
Bald! Was macht die Arbeit?
Alles okay. Ich muss los, bis bald!
Some of the above questions might be too complex to understand immediately. Let me help you:
- Wie geht’s dir? – How are you?
- Wo gehst du hin? – Where are you going?
- Wann treffen wir uns mal wieder? – When are we going to meet up again?
- Was macht die Arbeit? – How’s everything at work?
Questions you’ll be asked about Germany
Once you’ve finally visited Germany and spent some time there, be prepared to answer many questions when you come back home! Some questions might be asked out of ignorance and beliefs in stereotypes, but others might be more complex and interesting to answer. In any case, prepare yourself!