How to Use “Wie” in German Questions: A Comprehensive Guide

Hallo, Deutschlerner. In this lesson you will learn a few more question words. Today we are examining “wie” and all of its variations. If you want to know how to use these words, this is the lesson for you.

wie vs wie viel vs wie viele - A2 German Grammar

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

The Basics of the German Question Word “wie”

Generally speaking the German question word “wie” can be translated as “how”. This works for the base form as well as the variations we will get to later in this post. When not combined with anything else, “wie” is simply used like the English question word “how” when it isn’t combined with anything else. For example: 

Wie ist das Wetter heute? –
How is the weather today? 

Wie findest du den Film? –
How do you find the film? (What do you think of the film?) 

Wie sieht dein Zimmer aus? –
How does your room look? 

Wie kommst du zur Arbeit? –
How do you get to work?

Wie heißt du? –
What is your name? 

English Grammar Nerd Side Note

Where is the word “how” in the last example? If you translate word-for-word in the last sentence, you get “How are you called?” This is just so unnatural that no English speaker would say that. You’ll notice I had a similar issue with the second example. I wrote the alternative translation in parentheses “What do you think of the film?” This has less to do with the question word “wie” and more to do with the use of the verb “finden” and the English “find”. Unless we are talking to a jury in a courtroom (How do you find the defendant?), we generally don’t ask people how they find things, but rather what they think of something. 

When “wie” means “what”

There are other times when you might translate “wie” as “what” in English. For example: 

Wie ist deine Telefonnummer? –
What is your telephone number?  

Wie ist der Name? –
What is the name? 

Wie ist die Adresse? –
What is the address? 

But why do we need “wie” in these instances? I have not found a satisfactory answer to this question.

“Wie” with Adjectives & Adverbs

When you use “wie” all on its own like I just did, the use is incredibly limited. You can add almost any adjective or adverb behind “wie” to inquire about the degree to which something is that adjective. In other words “how old”, “how fast”, “how often”, etc. Here are a few examples of that. 

Wie alt bist du? –
How old are you? 

Wie schnell fährst du? –
How fast are you driving? 

Wie oft trinkst du Wein? –
How often do you drink wine? 

Wie lange bleibst du in Deutschland? –
How long are you staying in Germany? 

Wie spät ist es? –
How late is it? 

Wie groß ist dein Haus? –
How large is your house? 

Wie viel vs Wie viele

In addition to being combined with adjectives and adverbs as in the previous examples, “wie” can also be combined with either “viel” or “viele”. This is so common in German that they were once written as one word “wieviel” and “wieviele”. 

Nowadays, textbooks usually separate these two out and treat them as if they were their own question words. I don’t see it as a problem to address these words this way, but there isn’t really a difference in the word “wie” for this use. We just have “how much” (wie viel) and “how many” (wie viele). 

How to Use “Wie viel”

“Wie viel” is used with collective nouns or nouns that can’t be counted. For example: 

Wie viel Geld hast du? –
How much money do you have? 

Wait! You can count money! Obviously, but you can’t say “How many money”. “Money” is a collective noun in both German and English. It isn’t a countable noun. Back to my examples. 

Wie viel Käse hast du im Kühlschrank? –
How much cheese do you have in the refrigerator? 

Wie viel Milch trinkst du täglich? –
How much milk do you drink daily? 

Wie viel Zeit brauchst du für die Arbeit? –
How much time do you need for the work?

Wie viel Kaffee trinkt der Polizist jeden Tag? –
How much coffee does the police officer drink every day? 

Wie viel Platz hast du im Koffer? –
How much room do you have in the suitcase? 

“Wie viel” Without a Noun

You can also use “wie viel” with a verb after it, when the noun can be implied. For example: 

Wie viel kostet das? –
How much does that cost? 

Obviously, the noun missing here is money, but we don’t have to say “Wie viel Geld kostet das?” When we talk about “kosten”, we already know we are talking about money. Adding “Geld” would be redundant. 

Wie viel weißt du über dieses Thema? –
How much do you know about this topic? 

Here the implied noun is not as obvious. I would argue that “Information” is missing from the sentence, but you could simply use your English knowledge to understand when you use “wie viel” you can translate with “how much”. 

“Wie viel” with Time

Another important use of “wie viel” is when asking about time. You use the phrase: 

Wie viel Uhr ist es? –
What time is it? 

Again, I translated with “what” instead of “how”, because there isn’t a good way to translate “Uhr” in this context in English. The closest I can get is “How much o’clock” is it?” 

You can put “um” in front of “wie viel Uhr” to ask about the time something happens. For example: 

Um wie viel Uhr fängt der Film an? –
At what time does the film start? 

Um wie viel Uhr kommst du rüber? –
At what time are you coming over? 

Um wie viel Uhr hat er Zeit? –
At what time does he have time? 

Um wie viel Uhr muss ich ihn abholen? –
At what time do I have to pick him up? 

Bonus Question Word: Wann

While we are talking about time telling questions, let’s talk about the bonus question word “wann”. This is “when” in English and is used in exactly the same way. For example: 

Wann fängt der Film an? –
When does the film start? 

Wann kommst du rüber? –
When are you coming over? 

Wann hat er Zeit? –
When does he have time? 

Wann muss ich ihn abholen? –
When do I have to pick him up? 

Um wie viel Uhr vs Wann

So what is the difference between “um wie viel Uhr” and “wann”? Simple. “Um wie viel Uhr” is asking for a specific time, like hours and minutes, while “wann” is asking more generically. “Wann” can be answered with a day of the week or even a month or year. If you answer “um wie viel Uhr” with any of those options, you will get strange reactions, as this would not be an acceptable answer to the question asked. 

How to Use “Wie viele”

When a noun can be counted and we are asking for the number of them, we use the combination of “wie viele”. This translates as “how many” in English. For example: 

Wie viele Menschen leben in dieser Stadt? –
How many people live in this city? 

Wie viele Freunde hast du auf Facebook? –
How many friends do you have on Facebook? 

Wie viele Katzen hat diese Frau? –
How many cats does this woman have? 

Wie viele Kinder spielen auf der Straße? –
How many children are playing in the street? 

“Wie viele” Without a Noun

Similar to what we did with “wie viel”, it is also possible to imply the noun behind “wie viele”. In order to do this, however, we need to know exactly what the noun is to which we are referring. For example, if we were already talking about people and we wanted to ask “How many live here?” without being redundant and saying “people” when we already know we are talking about people, we could say:

Wie viele leben in dieser Stadt? –
How many live in this city?

Another example would be that we are having a conversation about friends and we have been talking about friends, so when I ask how many you have on Facebook, I don’t need to say “friends” in the question. I can simply ask:

Wie viele hast du auf Facebook? –
How many do you have on Facebook?

Now you have a wide variety of uses for the question word “wie” and its many partners. Try it out on your own and try asking your own questions using a few of the options with “wie”.

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

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