Question Word Order – Junge – Die Ärzte
This week’s German song is “Junge” by Die Ärzte. It is a great song for teaching yourself the word order with questions. If you want to see my initial introduction to this topic through this song, you can watch the video below. If you want more about question words and question word order, just keep scrolling.
Let’s start with the simple end of things. Let’s assume you want to write a German question without using a question word. In a normal German sentence, you start with the subject, the verb is second, and the rest of the sentence falls into place after that. In a question, however, you start with the verb. Here are a few example sentences in statement form and in question form. Since you can’t really ask yourself very many questions without people looking at you strangely, I changed a few of these sentences between second (you) and first (I, we) person to make them less awkward.
Statement: Ich gehe heute ins Kino. – I am going to the movies today.
Question: Gehst du heute ins Kino? – Are you going to the movies today?
Statement: Der Junge steht auf dem Tisch. – The boy is standing on the table.
Question: Steht der Junge auf dem Tisch? – Is the boy standing on the table?
Statement: Wir essen bald Frühstück. – We are eating breakfast soon.
Question: Essen wir bald Frühstück? – Are we eating breakfast soon?
Statement: Ihr kommt nicht mit. – You aren’t coming along.
Question: Kommt ihr mit? – Aren’t you coming along?
Statement: Die Kinder spielen in dem Schnee. – The children are playing in the snow.
Question: Spielen die Kinder in dem Schnee? – Are the children playing in the snow?
As you can see, this is the easy version of making questions. You can also make questions out of statements using question words. In order to do this you simply start with the question word and follow it with the verb and then the subject. There are a bunch of question words in the German language and there are a bunch of rules about them, but I want to give you the short version of the rules here today. Let’s start with the most basic ones and then work our way up to the more difficult ones.
Wo? = Where?
This one is pretty much the same as it is in English, but it is important to note that you can’t use any motion with this question word. The question is “where”. If there was motion involved you would need either “wohin” or “woher”.
Die Kinder spielen im Schnee. – The children are playing in the snow.
Wo spielen die Kinder? – Where are the children playing?
Ich bin zu Hause. – I am at home.
Wo bist du? – Where are you?
Der Junge macht seine Hausaufgaben zu Hause. – The boy is doing his homework at home.
Wo macht der Junge seine Hausaufgaben? – Where is the boy doing his homework.
Wohin?= To where?
This is the first companion of “wo”. It is used when the subject is going from their current location to another one. It is only used with motion. This is usually confusing to English speakers, because we tend to just say “where” when we really mean “to where” or “from where”? Alternatively, we also tend to put “to” or “from” at the end of the sentence instead of putting it up by the question word where it should be.
Ich gehe heute ins Kino. – I am going to the movies.
Wohin gehst du? – To where are you going?
Die Frau fährt nach London. – The woman is driving to London.
Wohin fährt die Frau? – To where is the woman driving?
Wir fliegen nach Amerika. – We are flying to America.
Wohin fliegt ihr? – To where are you flying?
Woher? = From where?
This is exactly the same as “wohin”, but in the opposite direction. As you would expect, there are certain verbs and prepositions that one uses with “wohin” and certain ones that one uses with “woher”. You should be able to pick up on these differences pretty easily, as they are very similar to those in English.
Ich komme um 9 Uhr abends aus dem Kino. – I am coming out of the movie theater at 9 pm.
Woher kommst du um 9 Uhr abends? – From where are you coming at 9 pm?
Die Frau fährt von London. – The woman is driving from London.
Woher fährt die Frau? – From where is the woman driving?
Wir fliegen von Amerika. – We are flying from Amerika.
Woher fliegt ihr? – From where are you flying?
Wer? = Who?
This is the first of several question words that deal with people. In German we have a question word for people in each of the four cases (nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive). In English, with the exception of the genitive, “whose”, we tend to ignore these differences, because some people see the use of “whom” as pretentious or “uppity”. In reality, it is what used to be considered correct, but common usage of “whom” passed a long time ago. The question word “wer” is only used in the nominative case for people. Most of the time, “wer” will use the “er” form of the conjugated verb in the sentence. There are occasions, however, when you could use another form. This generally happens with forms of sein when we know that the person(s) in question are either plural or “du”.
Das ist Bob. – This/That is Bob.
Wer ist das? – Who is this/that?
Jimmy kauft das Gemüse. – Jimmy is buying the vegetables.
Wer kauft das Gemüse? – Who is buying the vegetables?
Wir fliegen nach Amerika. – We are flying to America.
Wer fliegt nach Amerika? – Who is flying to America?
Wen = Whom?
This is the accusative case question word for people. This is used as a direct object question word or as a question word in a prepositional phrase that requires the accusative case.
Ich lade Bob zur Party ein. – I am inviting Bob to the party.
Wen lädst du zur Party ein? – Whom are you inviting to the party?
Ich arbeite für Jimmy. – I work for Jimmy.
Für wen arbeitest du? – For whom do you work?
Er bringt seine Schwester mit. -He is bringing his sister along.
Wen bringt er mit? – Whom is he bringing along?
Wem? = Whom?
This is the dative case question word for people. This one is used for indirect object, objects of dative verbs, and objects of dative prepositions.
Ich gebe meiner Mutter ein Geschenk. – I am giving my mother a gift.
Wem gibst du ein Geschenk? – Whom are you giving a gift?
Sie hilft dem Mann. – She helps the man.
Wem hilft sie? – Whom is she helping?
Sarah spielt mit Jimmy. – Sarah is playing with Jimmy.
Mit wem spielt Sarah? – With whom is Sarah playing?
Wessen? – Whose?
This is technically the genitive question word, but most people just pretend that it is just a simple question word. It is used to inquire about the owner of an object. This question word is always followed by a noun.
Das ist mein Hemd. – That is my shirt.
Wessen Hemd ist das? – Whose shirt is that?
Ich mag Timmys Bruder. – I like Timmy’s brother.
Wessen Bruder magst du? – Whose brother do you like?
Der Junge wirft Pauls Schuh. – The boy is throwing Paul’s shoe.
Wessen Schuh wirft der Junge? – Whose shoe is the boy throwing?
Was? = What?
This question word is used exactly like the English word “what” with one very important exception. People say things like “What book do you want?”, when they really mean “Which book do you want?” It is primarily used in the nominative and accusative cases, but, hypothetically, it could be used for the dative case if there was an inanimate object receiving a direct object, but as the likelihood of that is pretty slim, so is the chance that “was” is used in the dative case. “Was” is also never used in a prepositional phrase. You would use a “wo-compound”, which I’ll talk about at the bottom of this list.
Das ist ein Buch. – That is a book.
Was ist das? – What is that?
Ich habe einen Kuli in der Hand. – I have a pen in my hand.
Was hast du in der Hand? – What do you have in your hand?
Wir machen heute nichts. – We aren’t doing anything today.
Was macht ihr morgen? – What are you doing tomorrow?
Welcher? = Which?
As I mentioned with the word “was”, this word is usually ignored by English speakers, because they are used to using the word “what” in English when they really mean “which”. It is also often mixed up with “was für”, which is used when you mean “what kind of a” in German. “Welcher” is different than the other question words, because you have to decline it like you would a der-word. The last letter of “welcher” changes based on the noun gender and case in which it is used.
Ich habe die Karten. – I have the tickets.
Welche Karten hast du? – Which tickets do you have?
Der Junge gibt dem Mann die Karten. – The boy gives the man the tickets.
Welchem Mann gibt der Junge die Karten? – Which man is the boy giving the tickets?
Meine Frau mag den Hund nicht. – My wife doesn’t like the dog.
Welchen Hund mag deine Frau nicht? – Which dog doesn’t your wife like?
Warum? Wieso?= Why?
This question word is used exactly as it is in the English language. If you would use “why” in English, you would probably use “warum” or “wieso” in German.
Ich gehe nach Hause um zu schlafen.
Warum gehst du nach Hause? – Why are you going home?
Mein Vater arbeitet jeden Tag um Geld zu verdienen. – My father works every day in order to earn money.
Wieso arbeitet dein Vater jeden Tag? – Why does your father work everyday?
Die Kinder machen es. – The children are doing it.
Warum machen sie es? – Why are they doing it?
Weshalb? Weswegen? = Why?
These two words also mean why, but they are used when you suspect that there is a particular reason for whatever it was. It is a bit more of a subtle difference. If you are unsure about these particular question words, you should just stick to “warum”. It is the most all encompassing of all of the “whys”.
Ich komme spät zur Arbeit. – I’m coming to work late.
Weswegen kommst du spät zur Arbeit? – Why are you coming late to work?
Mein Vater braucht Geld. Deshalb arbeitet er jeden Tag. – My father needs money. Therefore, he works everyday.
Weshalb arbeitet er jeden Tag? – Why does he work everyday?
Der Affe hat Hunger. Deshalb isst er eine Banane. – The monkey is hungry. Therefore, he is eating a banana.
Weshalb isst er eine Banane? – Why is he eating a banana?
Wie? = How?
If you are inquiring about the way in which something is or was done, you need the question word “wie”. It is used exactly as it is in English.
Ich esse meine Pizza mit einer Gabel. – I am eating my pizza with a fork.
Wie isst du deine Pizza? – How are you eating your pizza?
Es geht mir gut. – It is going well.
Wie geht’s? – How’s it going?
Ich habe Karten für das Rockkonzert gewonnen.
Wie kommt es, dass du Karten für das Rockkonzert gewonnen hast?
Wie viel? = How much?
Some people will tell you that “wie viel” and “wie viele” aren’t used exactly as they are in English, but I would argue that they are. Those that say they aren’t used the same way cite examples of when nouns are singular in one langauge, but plural in the other and therfore the question word doesn’t match. That doesn’t mean the usage is different, however. It simply means that the languages are different. “Wie viel” is used in front of singular nouns or in front of a verb.
Ich brauche Milch. – I need milk.
Wie viel Milch brauchst du? – How much milk do you need?
Mein Vater verdient Geld. – My father earns money.
Wie viel Geld verdient dein Vater? – How much money does your father earn?
Die Karten kosten €40. – The tickets cost €40.
Wie viel kosten die Karten? – How much do the tickets cost?
Wie viele? = How many?
“Wie viele” is used in front of plural nouns.
Ich brauche vier Karten. – I need four tickets.
Wie viele Karten brauchst du? – How many tickets do you need?
Mein Vater hat nur €10. – My father only has €10.
Wie viele Euros hat dein Vater? – How many Euros does your father have?
Es gibt nur 15 Tage bis Weihnachten. – There are only 15 days until Christmas.
Wie viele Tage gibt es bis Weihnachten? – How many days are there until Christmas?
Wann? = When?
As expected, this one is pretty straight forward. If you want to know something indicating in the time when something will occur, you can use the word “wann”. You could also use “wie viel Uhr” (what time) or “um wie viel Uhr” (at what time) if you know that the answer should be a particular time of the day. If the answer might be a day of the week or a year, you should use “wann”.
Ich gehe zur Schule um 3 Uhr. – I am going to school at 3 o’clock.
Wann gehst du zur Schule? – When are you going to school?
Der Junge fliegt nächste Woche nach Berlin. – The boy is flying to Berlin next week.
Wann fliegt der Junge nach Berlin? – When is the boy flying to Berlin?
Meine Mutter kauft die Karten heute Nachmittag. – My mother is buying the tickets this afternoon.
Wann kauft deine Mutter die Karten? – When is your mother buying the tickets?
Wo-Compounds? = Preposition + what?
This isn’t actually one question word, but rather a series of question words that are made using a preposition and the word “wo”. These then become one word and are used to ask about the prepositional phrase. There is an accompanying version of this for the answer called “da-compounds”. If the preposition starts with a vowel, you need to add an “r” between “wo” or “da” and the preposition. There are certain prepositions that you can’t do this with, but it is really something that you kind of have to get a feel for.
Er kennt die Antwort auf meine Frage. – He knows the answer to my question.
Worauf kennt er die Antwort? – To what does he know the answer?
Ich schneide das Brot mit dem Messer. – I’m cutting the bread with a knife.
Womit schneidest du das Brot? – With what are you cutting the bread?
Mein Vater baut ein Haus aus Holz. – My father is building a house out of wood.
Woraus baut dein Vater ein Haus? – Out of what is your father building a house?
I know this was a long post. I know that is a lot to take in, but my suggestion would be to bookmark this page and when you come across one of these question words and you are unsure how to use it, come back to this page and read through the list.
Next week I will be uploading another conjugation video and writting a blog post to show you how each verb on the list is used. The following week I will be using the song “Gewinner” by Clueso to teach you some German grammar.