German Question Words & Word Order
Hallo, Deutschlerner. Today I am going to show you how to form your own questions in German, so you can really open up the versatility of your German skills. You will learn the word order rules for questions in German. Then I will teach you some basic German question words. Stick around for the end of the video and I’ll explain to you why I think the subject and verb are in a romantic relationship with each other.
This lesson is a part of Herr Antrim’s new e-book “Beginner German with Herr Antrim“. Within the e-book, this lesson includes a worksheet and answer key to practice the skills you are about to learn. You will also get access to online flashcards and a whole lot more. Find out more about the e-book here.
Statement Word Order in German
Before we get into formation of questions, we need to first take a step back and look at the formation of statements, so you understand what is going on when we switch to a question. Statements generally start with the subject of the sentence, the person or thing doing something in the sentence. The next thing in the sentence is the verb, which is changed to match the correct form for the subject. After that we have a variety of other things, but to keep things simple for today’s lesson, we are going to refer to these things as “other stuff”. So the general word order for a statement in German is: subject, verb, other stuff. For example:
Ich bin Levi.
I am Levi.
Der Mann geht nach Hause.
The man is going home.
Wir kaufen die Bahnkarten.
We are buying the train tickets.
Simple Question Word Order
In order to make a simple question out of a statement, we simply move the verb to the other side of the subject. In other words: verb first, then subject, and the other stuff is still at the end. Let’s go back to the example “Der Mann geht nach Hause.” To make a question out of this we move the verb, “geht”, to the first position. Now our sentence is:
Geht der Mann nach Hause?
Is the man going home?
Let’s try that again.
Die Kinder spielen Fußball.
The children are playing soccer.
Spielen die Kinder Fußball?
Are the children playing soccer?
Using Statement Word Order with German Questions
Notice in the video that just like in English my voice changes a bit at the end of the last word to indicate that this is a question. If you do the same thing with your voice when reading the statement, you can sort of ask the question, but the connotation changes.
Notice the difference between “Die Kinder spielen Fußball?” (The children are playing soccer?) and “Spielen die Kinder Fußball?” (Are the children playing soccer?) The first one indicates a disbelief. The children usually play basketball, but now they are playing soccer? That is weird. “Die Kinder spielen Fußball?” But if you are just asking whether or not the children are playing soccer, you would need the normal question word order of “Spielen die Kinder Fußball?”
Changing the Subject Between Question and Answer
Sometimes your subject should not be the same in your question as it is in your answer. For example, if I am the one responding in the answer to the question, the question probably used the pronoun “you”. For example:
Wohnst du hier?
Do you live here?
Ja, ich wohne hier.
Yes, I live here.
Bleiben Sie lange?
Are you staying long?
Nein, ich bleibe nur zwei Tage.
No, I am only staying two days.
I only bring this up, because it isn’t always obvious that this needs to change when you are first learning German. It feels obvious once you learn it, but before that it seems confusing. It is a good reminder that the subject and the verb must always agree, which is why your verb changes between the question and the response.
German Question Words
The questions I have shown you so far are a bit boring, however, as we don’t yet have question words. Question words are technically interrogative pronouns. The reason I mention this is because pronouns replace things in the sentence. The subject pronouns that I talked about in lesson #8, for example, replace nouns that are the subject of the sentence.
When you use a question word in a question, you are indicating that there is a lack of knowledge about a part of the sentence. The answer to the question no longer has the question word in it, as the question word has been replaced with the formerly missing information. Think of the question words as placeholders for more substantive information.
Was – What
The first question word you should learn is “was”. This means “what” and is mostly used like it is in English. For example:
Was kaufst du?
What are you buying?
Ich kaufen ein Sofa.
I am buying a sofa.
Was ist das?
What is that?
Das ist ein Döner.
That is a döner kebab.
Was denkst du darüber?
What do you think about that?
“Was” can either be the subject of the sentence, as it was in the question “Was ist das?” or it can be an object like it was in the question “Was kaufst du?” “Du” is the one buying something in that question. The something being bought is the object “was”. I mention this, because if the question word “was” is the subject of the sentence, the conjugation of the verb is usually the third person singular (er, sie, es) form of the verb. For instance:
Was steht in der Ecke?
What is standing in the corner?
The conjugation of the verb can be the third person plural (sie) form, if you know that “was” refers to more than one thing. For example:
Was sind diese Dinge?
What are these things?
*It is important to note that technically “Dinge” are the subject of this sentence along with “was” due to the special nature of the verb “sein”.
Wo – Where
Next up we have the question word “wo”. This means “where” in English. It is great for asking where things are, which is pretty important if you are visiting Germany. Keep in mind that in contrast to “was”, the German question word “wo” can never be the subject of the sentence (except with ‘sein’), which means you are not restricted to the third person singular (er, sie, es) or plural (sie) forms of verbs. Here are a few examples of how you can use this question word.
Wo finde ich die Toilette?
Where do I find the toilet?
Wo lebst du jetzt?
Where do you live now?
Wo beginnt das Rennen?
Where does the race start?
Wo ist deine Mutter?
Where is your mother?
Wo warten wir auf den Bus?
Where are we waiting on the bus?
Wo lernt ihr Deutsch?
Where are you learning German?
Wo gehören diese Bücher?
Where do these books belong?
Wer – Who
The next question word you should know is “wer”, which means “who” in English. The official rules for “wer” and “who” are supposed to be the same, but English speakers don’t really seem to care anymore what the difference between “who” and “whom” is, which leads to some problems when trying to ask questions in German.
Short version: “who” is the subject of the question, but “whom” is not. That’s all that matters for right now. “Wer” is always the subject of the sentence. We use it to ask about the person who is doing the action of the sentence. It is also exclusively used to inquire about people or in rare cases personified animals.
Wer = Who, but Wo = Where?
“Wer” and “wo” are often difficult for English speakers to grasp, as “wo” looks a lot like “who”, but means “where” and “wer” looks a lot like “where” and means “who”. The way I remember it is that you can answer the question “wer” with “er”, which is simply the question word without the “W” at the beginning. This is also good for reminding you that the conjugation of the verb with this question word is often the same as the third person singular (er, sie, es) form.
Examples of “wer”
Here are a few examples of how you can use this question word. I also answered these questions, to show you that you can replace “wer” with “er” to answer the question.
Wer nennt eine Möhre eine Karotte?
Who calls a carrot a carrot?
In German there are multiple words for carrot.
Er nennt eine Möhre eine Karotte.
He calls a carrot a carrot.
Wer zeigt uns das WC?
Who is showing us the restroom?
Er zeigt uns das WC.
He is showing us the restroom.
Wer führt die Ponys auf dem Weg?
Who is leading the ponies on the path.
Er führt die Ponys auf dem Weg.
He is leading the ponies on the path.
Wer with Plural Answers
Again the conjugation of the verb is in the third person singular (er, sie, es) form when “wer” is the subject. This applies even if you know that the answer to the question is plural. For example:
Wer ist schon da?
Who is already there?
Sie sind schon da.
They are already there.
Wer wohnt in diesem Haus?
Who lives in this house?
Wir wohnen in diesem Haus.
We live in this house.
Wann – When
The next question word you should learn is “wann”, which means “when” in English. It is used to inquire about the time of some event or action. Again, since the question word is not the subject of the sentence (“when” can’t do something), the conjugation of the verb is not dependent upon this question word. The subject of the sentence will be directly after the verb and the conjugation of the verb will match that subject.
Wann bringst du das Buch zurück?
When are you bringing the book back?
Wann lernen wir über das Passiv?
When are we learning about the passive voice?
Wann braucht er eine Antwort?
When does he need an answer?
Wann beginnt der Film?
When does the film start?
Wann bekommen die Müllers ihr Auto zurück?
When are the Müllers getting their car back?
Wie – How
You have already seen our next question word in a few simple questions from the last video. “Wie” means “how”. This question word also is never the subject of the sentence. Here are some examples of how to use “wie”.
Wie heißen Sie?
How are you called?
Wie geht es Ihnen?
How are you?
Wie meinst du das?
How do you mean that?
Wie schläft dein Hund?
How does your dog sleep?
Wie erreichen wir unsere Ziele?
How do we reach our goals?
Wie + Adjectives
“Wie” is a much more versatile question word than the other ones we have seen so far, as we can add adjectives after it to inquire about the degree of something. You can do the same thing in English, which you will see in these examples.
Wie groß bist du?
How tall are you?
Wie alt bist du?
How old are you?
Wie sauer ist dieses Bonbon?
How sour is this candy?
Wie lange bleibst du in Deutschland?
How long are you staying in Germany?
Warum – Why
The last question word on my list for today is “warum”, which is German for “why”. This one isn’t different from the English either, so I’ll just jump into the examples for this one.
Warum fragt er das?
Why is he asking that?
Warum verstehst du mich nicht?
Why don’t you understand me?
Warum erzählen Kinder solche Geschichten?
Why do children tell stories like that?
Warum versuchen Sie das nicht morgen?
Why don’t you try that tomorrow?
German Subjects and Verbs are Romantically Involved
And now, as promised, I’ll explain why I think the subject and verb are in a romantic relationship with each other. They have to be dating. The subject is almost always next to the verb. It is definitely the dominant personality in the relationship, as it is usually first in a sentence. If the subject isn’t first, it is directly after the verb. This happens like we saw earlier in this video with questions. Either the verb is first on its own followed by the subject, the question word is first followed by the verb and then the subject or the question word is the subject, which puts it first in the sentence again.
You can separate the subject and verb in complicated situations. They are in a long distance relationship when this happens. At the beginner level, you don’t really need to worry about this, but suffice it to say you can separate this clingy couple in more complicated situations (sentences). Since my students don’t learn about this until their junior year, I usually tell them that you can’t separate the clingy couple until their junior year, which is when they usually break up anyway.
The subject and verb take their relationship to the creepy level of wearing matching clothes. The verb changes to match the subject, as the subject is the dominant personality in the relationship, so it gets to choose the outfits they wear. If the subject wears the “du” pronoun, for example, the verb wears its “ST” outfit.
Beginner German with Herr Antrim
Herr Antrim’s new e-book “Beginner German with Herr Antrim“ is your guide to having your first conversation in German. Within the e-book, each lesson includes a worksheet and answer key to practice the skills in that lesson. You will also get access to online flashcards and a whole lot more. Find out more about the e-book here.
Lessons within “Beginner German with Herr Antrim”
- Du vs Ihr vs Sie
- What to Say If You Don’t Understand Something in German
- das Alphabet
- Was macht er? Popular German Verbs Vocabulary Building Exercise
- Subject Pronouns & Present Tense Conjugation
- Basic German Questions & Answers
- German Question Word Order & Question Words
- Describe Yourself in German
- Present Tense of “sein”
- Present Tense of “haben”
- German Family Vocabulary
- German Numbers 1-100
- Time Word Order in German
- Reading & Writing Dates in German
- German Word Order Basics
- Shopping Vocabulary in German
- Your First German Conversation