Understanding the Different German Question Words for “Why”

Hallo, Deutschlerner. In this German grammar lesson we will explore the differences between the question words: Warum, Wieso, Weswegen, Weshalb, Wozu, Wofür, and Aus welchem Grund. All of these words can be translated with ONE English question word: “why”. This can cause considerable confusion for German learners. These words might seem similar to each other, but they actually have different meanings and are each used in different contexts. So let’s dive in and explore the nuances of each word!

Understanding the Different German Question Words for "Why" - 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 Differences Between Warum, Wieso & Weshalb

Let’s start with the most common versions of “why”: warum, wieso and weshalb. These words are all translated with “why” in English and are used to ask for the reason behind something. They are the most versatile of the “why’s” and can generally be used to replace all of the other question words on the list for today. They are also almost entirely interchangeable with each other. 

Technically there used to be a bigger difference between these three.

Warum: Reason or Motive

Warum freut er sich? –
Why is he celebrating? 

Er freut sich, weil er im Lotto gewonnen hat. –
He is celebrating, because he won the lottery. 

Wieso: Cause

Wieso ist der Fußboden nass? –
Why is the floor wet? 

Der Fußboden ist nass, denn das Fenster ist nicht dicht. –
The floor is wet, because the window is not sealed. 

Weshalb: Purpose

Weshalb spricht deine Mutter mit dem Lehrer? –
Why is your mom talking with the teacher? 

Meine Mutter spricht mit dem Lehrer, weil sie wissen will, warum ich schlechte Noten habe. –
My mother is talking with the teacher, because she wants to know why I have bad grades. 

The Real Differences Between Warum, Wieso & Weshalb

In spoken German, however, this nuance has almost entirely disappeared. Warum is definitely the most widely used, as a simple Google search yields over 2 billion results while wieso only has 800 million and weshalb has 200 million. Wieso is still pretty common in spoken German and is often used to express surprise or disbelief. Weshalb is used in slightly more formal situations and is also more commonly used in writing. 

Examples of Warum, Wieso & Weshalb

Here are a few more example sentences using these versions of why: 

Warum Examples

Warum lernst du Deutsch? –
Why are you learning German?

Warum hast du dich entschieden, in Deutschland zu leben? –
Why did you decide to live in Germany?

Warum hast du mich angerufen? –
Why did you call me?

Wieso Examples

Wieso trägst du immer dieselbe Kleidung? –
Why do you always wear the same clothes?

Wieso hast du das Buch nicht zu Ende gelesen? –
Why didn’t you finish reading the book?

Wieso hast du dich von deinem Partner getrennt? –
Why did you break up with your partner?

Weshalb Examples

Weshalb möchtest du nicht mit uns ins Kino gehen? –
Why don’t you want to go to the movies with us?

Weshalb kommst du immer zu spät? –
Why are you always late?

Weshalb hast du deinen Job gekündigt? –
Why did you quit your job? 

Weswegen – for what reason, because of what

Moving on to “weswegen”, this word means “for what reason” or “because of what”. The word has the German preposition “wegen” built right into it. Wegen is “because”. Wes- is just added to the front to make it into a question word. It is also there to remind German speakers that “wegen” requires the genitive case and not the dative case, although that is becoming more popular in conversational German. “Weswegen” is often used in more formal contexts. For example: 

Weswegen möchten Sie sich um den Job bewerben? –
For what reason do you want to apply for the job?

Weswegen kommen Sie heute vor den Richter? –
Why are you coming before the judge today? 

Weswegen haben Sie sich bei uns beworben? –
Why did you apply with us? 

aus welchem Grund – for what reason, on what grounds

The words “aus welchem Grund” mean “for what reason” or “on what grounds”. Technically this isn’t a word that means “why”, but rather a series of words that are used in a similar way to “why”. These words are used in formal contexts and are similar to “weswegen”. For example: 

Aus welchem Grund möchten Sie den Vertrag kündigen? –
For what reason do you want to terminate the contract?

Aus welchem Grund möchten Sie heute eine Beschwerde einlegen? –
For what reason do you want to lodge a complaint today? 

Aus welchem Grund hast du dich dazu entschieden, Deutsch zu lernen? –
For what reason did you decide to learn German? 

Wozu – what for, for what purpose

Next up is Wozu, which means “what for” or “what purpose”. For example: 

Wozu brauchst du das? –
What do you need that for?

Wozu ist Zink gut? –
What is zinc good for? 

Wozu hat man Mandeln? –
Why do people have tonsils? 

Wofür – what for, for what purpose

“Wofür” is very similar to “wozu”, as it also means “what for” or “what purpose” and is often interchangeable with “wozu”. The difference between “wofür” and “wozu” is usually the preposition with which you would answer the question. For example: 

Wofür ist das gut? –
What is that good for?

Das ist gut für den Markt. –
That is good for the market. 

Wofür interessierst du dich? –
What are you interested in? 

Ich interessiere mich für Batman. –
I’m interested in Batman. 

Wozu trägst du eine Brille? –
Why do you wear glasses? 

Ich trage sie, um besser zu sehen. –
I wear them in order to see better. 

Wozu brauchst du das Geld? –
Why do you need the money? 

Ich brauche das Geld, um mir etwas zu kaufen. –
I need the money in order to buy myself something.  

Wofür brauchst du das Geld? –
Why do you need the money? 

Ich brauche das Geld für ein neues Fahrrad. –
I need the money for a new bicycle. 

Wozu vs Wofür

It should be noted that “wozu” and “wofur” are often interchangeable. For example: My last two examples used essentially the same phrase “Wozu brauchst du das Geld?” and “Wofür brauchst du das Geld?” Both of my example answers used the proper preposition in the answers, but you could switch these two answers and there would be nothing wrong with the examples. This is because you can answer with either one and you can’t anticipate the answer to assume the correct preposition. 

So there you have it! Warum, Wieso, Weswegen, Weshalb, Wozu, Wofür, and Aus welchem Grund might all translate to “why” in English, but they actually have different meanings and are used in different contexts. I hope this lesson has helped you understand the nuances of each question word and how to use them correctly. 

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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