Lesson 10 - Questions

Just as in English, there are two types of questions in the German language: 'yes' or 'no' questions, and interrogative questions.

1) 'Yes' or 'No' Questions

These questions are formed by changing the normal word order of the sentence. This is done by swapping round the position of the verb with the subject.

As mentioned in an earlier lesson, the German present tense is used for both the continuous and the simple present. Thus, a question like 'trinkst du Kaffee?" could either mean 'do you drink coffee?' or 'are you drinking coffee?'.

Examples of 'yes' or 'no' questions:

  • Bist du hungrig? - Are you hungry?
  • Spielen Sie mit mir? - Are you playing with me?
  • Geht ihr ins Kino? - Are you going to the cinema?

Questions with Modal & Seperable Verbs

When used with a modal verb, the second verb's position is not affected, it remains at the end of the sentence. Same rule applies when using separable verbs, the prefix remains at the end of the sentence.
This rule is also valid for interrogative questions.

  • Können Sie mich verstehen? - Can you understand me?
  • Gehst du mit deinen Freunden aus? - Are you going out with your friends?

2) Interrogative Questions

An interrogative question is a question that begins with a question word, such as 'who', 'where' and 'what'. Unlike the 'yes' or 'no' questions, these questions could have a variety of answers. The table below shows some of the most common German question words.

Most common German question words
wie how was what
wann when warum why
welcher which wo where
wer who    

Forming Interrogative Questions

The rule used to form interrogative questions is very similar to the 'yes' or 'no' questions' rule. The verb precedes the subject of the sentence, and the interrogative word precedes the verb.

Some examples of interrogative questions:

  • Wann kommt sie? - When is she coming?
  • Wo arbeitest du? - Where do you work?
  • Was lernen die Kinder? - What are the children learning?
  • Wie schwimmen die Fische? - How does the fish swim?

Interrogative as Sentence Subject

Certain interrogatives, such as 'wer', can be the subject of the sentence, in that case the interrogative word begins the sentence and is followed by the verb.

  • Wer spielt Schach? - Who plays chess?

Interrogative Combinations

Several new interrogatives are formed by combining certain words, prepositions, and adverbs with the interrogatives 'wie' and 'wo'.

Some example combinations:

'Wie' combinations
wie alt how old wie viel how much
wie groß how big wie lange how long
wie oft how often wie spät how late
'Wo' combinations
wohin where to woher where from
wobei at what womit with what

Some example questions:

  • Wie alt bist du? - How old are you?
  • Wie lange bleiben Sie in Berlin? - How long are you staying in Berlin?
  • Woher kommen Sie? - Where do you come from?
  • Wohin fährt er am Wochenende? - Where is he travelling to this weekend?

Interrogatives Depending on the Case

Although the four German cases haven't been discussed yet, this topic is worth mentioning here for the sake of completeness.

The German interrogatives 'wer' and 'welcher' have other forms depending on the case. The interrogative 'wer' has only one form for each case, while 'welcher' has different forms within each case, depending on gender and number. The table below shows the different forms of the interrogative 'wer'.

Forms of 'wer'
Nominative wer who
Accusative wen whom
Dative wem whom
Genitive wessen whose

This brings an end to this lesson and the unit as a whole. Make sure you've understood all the lessons and concepts covered in this unit before proceeding to the next one!