Easy Learning German

How to ask a question in German - Easy Learning Grammar German

1 The basic rules

  • There are three ways of asking direct questions in German:
  • by changing round the order of words in a sentence
  • by adding nicht, nicht wahr, oder or doch (meaning isn’t it) to a sentence
  • by using a question word

2 Asking a question by changing word order

  • Many questions are formed in German by simply changing the normal word order of a sentence. You swap round the subject and verb, and add a question mark.
Magst (verb) du (subject) ihn?Do you like him?
Gehst (verb) du (subject) ins Kino?Do you go to the cinema? OR
Are you going to the cinema?
  • In tenses with more than one verb, such as the perfect tense and the passive, the part of haben, sein or werden comes BEFORE the subject, and the past participle or infinitive goes to the end of the clause.
Haben Sie es gesehen?Did you see it?

3 Asking a question by adding nicht, nicht wahr, oder or doch

  • A statement can be made into a question by adding nicht, nicht wahr, oder or doch, in the same way as isn’t it, won’t you etc is added in English. You’d normally expect the answer to such questions to be a simple yes or no.
Das stimmt, nicht wahr?That’s true, isn’t it?
Das Essen ist fertig, nicht?The food’s ready, isn’t it?
Sie machen das, oder?They’ll do it, won’t they?
Das schaffst du doch?You’ll manage, won’t you?
  • When a question is put in the negative, doch can be used to answer it more positively than ja.
Glaubst du mir nicht? – Doch!Don’t you believe me? – Yes, I do!

4 Asking a question by using a question word

  • A question word is a word like when or how that is used to ask for information. In German, these words are a mixture of interrogative adverbs, pronouns and adjectives. Listed below are the most common question words:
wie? (how?)wo? (where?)wem? ( whom?)
was? (what?)welcher? (which?)wessen? (whose?)
wann? (when?)wer? (who?) warum? (why?)
  • Note that wer means who, NOT where.
  • When questions are formed with interrogative adverbs like wann, wo, wie and warum, normal word order changes and the subject and verb swap places.
Wann ist er gekommen?When did he come?
Wo willst du hin?Where are you off to?
Wie haben Sie das gemacht?How did you do that?
Warum ist sie so spät aufgestanden?Why did she get up so late?
TipRemember to use woher and wohin when direction is involved.
Woher kommst du?Where do you come from?
Wohin fahren Sie?Where are you going?
  • When questions are formed with interrogative pronouns and adjectives, word order is normal if the interrogative pronoun or adjective is the subject of the verb at the beginning of the clause.
Wer (subject) hat (verb) das gemacht?Who did that?
  • If the interrogative pronoun or adjective is NOT the subject of the verb at the beginning of the clause, the subject and verb swap places.
Wem hast (verb) du (subject) es geschenkt?Who did you give it to?
  • Note that in indirect questions, that is questions following verbs of asking and wondering, the verb comes at the end of the question.
Sie fragte, ob du mitkommen wolltest.She asked if you wanted to come.
Key points
  • There are three basic ways of asking direct questions in German: changing the word order; adding nicht, nicht wahr, oder or doch; and using a question word.
  • When a question is put in the negative, doch can be used to answer it more positively than ja.
  • The most common question words are the interrogative adverbs wann, wo, wie and warum, the interrogative pronouns was, wer, wem and wessen, and the interrogative adjective welcher.

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