How to Ask Questions in German: Format & Word Order

Instructor: Samantha Green

Sam is from the UK but lives in the USA, she has taught college German and has both a bachelor's and master's degree in German Studies

The best way to get to know someone or to get the information you need is to ask questions. After today's lesson, you will be able to do just that - because you'll have learned how to perfectly structure questions in the German language.

I Have a Question

Charlotte has just arrived in Germany for her month-long vacation. She's noticed a group of people about her age who are also staying in her hostel. She'd like to make some friends on this trip, and she knows the best way to get to know someone is to ask questions, or die Fragen (pronounced dih FRAH-gehn) as they're called in German, so she starts to think about the kinds of things she can ask and how to ask them.

Translation: I have a question
Ask  questions

How to Ask Questions

There are two types of questions in German:

  • Ja oder nein fragen (Yes or no questions)
  • Information fragen (Information questions)

Yes or no questions are questions that can be answered with either ja (pronounced ya and meaning 'yes') or nein (pronounced nighn, meaning 'no'), and then followed with clarification. For example, Charlotte asks a fellow traveler if they are going to the movies tonight:

  • Question: Gehst du heute Abend ins Kino? (Are you going to the movies?)
  • Answer: Ja, ich gehe heute Abend mit meinem Freund (Yes, I'm going tonight with my boyfriend.)

Information questions are questions that are looking for a specific piece of information. These are identified by their use of question words. For example:

  • Question: Wann gehst du ins Kino? (When are you going to the movies?)
  • Answer: Ich gehe heute Abend ins Kino. (I'm going to the movies tonight.)

In German, these two types of questions are structured differently. Let's look at how to structure them.

Yes or No Questions

Yes or no questions in German are structured by having the verb in first position, meaning it is the first word of the sentence. The verb is followed immediately by the subject (the person or thing 'actioning' the verb). The verb must be conjugated correctly (given the correct personal ending) for the subject. This is then followed by whatever else is in the sentence, such as time phrases and prepositional phrases. Here are some examples to help clarify.

Charlotte has met some people and they are planning to go out for dinner. Now they are trying to figure out what they like to eat:

  • Isst du gern Pizza? (Do you like to eat pizza?)

The verb in this question is essen, which means 'to eat'. The subject is du, the pronoun meaning 'you'. Essen is conjugated for du and is placed at the beginning of the sentence, the first position. Du comes immediately after the verb and the rest of the sentence follows.

Now they're making weekend plans, so here's another example:

  • Läuft Michael dieses Wochenende? (Is Michael running this weekend?)

In this example, the verb is laufen, which means 'to run'. This is conjugated for and followed by the subject Michael, with the time phrase dieses Wochenende coming last.

Translation: Do you all like to eat pizza?
Esst ihr gern Pizza?

Information Questions

Information questions are structured by having a question word such as 'where' or 'why' in the first position (the first word of the sentence). This is followed by the verb, which is conjugated and followed by the subject. Look at this example:

  • Wo wohnst du? (Where do you live?)

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