Decoding German Questions to Unlock the Answer

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Decoding German Questions to Unlock the Answer

Anytime I start teaching a new student I realize one thing. Most people believe that there is no system to the new language they are learning. The good news is though that there is. In this blog post I want to decode “entschlüsseln” German questions, so that you can correctly answer them.

There are two types of questions: Yes/No questions and Information questions. In German Yes/No questions start with a verb. While there is a German verb “to do” (tun) we do not generally use it to ask yes/no questions, because tun does not serve the auxiliary function it does in English. In many ways this should be of relief to anyone learning German, because it means there is one less verb to worry about.

Information questions start with interrogatives. It is imperative that you learn these interrogatives as quickly as possible:

wann — when

wo — where

woher — where from

wohin — where to

was — what

wie — how

warum — why

wieso — why

weshalb — why

wie viel — how much

*welch- — which

*Note welch- acts like a der-Wort and takes different endings (-e, -er, -es, -en, -em)

Alright let’s start decoding questions and answers. We’ll start with yes/no questions, as no further information is required to answer them:

All yes/no questions have a verb and a subject and many have a direct object (accusative). In the above examples the verbs are in orange, the subject in yellow and the direct object in blue.

When we go to answer the question all we need to do is answer with a yes or no and then reverse the order of the subject and verb. Also notice that if the subject in the question is in the second person singular or plural (du, ihr, Sie) we must answer with a subject in the first person singular or plural (ich, wir). In reverse it is somewhat different. See the chart below.

**Note, sollen is a modal verb and is conjugated, but requires a verb in the infinitive at the end of then sentence.

It is also very important to remember subject-verb agreement. Remember the verb must be conjugated to agree with the subject of the sentence.

When giving a negative response, you must ask yourself, am I negating the object or the entire statement.

If you’re negating the entire statement, you can often simply end the sentence with nicht.

z.B.

  • Liest du die Zeitung? (Do you read the newspaper?)
    • Nein, ich lese die Zeitung nicht. (No, I don’t read the newspaper.)

If you’re negating an attribute then place the nicht in front of that attribute.

z.B.

  • Kommst du aus Grossbritannien? (Are you from Great Britain?)
    •  Nein, ich komme nicht aus Grossbritannien. (No, I’m not from Great Britain.)
  • Ist die Suppe heiss? (Is the soup hot?)
    • Nein, die Suppe ist nicht heiss. (No, the soup is not hot.)

If you’re negating the object, then you generally use a form of kein (keinen, keine, kein).

z.B.

  • Hast du ein Auto? (Do you have a car?)
    •  Nein, ich habe kein Auto. (No, I don’t have a car.)

The most important thing to remember about yes/no questions is that other than possibly having to add the words nicht or kein to the answer, the word cues are all there to answer it.

Now let’s continue with information questions. These are somewhat harder, because they require added information. Two things will tell the person asking you the question that you don’t understand German. The first is that you answer with a yes or a no. Yes and no are never (never ever) the correct answer to an information question. The second is that you answer with information that was not asked (ex. You state a place when asked who someone is.)

Let’s take a look here:

Wann
Wo
Woher
Wohin
Wie
Was
Warum/Wieso/Weshalb
Wie viel
Welch-
***Note here that when asking where something is, in German we are often exact about if its lying, sitting, standing, hanging etc. See the previous blog post for more information.

****Note also that in German machen is often used like the English “to do” and therefore requires the verb to change, as the question is asking about an activity.

If you look at all of these questions you’ll notice that the verb comes after the interrogative (2nd position). Because the answers are statements, the verb must also come in the second position. Generally we start the answer with the subject, but if there is a time reference, it typically comes first and the subject right after the verb.

Here are 40 questions that you should be able to practice and answer.

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