Indirekte Fragen — Taking the Directness out of German

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Indirekte Fragen — Taking the Directness out of German

Many of you may have recently seen a picture circulating around the web recently that graphically represents stereotypes of European languages and cultures. Austrian speak German, as do the Swiss, Liechtensteiners and South Tyrolleans (Südtirol). That said, the way these cultures and languages communicate is different. In the graphic German is represented as a straight to the point line.

An intercutrural issue often experienced by English speakers working with Germans is that they find them very direct. Even the Swiss and Austrians find Germans quite direct (Don’t use “Ich bekomme einen Kaffee.” in Zurich, if you don’t want a lecture on politeness).

All of the above said, Germans and other German speakers aren’t always that direct. When it comes to questions, you may not want to be so direct, as not to come off rude or show genuine interest in the coming answer. For this reason there is a grammatical form called the indirect question (Indirekte Frage).

There are two types of Indirekte Frage, just like there are two types of questions. Those that ask a question requiring a yes/no answer and questions that ask for information (in which case yes/no is not an answer).

German Yes/No Questions:

Remember how yes/no questions start?

Yes, just like the question above: with a verb.


  • Liebst du deinen neuen Freund? (Do you love your new boyfriend?)
  • Wollen die bayrischen Kunden Bier bestellen? ((Do the Bavarian customers want to order beer?)
  • Interessiert sich Frau Langenegger für den roten Sportwagen? (Is Ms. Langenegger interested in the red sports car?)
  • Warten die Besucher auf Herrn Nägeli? (Are the visitors waiting for Mr. Nägeli?)

How do we turn these simple direct yes/no questions into indirect questions?

First we need an introductory clause. Some common ones are:


  • Ich möchte wissen, (I would like to know …)
  • Wissen Sie, (Do you know …)
  • Ich wüsste gern, (I would like to know …)
  • Können Sie mir bitte sagen, (Can you please tell me …)
  • Darf ich Sie fragen, (May I ask you …)

Once you have a nice way to introduce your question, you’re ready to get started. You can also change the subject from ich to another person if, say, you’re asking a question for someone else like your boss or partner.

To pose the above questions indirectly, you need the conjuction “ob” (if). Remember when we use ob as a conjunction that the verb goes at the end of the clause. An ob clause is a dependent clause.


Independent ClauseDependent Clause
Kannst du mir sagen,obdu deinen neuen Freundliebst.
Wissen Sie,obdie bayrischen Kunden Bierkaufen wollen.
Ich wüsste gern,obsich Frau Langenegger für den roten Sportwageninteressiert.
Können Sie uns sagen,obdie Besucher auf Herrn Nägeliwarten.

German Information Questions:

Remember that information questions start with interrogatives (questions words: wer, wann, wo, warum, wie, usw.)


  • Woher kommt die neue Studentin? (Where is the new student from?)
  • Was suchen Sie hier in meinem Büro? (What are you looking for here in my office?)
  • Worauf warten die bayrischen Touristen? (What are the Bavarian tourists waiting for?)
  • Welcher Wein schmeckt unseren Gästen besser? (Which wine tastes better to our guests?)

Again here we build a complex sentence and use our introductory clauses and then add a dependent clause that starts with out interrogative.

Here are a few more common introductory clauses that you can use when asking indirect information questions in German:

  • Mich würde interessieren, … (I’d be interested to know …)
  • Ich habe keine Ahnung, … (I have no idea …)
  • Wenn ich nur wüsste, … (If I only knew …)
  • Mich interessiert brennend, … (I’m dying to know …)
  • Es ist mir schleierhaft, … (It’s a mystery to me …)


Independent ClauseDependent Clause
Ich hätte gern gewusst,woherdie attraktive Studentinkommt.
Könnten Sie mir bitte sagen,wasSie hier in meinem Bürosuchen.
Niemand weiß,woraufdie englischen Touristenwarten.
Unser Chef möchte wissen,welcher Weinunseren Gästen besserschmeckt.

And there we have it — any easy way to be a little indirect in German and still come across as serious, yet polite.


Try re-writing these direct questions into indirect questions.

  1. Wie heisst die Frau da drüben?
  2. Hat sie eine Wohnung in Zürich gefunden?
  3. Kennt Ihre Tochter Winterthur gut?
  4. Ist das Büro des Direktors noch in der fünfen Etage?
  5. Wie viel kostet der Wagen in Deutschland?
  6. Hätten Sie Feuer?
  7. Wie spät ist es?
  8. Kennen Sie Herrn Schmidt?
  9. Worum geht es? (What’s it about?)
  10. Unter welchen Umständen haben die beiden sich kennen gelernt?

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