Indirect Questions in German Grammar

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What are indirect questions?

Indirect questions are questions that are included within the structure of another sentence. Because indirect questions are dependent clauses (Nebensätze in German), we have to change the position of the verb. Indirect questions follow certain introductory phrases, see the examples below. They often end with a full stop and not a question mark.

Learn about the word order and punctuation of indirect questions in German grammar, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Ich weiß nicht, …I don’t know...
Er fragt, …He’s asking...
Ich verstehe nicht, …I don’t understand...
Sie möchte wissen, …She’d like to know...
Ich sage dir nicht, …I’m not telling you...
Können Sie mir sagen, …?Can you tell me...?

Word Order in Indirect Questions

The sentence structure of indirect questions in German grammar differs from that of normal questions – in indirect questions, the finite verb is placed at the end of the sentence. The rule for word order in indirect questions is: question-word + subject + object + verb.

Wann hat er Zeit? – Ich weiß nicht, wann er Zeit hat.When does he have time? - I don’t know when he has time.
Was hat sie gesagt? – Ich sage dir nicht, was sie gesagt hat.What did she say? - I’m not telling you what she said.

Indirect Questions with ob

If there’s no question word, we use ob to introduce in the indirect question.

Kommt sie morgen? – Er fragt, ob sie morgen kommt.Is she coming tomorrow? - He’s asking if she’s coming tomorrow.

Punctuation in Indirect Questions

Indirect questions usualy end with a full stop and not a question mark (see example above). A question mark is only used when the indirect question is an actual question.

Können Sie mir sagen, wie ich zum Bahnhof komme?Can you tell me how to get to the station?

Indirect questions vs. reported speech

Don’t confuse indirect questions with indirect (reported) speech.

  • Indirect questions are questions that are embedded into a normal sentence.
Markus: „Ich weiß nicht, um wieviel Uhr der Film anfängt.”Markus: “I don’t know what time the film starts.
  • Questions in reported speech are when we reproduce a question that was asked by someone else without using their exact words.
Markus: „Um wieviel Uhr fängt der Film an?”Markus: “What time does the film start?” (question in direct speech)
→ Markus hat gefragt, um wieviel Uhr der Film anfängt.Markus asked what time the film starts. (question in indirect speech)

Learn more about questions in reported speech on our page all about indirect speech in German.