Questions in German Grammar

Introduction

Questions, also known as interrogative sentences, are used to get information about something. There are two different kinds of questions: closed questions, also called yes/no questions or Entscheidungsfragen in German; and open questions, also called w-questions or Ergänzungsfragen in German. The structure of open and closed questions is different.

Learn how to ask open and closed question in German grammar with Lingolia, then test your knowledge in the exercises.

Closed Questions

Closed questions or, Entscheidungsfragen in German, are questions that we can answer with the words “yes” or “no”. In these questions, the finite verb is in the first position. The subject follows in the second position. The rest of the sentence (object, time, place, etc.) come in the same order as they would in a main clause.

Example:
Habe ich dir das Buch gegeben?Did I give you the book?

Open Questions

Open questions, or Ergänzungsfragen in German, are questions that use an interrogative pronoun or question word. We cannot answer open questions with “yes” or “no”. The interrogative pronoun comes at the beginning of the sentence. After that comes the finite verb, and then the rest of the sentence. The part of the sentence that we’re asking about is replaced by the interrogative pronoun.

Example:
Wann habe ich dir das Buch gegeben?When did I give you the book?
(Gestern habe ich dir das Buch gegeben.)I gave you the book yesterday.

If we’re asking about an object with a preposition, the preposition comes before the question word.

Example:
Mit wem gehst du ins Kino?With whom are you going to the cinema?
Für wen ist das Geschenk?For whom is the gift?

If we’re asking about the subject, the finite verb takes the third person singular.

Example:
Wer hat dir das Buch gegeben?Who gave you the book?

Typical Question-Words

The chart below provides an overview of typical question words in German and their usage along with English translations and examples.

GermanEnglishUsage – asking about…Example
wer who subject (person) Wer hat dir das Buch gegeben? – Der Lehrer.Who gave you the book? - The teacher.
wem

whom/
who

dative object, indirect object (person) Wem hast du das Buch gegeben? – Meiner Freundin.To whom did you give the book? - To my friend.
wen whom/
who
accusative object, direct object (person) Wen habt ihr gesehen? – Unseren Trainer.Whom did you see? - Our trainer.
was what subject or object, if not a person/action Was ist das? – Das ist ein Handy.What is this? - That’s a mobile phone.
Was habt ihr gesehen? – Einen Regenbogen.What did you see? - A rainbow.Was machst du da? – Ich lese.What are you doing? - I’m reading.
wessen whose possession/belonging Wessen Auto ist das? – Das ist Toms Auto.Whose car is that? - That’s Tom’s car.
wo where place (position) Wo ist der Bahnhof? – Gleich um die Ecke.Where is the station? - Just around the corner.
wohin where (to) place (direction) Wohin geht ihr? – Wir gehen zum Bahnhof.Where are you going? - We’re going to the station.
woher where (from) place (origin) Woher kommst du? – Ich komme aus Deutschland.Where do you come from? - I come from Germany.
wann when time Wann habt ihr gefrühstückt? – Um 7 Uhr.When did you eat breakfast? - At seven o’clock.
wie how manner (adjective) Wie geht es dir? – Gut.How are you? - Well.
warum
weshalb
wieso
why reason for an action Warum kommst du so spät? – Weil der Zug Verspätung hatte.Why are you so late? - Because the train was delayed.
wozu
wofür
what purpose of an action Wozu brauchst du die Schere? – Ich möchte ein Bild ausschneiden.What do you need the scissors for? - I’d like to cut out a picture.
welche(r/s) which selection Welches Auto gefällt dir besser? – Das rote.Which car do you like better? - The red one.

Questions with Wo + Preposition: woran, wofür, womit

If in English we often use what with prepositions in questions. In standard German, we contract wo and the preposition to make wo-compouns. We can also use prepositions with was, but this is very colloquial and casual.

Example:
Mit was kann ich helfen?
better:
Womit kann ich helfen?What can I help with?

If the preposition begins with a vowel, we add an r between wo and the preposition.

Example:
An was denkst du?
better:
Woran denkst du?What are you thinking of?

Indirect Questions

We use indirect questions in dependent clauses.

Example:
Ich weiß nicht, was das ist.I don’t know what that is.