What is the Difference – “antworten vs. beantworten”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
And today, we’ll actually talk about two words because it is WITH-day.
That’s short for “What is the Hifference”-Day, and it should totally be WITD-Day, but who the heck is supposed to pronounce that.
Anyway, the words we’ll look at are

antworten and beantworten.

 

They both mean to answer but there’s a really important hifferen… I mean difference. And that lurks in the dark forest of grammar…

Let’s take a quick look at English first.

  1. I’ll answer the question.
  2. I’ll answer you.

Those sentences look like they have the same structure, but from a German perspective, they do not. Because only the second one can be translated with antworten.
The reason why it doesn’t work for the first one is that antworten can NOT take a direct object. You cannot antworten a question. If you want to do that, you assistance of everyone’s favorite word type: prepositions*. (*figurative speech, might not actually be everyone’s favorite word type)
In this case, you need auf.

  • Ich antworte die Frage… WRONG
  • Ich antworte auf die Frage… correct

In the second example, on the other hand, we have the person we’re answering, and German treats that as an indirect object – so it is in Dative case. Which makes sense, because the person is the “receiver” of the answer and “receiving” the grand theme of Dative.
So this is a proper sentence:

  • Ich antworte dir.

And if we want to, we can combine it with the auf-part.

  • Ich antworte dir auf die Frage.
  • I answer you (on) your question (sounds weirds, I know).

Now, beantworten on the contrary can take a direct object. In fact, it MUST HAVE a direct object.
And that’s actually a quite typical feature of the be-prefix, because it often changes verbs from either taking no object, or taking one with a preposition, to one that needs a direct object.
So if you want to answer a question… beantworten is like “Lemmi go boss, I was borne for this shit.” and it gets the job done.

  • I answer the question.
  • Ich antworte die Frage… WRONG
  • Ich beantworte die Frage…. RIGHT!

And oh, it also works if instead of a direct object we have a side sentence that fill the role of a direct object.

  • Kannst du mir beantworten, [wieso du immer zu spät kommst]?
  • Can you answer/tell me, [why you’re always late]?

So in essence, the question we’re answering MUST be there in some form, either as the word Frage or a pronoun or a sentence.

And what about the person? Well, that works exactly the same as for antworten, so we can just plug it in in everyone’s favorite case: Dative*. (*figurative speech, might not actually be everyone’s favorite case)

  • Ich beantworte dir die Frage.
  • I answer you the question.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that beantworten MUST the question in there in some form.
So suppose you want to start some good old fashioned relationship drama and you want to ask your partner this in German:

  • Where were you last night? Answer me!!

… which verb would you use, antworten or beantworten?
Exactly, you’d use antworten. Because beantworten would need a direct object.

  • Wo warst du letzte Nacht? Beantworte! … WRONG
  • Wo warst du letzte Nacht? Antworte!

Okay, technically we could make beantworten work, too…

  • Wo warst du letzte Nacht? Beantworte das!

But the version with antworten is definitely more dramatic :).
Cool, so that’s basically it now.
The main difference between antworten and beantworten is the way the connect the thing they’re answering.

  • eine Frage beantworten
  • auf eine Frage antworten

And now it’s time for you to train a bit with the little quizz I have prepared, and I will pay my beers now and go home. I actually wrote this in a bar, because I have no internet at home since last Wednesday and it’s awesome.
Thank God, it’s still a couple or so years till Covid.
No beers in bars and no internet at home… that would suck. If you read this before 2020 and you’re confused… don’t worry. You’ll understand.
Anyway, have fun with the quiz and if you have any questions or suggestions, just let me know in the comments.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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