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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cura
cura
1 month ago

I ran into a sentence on an app: “Er antwortet meinen E-mails nicht”. After reading your wonderful article, I think that sentence should be either “Er antwortet auf meinen E-mails nicht” or “Er beanwortet meinen E-mails nicht”.

I am feeling awesome right now, thank you!

Meade
Meade
4 months ago

Hello, I am wondering if the mic recording feature is only not working for me because I’m not doing it right, or if the function is down maybe? Thanks and certainly no rush/pressure to look into it or answer right away etc.

Meade
Meade
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Hello. The mic icon does appear and when I click it the window does open yet the recording doesn’t take. I have logged in and out and retried it but to no avail. It’s no trouble, I can just use my phone etc to record myself. Thank you for answering!

Meade
Meade
4 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Oh cool, wonderful, please, not to hurry at all and thanks so much again for the answer. Trust me I’m not so eager to hear myself (pre-pre-beginner) speak it :D

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 months ago

Really cool article, thank you! Sence of humor is gorgeous)

anon
anon
7 months ago

antworten + Dativ –> we answer a person, who is the indirect object.
Ich antworte dir.
Ich antworte auf die Frage.
beantworten needs a direct object.
Ich beantworte die Frage.

eine Frage beantworten
auf eine Frage antworten

Brian Jones
Brian Jones
8 months ago

Why does the quiz say the german translation to ”I answer you” is ”ich anworte dich”? Why is it akkusativ? Im so confused.

Brian Jones
Brian Jones
8 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Awesome und Danke. Clearly I was not fully awake yet!

Vorlaufer
Vorlaufer
10 months ago

I liked the fact that you updated this article to 2021. You must try to keep all archived items current. That must take some time.

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

Thanks…tho a lot od English mistakes in explanations

Steven
Steven
1 year ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Wow anonymous! If you’re going to highlight someone else’s mistakes with their English grammar whilst explaining difficult German grammar you’ll want to at least avoid making several of your own.

Thanks German-is-easy for the explanation. I asked my German teacher once; she said it was too hard to explain the difference.

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

On the difference between “antworten” and “beantworten”: (i) I liked the difference you drew: in the former it is someone (a person) that you ‘answer’ (not a thing, i.e., not an object). But subject-object relationships often become interchangeable, do they not, in a world of commodities — in which even living persons have a ‘thing-likeness’ about them. (ii) I would like to say that “beantworten” is more of an elaboration, an explanation, and the like (closer perhaps to “erklaren”). “Antworten” can often be “Ja” oder “Nein” in relation to a question. Thanks for reading this!

angelicus
angelicus
8 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

“commodifying” people is not an invention of our time (though commodifying people’s opinions, thoughts and people’s outrage IS a new invention)

The statement has a bit too much depth in it. The German philosophizing is real. I just exploded a little bit inside.

Noisha
Noisha
1 year ago

Once again you are amazing. Wish you were my teacher.

Aprille
Aprille
1 year ago

Ich habe alles richtig geantwortet!

Lonetenor
Lonetenor
2 years ago

Ich antworte Maria.
Ich antworte Hans.

Ich antworte dir.
Ich antworte den Eltern. ( Is this sentence correct?)

Lonetenor
Lonetenor
2 years ago
Reply to  Lonetenor

I am a retired first grade teacher, and I was just thinking of school type situations where I might use the verb antworten.

MichaelVG
MichaelVG
4 years ago

So do you antworten an email or beantworten it?

MichaelVG
MichaelVG
4 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Yep! Thanks. Answer vs. reply seems to do the trick pretty well.

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

A German told me yesterday that “bezahlen” is specific as in your example: “Ich bezahle den Kaffee, er bezahlt den Tee.” Ich möchte zahlen – is used for anything in general. Das macht Sinn, oder?

Mairead
Mairead
6 years ago

As always, thanks again for this site. Could you please explain if there is a difference between zahlen and bezahlen? Also, when is your book coming out? I want a copy ASAP.

Ferro
Ferro
6 years ago

Hello, I’ve recently discovered your blog and I am completely amazed. I am reading it from beginning to end. Thank you very much for the great effort you make.

Back to the topic, I still have a question. How would you say “to answer the phone”? Could it be “das Telefon beantworten”? My dictionary only says “ans Telefon gehen” or “rangehen”, but I remembered about “der Anrufbeantworter”…

Miña
Miña
6 years ago

Vielen, vielen Dank! I love your blog is always so clarifying, also the way you do it (jokes, references, examples, etc.) makes it easier to remember!!

Gastleser
Gastleser
6 years ago

Super Seite, sehr schön beschrieben! Das hilft unseren deutschlernenden Freunden wirklich weiter, DAUMEN HOCH :D

Nina
Nina
7 years ago

Thank you so much for your work and your incredibly useful site! I’d like to ask about such pairs of verbs as schnuppern-beschnuppern, schnüffeln-beschnüffeln, riechen-beriechen.

Kim bjerkebek
7 years ago

as usual, sorry i asked…;-)

jaygopalanmusic
jaygopalanmusic
7 years ago

Hallo, bitte darauf antworten Sie, warum diese Episode war so kurz? Nein, ich bin nicht wirklich sauer, ich wollte nur das Wort “artworten” verwenden…

Danke für eine weitere geniale Episode! (Und bitte erzählen Sie mir alle Fehler, die ich gemacht habe)