Questions in German – Part 2

Hello everyone,

and welcome to another part of the German is Easy Learn German online course – the course that uses the top notch technology the year 2022 has to offer…
reading.
I mean… video is cool, too. But reading… man… it sucks at first, but once you’re used to it, it’s awesome.

Anyway, today, we’ll do the second part of

“How to ask Questions in German”.

Last time, after a quick general overview over the topic, we focused on the questions that have a question word.
So questions like:

  • Who am I?
  • Why are we?
  • What is reality?
  • When does the milk expire?

If you have doubts about those, then check out part 1 here.
Today, we’ll talk about the questions that DON’T have a question word – the so called yes or no-questions:

  • Is there such thing as reality?
  • Is there a reason for our being here?
  • Can reality be defined by an individual?
  • Does milk expire?

Those are equally important if you want to have a conversation and building them is actually ridiculously simple. Unless your native language is English… then, it is kind of like throwing a ball with the left hand :).
And besides learning how to build them,  we’ll also look at some common useful patterns and to top it off, we’ll talk about an incredibly common way of answering to these questions it’s super easy and it’ll make you sound super native and it’s nothing you’ll find in any of those fancy video courses and textbooks.
So… let’s dive right in, shall we?

Yes or No questions

Questions without  question word are called yes or no questions because technically, you can answer those questions with just yes or no. Or of course their synonyms like nope, nah, duh, affirmative and so on.

  • “Do you know where I can find an ATM around here?”
    “Affirmative!”

Sure, in a dialogue like this, of course the person asking WOULDN’T say that the question has been answered, but that’s just because all the meta stuff humans have going on. On technical level, a yes or no or whatever does qualify as an answer.
So these are yes or no questions, and I’ll actually call them Yonqs from now on, because it’s shorter and sounds kind of funny. Yonqs… hilarious.

So, how are these Yonqs built?
Well, it’s pretty dang similar to the w-questions from last time. Only, that we don’t have a question word. If we just skip that, we get the following basic rule:

Basic Rule: “Yes or no”-questions (Yonqs, for short) start with a verb.

THAT’S what makes them feel “yes or no”-ish, and this is the same in German and in English. But that’s where the commonalities end, because both languages uses the same systems that they use for their w-questions. And these systems were different, as we learned last time.
In English, there is this small elite group of verbs, which all have secret tattoos and only they can start a question.
All the normal verbs that are NOT part of that elite group, CAN’T start a question. They have to call on to do.

In German on the other hand, all verbs are equal, kind of. And for the Yonqs that means every verb can be used to start a question.

  • Willst du noch ein Bier?
  • Want you another beer?
  • Do you want another beer?
  • Bist du müde?
  • Are you tired?
  • Bestellst du dir eine Pizza?
  • Order you a pizza?
  • Are you going to order a pizza?
  • Hast du das schon mal gesehen?
  • Have you seen that before?

As we can see, sometimes the German and the English version look the same and sometimes they are totally different.
And it’s actually REALLY important that you DON’T try to translate English questions word by word. Not even as a complete beginner.
That’s generally good advice but it’s particularly true for questions.
Sometimes, it works. But most of the time it’ll end up as a total train wreck.
Because how the languages build questions is not the only difference that has an effect here.
Also the use of the tenses is different…

  • Ich wohne seit 20 Jahren in Berlin. (German uses present tense)
  • I have been living in Berlin for 20 years. (English uses perfect tense with progressive aspect… whatever that is)

… and the way the tenses are built is different…

  • Marie ist zum Supermarkt gegangen.  (German uses to be as helper verb)
  • Marie has gone to the supermarket.  (English uses to have as helper verb)

In fact, here’s an example with the verb schlafen:

  • Did you do sleep?
  • Have you slept?
  • Were you sleeping?

All three of those will translate to this question in German:

  • Hast du geschlafen?

So obviously, if we were to use English as a base, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Instead, what you should do is build the German version from scratch.
And because that can be confusing in the beginning, a good way to train and get into the groove is to modify normal statements.
Take a normal statement like this one…

  • Ich bin heute extrem müde.

…and then modifying it into a question.

  • Bin ich heute extrem müde?

We just switched around the subject and the verb and boom… we got ourselves German Yonq. Hihihi… Yonq, so cute :).

  • Es regnet.…. statement
  • Regnet es?… question
    (“Rains it?”)
  • Is it raining?
  • Du hast 10 Euro. … statement
  • Hast du 10 Euro?… question
    (“Have you 10 Euro?”)
  • Do you have 10 Euro?
  • Du vermisst dein Pferd.
  • Vermisst du dein Pferd?
    (“Miss you your horse?”)
  • Do you miss your horse?

And the cool thing about this is that German is actually SUPER consistent and works just as well later on, when you know the past tense and conditional and other stuff.

  • Du warst schon mal in Madrid.
  • Warst du schon mal in Madrid?
    “Were you in Madrid?”
  • Have you been to Madrid?
  • Du wusstest das.
  • Wusstest du das?
    “Knew you that?”
  • Did you know that?
  • Du kommst morgen zu meiner Party.
  • Kommst du morgen zu meiner Party?
    “Come you tomorrow to my party?”
  • Are you going to come to my party tomorrow?

Now, one little caveat about this.
Based on all the examples it looks like switching the verb and the subject is kind of the rule. That works fine for us as beginners, but it’s not REALLY what’s going on. Because in German, the subject isn’t always in the same spot. We’ll learn more about this in my epic, eye opening series on word order, but for now let me just say that it can come very very very late sometimes.

  • Hat dir eigentlich während des Praktikums, das du in den USA gemacht hast, manchmal deutsches Brot gefehlt?
    “Has to you during your intership which you did in the US sometimes German bread been missing. (lit.)”
  • Did you miss German bread during your internblah blah blah

And while this is nothing we need to deal with as a beginner, there is one verb that’s pretty important early on, where the structure is a bit weird.
I am talking about: gefallen. Gefallen  is one of the German ways to express liking, but it’s basically got the roles reversed. The person who “likes” is the object and the thing being liked is the subject. Think of it as “to be likable to someone”, if you need a more tangible approach.

  • I like Berlin.
  • Berlin gefällt mir.
    (Berlin is likable to me)

And if we want to make that into a question, then often the person goes before the subject.

  • Gefällt dir Berlin.
    (“Gefällt Berlin dir.” … possible, but less idiomatic)
    “Is Berlin been likable to you? (lit.)”
  • Do you like Berlin?

So don’t take this verb-subject thing too strictly. But the phrasing with gefallen is one that’s worth learning as a kind of fixed pattern. And it’s not the only one actually.
But before we look at a few more of those, I want to say one quick word about melody before we move on, because not all languages do that:
In German, people usually raise their voice toward the end of the question. It is not something that ALWAYS has to be done but raising the pitch of your voice is certainly a feature of an everyday question so you should start getting used to it if it works differently in your mother tongue.

Cool.
So now let’s look at a few Yonq-patterns that are worth learning by heart, because it’s just faster than building them.

Some important Yonq-patterns

And the first one is about basic feelings like being warm, cold or bored.

  • I am cold/warm/bored.

In German, those are expressed as “To me“. So instead of saying “Ich bin kalt.” which means that you’re a cold person, you say

  • Mir ist kalt/warm/langweilig.

For the question, the verb has to come first, that’s not a surprise…

  • Ist dir kalt/warm/langweilig?

…but what’s important, and where many people make mistakes is that the question is NOT “bist du…”!!!… the literal translation of the question is this:

  • Is (it) cold/warm/boring to you?

So the pattern worth learning by hear is “Ist dir…” and then you put warm or cold.
Cool.

The next thing worth learning as a pattern because it’s really common and people make a lot of mistakes is the German version of “there is” in a general  sense of something being somewhere. Like…

  • There is a good bar here.

German actually uses the verb geben for these, so we say:

  • Es gibt hier eine gute Bar.
  • It gives here a good bar. (lit)

For the question, we have to put the verb first, of course, so we get:

  • Gibt es hier eine gute Bar?
  • Is there a good bar here?

Gibt es, or gibt’s as people often say, is the second pattern that’s worth learning by heart. Not because it doesn’t fit with the “rule”, but simply because it’s so common and using geben is kind of unusual.

Cool.
The last structure that’s definitely worth special attention: the gern-structure, also known as the gern-thing.
I don’t want to go into this too deeply, but gern is another way to express liking in German. Adding gern to a verb changes the meaning from doing whatever the verb stands for to liking to do what ever the verb stands for.

  • Ich höre Musik.
  • I am listening to music.
  • Ich höre gern Musik.
  • I like listening to music.

For the question, we do the usual switch…

  • Hörst du gern Musik?
  • Like you listening to music?(lit.)
  • Do you like listening to music?

This is totally in line with the basic system we found for the Yonqs, but because gern is such an alien word for many of you, I think it’s worth learning this pattern, too.

  • [verb-st] du gerne….
  • Do you like verbing…

Cool.
So now we’ve got pretty much all the tools we need to ask people questions in German.
But as promised, before we wrap up, I want to give you a really nice, common, pattern of answering questions that’ll make you sound incredibly native.
Seriously… people will be impressed :)
But before we get to that, it’s time for .. a little test.
And just so you know… you’ll need the stuff you learned about verbs as well ;)
Seriously… let me know if this quiz is too hard. I’m not sure actually.

One super useful way of answering

Simply saying yes or no might sound a little dry. Also the chances that the other person misunderstands acoustically are kind of high. What if the other person clanks with the pan right when you say ja… then you’ll have to repeat EVERYTHING. How boring. So, maybe to circumvent this, or maybe because they just want to say something people like to add a little more text to their answers even if a simple ja or nein contain all the information… so, here is what people do a lot:

  • Hast du deine Hausaufgaben gemacht?”
    “(Ja), hab‘ ich”
  • “Did you do your homework?”
    “Yeah, I did.”
  • “Bist du noch in der Bar?”
    “Ja, bin ich.”
  • “Are you still at the bar?”
    “Yes, I am.”

This looks weird at first because the verb comes before the subject. But what we have is actually a shortened version of this:

  • Ja. Das hab’ ich.
  • Ja. Das bin ich.

These are normal German sentences and the das refers to the activity in question. People rarely say the das but they feel it. This pattern is really really common and sometimes it is even kind a must-do. You can’t say this:

  • Bist du noch in der Bar?”
    “Ja, ich bin.”… is wrong

This doesn’t work because “Ich bin” is NOT a complete sentence unless you’re philosophizing. If you say just “Ich bin” everyone else is like “You are WHAT?”. So in oder to make this work you would have to add for example a dort (there) .

  • Ja, ich bin noch dort.

But trust me…

  • Ja, bin ich.

is much more natural.
And what if the answer is no? Simply add a nicht to the whole thing?

  • “Hast du mein Bier gesehen?”
    “Nein, hab’ ich nicht’
  • “Have you seen my beer?”
    “No, I haven’t.”

Now, since it seems to be kind of  like saying “Yes, I do” in English… does this system work for every verb? No. It does work for all modal verbs and for some basic too.

  • Kannst du..? Ja, kann ich.
  • Willst du… ? Ja, will ich.
  • Weißt du…? Ja, weiß ich.
  • Denkst du… ? Ja, denk’ ich.
  • Machst du… ? Ja, mach’ ich.

It also works for haben and sein no matter if they are “real verbs” or just a helper for the spoken past.

  • Hast du die Schlüssel?”
    “Ja, hab‘ ich.”
  • “You got the keys?”
    “I do.”
  • “Hast du versucht mich anzurufen?”
     “Nein, hab’ ich nicht.”

  • “Did you try to call me?”
    “No, I didn’t.”
  • “Bist du in Eile?”
    “Ja, bin ich.”
  • “Are you in a hurry?”
    “Yes, I am.”
  • Ist Thomas schon gegangen?”
    “Ja, ist er.”

  • “Has Thomas left already?”
    “Yes, he has.”

As for the rest of the verbs people tend to use machen….

  • “Ja, mach‘ ich.”

but also this doesn’t really always work. I think it is mainly used for questions that are in fact friendly commands…

  • Bringst du mir Butter mit?
    Ja, mach’ ich.
  • Could you buy some butter for me while you’re at the store?
    Sure.

So… I’d say use it this way of answering for haben, sein and the modal verbs and don’t use it for the rest :).

All right. I think we can wrap it up here. So today, we’ve talked about how to ask the questions that don’t have a question word in German. It is pretty simple. They start with the verb but unlike English you can use ANY verb… Just take a statement put the verb first and you have a yes-or-no question. For native speakers of English this will take a while to get used to but you have to admit that it is really straight forward.
In part 3 we will take a look at indirect question including polite forms of asking things and we will talk about affirmative questions in German.
If you have any questions (with or without question word :) or suggestions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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thirose
thirose
20 days ago

Thanks for the article.

One question about the short answers (hast du..? Ja, habe ich).
How would one use them for questions with verbs that are not 1) modals, 2) basic, 3) that do not accept the form “ja, mache ich” (quoting, “but also this doesn’t really always work [the ja, mache ich form].”

the7pmshow
the7pmshow
1 month ago

First, I want to say that I love this website, its both funny and informative. Second, how is part 3 coming along?

Jose Fabio
3 months ago

If some asks “Hast du Frage?”, is it ok if I answer “Keine”?

Last edited 3 months ago by Jose Fabio
TheBestLanguageEver
TheBestLanguageEver
9 months ago

Hi dear teacher,

To answer this question: kommst du morgen?
I should use the usual word order right? Like this: Ja, ich komme

Danke vielmals

TheBestLanguageEver
TheBestLanguageEver
9 months ago

Or this question: hast du ein Auto? Ja, ich habe EIN Auto ( oder ja, habe ich? )

TheBestLanguageEver
TheBestLanguageEver
8 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thank you Manuel, a tiny question…does it work for negating too? For example hast du Hunger? Nein, habe ich nicht/ nein, hab ich keinen/ nein, ich hab keinen Hunger ….which one is used in daily life more often and which one is wrong?

My gratitude is beyond words

Meliza
Meliza
9 months ago

Lieber Emanuel –

Es ist zwar schon einiges dazu geschrieben worden, aber könnten Sie mir helfen, zwischen “es gibt” und “es sind” zu unterscheiden? Ich habe immer noch Schwierigkeiten, herauszufinden, wann ich die einzelnen Sätze verwenden soll.

danke….Sie erklären die Dinge immer klar!!!

Rey
Rey
11 months ago

my mother tongue: hindi
the medium of teaching: english
the language im learning: german
all of this while sitting at home
now this is the beauty of internet

JPT
JPT
1 year ago

This doesn’t seem correct either

  • Bringst du mir Butter mit?
  • Ja, mach’ ich?
  • Could you buy some butter for me while you’re at the store?
  • Sure.
JPT
JPT
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I don’t see how this “Bringst du mir Butter mit?”
translates as this “Could you buy some butter for me while you’re at the store?” surely Bringst is to bring?

JPT
JPT
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

So the “bringst” also translate as “to buy”, and the “while you are at the store” part is only implied in the sentence. It is very confusing for us learners, the translation is too flexible to make any immediate sense or direct connections to the German words.

JPT
JPT
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

True but perhaps consider it from this point of view. Why imply “while you are at the store” in German and not imply “while you are at the store” in English?. We do imply things in English as well :) It is a bit of superfluous text that really doesn’t add anything expect confusion at least for me.

JPT
JPT
1 year ago
Reply to  JPT

expect = except

JPT
JPT
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

ah ok so in context of the short discussion, the person is already going to the store, and are being asked to pick up (or grab/get/buy…perhaps even bring) some butter at the same time. Makes more sense cheers :)

janguv
janguv
10 months ago
Reply to  JPT

I’m late to the party, but I’d like to offer up a different translation. Instead of “buy”, I would go for “get”. Just as “(mit)bringen” implies the buying (and not, say, the stealing!), so “get” does also. In fact, in colloquial English, for this sort of request we would rarely use the verb “to buy”, I think – even though that’s what we’re asking of someone.

Sannah2004
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

the ? at the end shouldn’t it be a . (Ja, mach ich.)

JPT
JPT
1 year ago

Also there seems to be an extra bit of text here

  • “Did you try to call me?”
  • “No, I didn’t.”
  • “Yes, I did.”
JPT
JPT
1 year ago

Is it a typo here Mir ist kalt/warm/langweilig ?

JPT
JPT
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

when i listen to the accompanying sound it sounds like Dir rather than Mir

Starbuck
Starbuck
1 year ago

On Question 7, I wrote “Darf ich dich was fragen?” instead of “kann” (but was marked wrong). Is there a difference in this case or is either one acceptable?

Starbuck
Starbuck
1 year ago

You’ve translated “park” as “See” in the quiz. (I swear I really do enjoy the blog and am not only here to point out errors!)

Annenna@gmail.com
Annenna@gmail.com
1 year ago

Hi, why is it not “Bist dir kalt?”

Starbuck
Starbuck
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

If you were gonna say “bist” you would surely need “du”, so is it then also correct to say “*Es* ist mir kalt”?

Desdra
Desdra
1 year ago

It seems that hören is the same verb for both to hear and to listen. Is it context only that tells you the difference?

Ich höre Musik.
I am listening to music.

How would I know that you weren’t telling me that you hear music? In English listening implies a deliberate act, I chose it, while hearing means it’s just some sound that is happening.

Thanks!

Dipannita
Dipannita
1 year ago

Finished it today. Great article but a bit confused between bist du vs ist dir? is there any specific rule of when to use what?
also if i want to ask do they like Berlin should i say Gefallen Sie Berlin?

Desdra
Desdra
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I like to think of ist dir kalt? as Is it cold to you/does it feel cold to you? I commonly ask this if I want to know if someone is cold especially if I’m cold and trying to determine if they are also cold. Anyway that helps me, I hope it helps someone else.

MihaiF
MihaiF
2 years ago

Shouldnt „Ist dir kalt” be accepted as a valid translation for „are you cold?” in the 8th question of the quiz?

FelixL
FelixL
2 years ago

Hi Emmanuel,
For the first time I find myself having a Question (you usually far beyond expectations), and apologies if I missed it.

In some sentences (Statements), the verb and the subject are already swapped, e.g.
Heute möchte Ich einen Kaffe haben.

How would you then form a Question in this case? Would you just use Intonation?

Hope this makes sense :)

Felix

FelixL
FelixL
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks for the Reply, I did also read the work order article in the meantime :)

Julian Koch
Julian Koch
3 years ago

Hey,

thanks for that great Blog, it’s really well explained and fun to read.. maybe you could talk more about forming questions with Modal Verbs? I really get confused with this type… especially in questions. On https://language-easy.org/german/grammar/verbs/modal-verbs/ they explain the principles, but they do not talk about questions either.

Thanks in advance!

Paul Ed
Paul Ed
3 years ago

Warten wir noch auf Teil 3?

I have a question about questions – well it is really about where to put the word bitte in a sentence, which is often questiony things.
Here is my question: Where should ‘bitte’ go in each of the following? In a polite request (eg Can you please bring me a drink), in an imperative statement (eg Please bring me a drink!), and in a partial request where verbs and subjects are omitted (eg A coffee, please). I’ve heard that putting bitte at the end makes it almost rude/patronising.

vielen dank!

Paul Ed
Paul Ed
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thank you!! Now, for some reason I feel like a beer….

Rella
Rella
4 years ago

Hi Emmual (vaguely recall you’ve addressed yourself as Emmual somewhere? anyway,,) so I came across your blog a few weeks back and just loved it. Posting comment first time here, as I’m still confused about this “gibt es”/ “there be” expression. Q: what about plural? In English if we say ” There’re 5 apples on the kitchen table”, do we also use “es” in German in this case?–“Es gibt fünf Äpfel auf dem Küchentisch.” ???

(I’ve noticed that your last reply was on Sep. last year, hope you’d still check this out! )

Again, Awesome blog! Thanks for making learning German kinda fun and since I’ve taken the Unicorns’ choice, keep up the good work :P

Cheers.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

soooooooooooooooooooooo bad bad