and welcome to another part of the German is Easy Learn German online course – the course that is not coarse!
German is Easy… because our puns are 30% lamer than those of competing courses.
… … … sorry… … …
Soooo… today we’ll do the second part of How to ask Questions in German. Last time, we learned everything about 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 questions check out part 1 here (disclaimer: the questions given here are merely examples. None of the above questions will be answered or discussed in the linked post)
Today, we’ll talk about the other main type of questions… the ones without question words …
- Is there such thing as reality?
- Is there a reason for our being here?
- Can reality be defined by an individual?
- Does milk expire?
We will talk about those questions and learn how to build them, which is ridiculously simple unless your native language is English… then, it is kind of like throwing a ball with the left hand :).
Also, we’ll look at some useful patterns and finally we’ll talk about an incredibly common way of answering yes or no questions… it’s super easy and it’ll make you sound super native. So… let’s dive right in, shall we?
Yes or No questions
Questions without question-word are also called yes or no question Because technically, you can answer those questions with just yes or no… or their synonyms like nope, nah, uh uhhh, pshhh, tsss and so on.
- “Do you know where I can find an ATM around here?”
Sure… by human standards this question is not properly answered … humans with all their unspoken implied meanings and their subtext…but from a logical point of view it is.
So… there are 2 differences between yes or no question and w-questions. One is the way in which they are put into indirect speech. We’ll talk about that in part 3. The other difference is the structure and there German and English follow the same basic principle:
First, there comes a verb
But that’s where the commonalities end. In English it works similar to the w-questions. Roughly the system is this: there is an elite group of verbs, called “the Skulls”. They all have secret tattoos and only they can start a question. All the normal verbs have to call on to do . But to do itself is not part of the elite so to do also calls itself if it wants to form a question and also to have, usually part of the elite sometimes acts as normal verb and then needs to d… it is really confu… uh sophisticated. German is much more simplerer. In German all verbs are equal. So every verb can be used to start a question. So whatever it is just put it first, and that’s it…
As we can see, sometimes the German and the English question look the same and sometimes they are totally different. So obviously you cannot just translate word by word. Basically, what you have to do is you take a simple statement
- Ich bin heute extrem müde.
- Bin ich heute extrem müde?
just switch around the subject and the verb and you’ve got a question…
- 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 it doesn’t matter what tense or mode or whatever… it ALWAYS works that way:
- 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… I am sure for native speakers of English this structure sounds a bit silly but maybe that can even help to remember how it works… because there isn’t much to understand. I do believe though that if you have the English system hard wired in your brain this will take a while to get used to. Just let me stress again: DON’T try to translate a given English question word by word. Why not? Well, there are sooo many differences … the use of the tenses is different,
- Ich wohne seit 20 Jahren in Berlin…. uses present tense
- I have been living in Berlin for 20 years…uses perfect tense (with progressive aspect)
the way the tenses are built is different
- Marie ist zum Supermarkt gegangen…. uses to be as helper verb
- Marie has gone to the supermarket…. uses to have as helper verb
AND as we have seen, the way yes or no questions are formed is different… so the chance that the German question will contain the same words is in fact not that high, and the chance that both questions look the same is even notter that high. Let’s look at an example… with the verb schlafen:
- Did you do sleep?
- Have you slept?
- Were you sleeping?
All those 3 will translate to this question in German:
- Hast du geschlafen?
Why? Because we are talking about the past, we use spoken past, schlafen builds its spoken past with haben and the normal statement would be:
- Du hast geschlafen.
What doesn’t matter is how the English sentence looks.
So… what you should do to train yourself and see how it works is to form a statement in German first and then make it into a yes or no question by simply doing the switcheroo of subject and the verb that comes after. So … here is the general structure for a German yes or no question and the respective statement:
- [Subject] [conjugated verb] [all boxes in some order] [left overs from verb], [side sentence with dass or stuff like that].
- [conjugated verb] [subject] [all boxes in some order] [left overs from verb], [side sentence with dass or stuff like that] ?
So … verb first, subject second and you will NEVER have to add anything just because it is a questi… hold on… my red exception phone is ringing… damn it.. I gotta take this real quick… hey John man, how are you?… oh … oh cool… and how many pounds did you lose with this new method… really, THAT many … wow, that is absolutely amazing… but anyway… what exception do you have for me, I hope it’s not something serious because this is for beginners and they mustn’t know that there are exceptions to everything…. oh… sentence struc… ohhhhhhh…… … … … ooookaaaayyy… well, I guess I should mention it … thanks man, and now work ‘dem abs … hahaha… yeah bye….
All right… so John my exception watch dog just called and brought something to my attention with regards to the general structure I just gave you because in fact the subject doesn’t always have to come after the verb… sometimes it comes very very late:
- 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
There are verbs for which the subject will come very late in a sentence… but don’t worry, I mentioned it just to give you the whole picture… the only verb of that kind that you need as a beginner is gefallen.
- Hat dir Berlin gefallen.
- Has Berlin been likable to you? (lit.)
- Did you like Berlin?
Gefallen is basically to like with the roles reversed. So Berlin is the subject and you are the “object”. And still… questions with gefallen often start like this:
- Gefällt dir [subject] ?/ Hat dir [subject] gefallen?
- Do you like [object]? / Did you like [object]?
All right. Cool. So we’re already pretty much talking about important structures but there is one last general thing that I would like to mention:
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 every day question so you should start getting used to it if it works differently in your mother tongue.
- raise your voice toward the end
But now on to some structures…
some important structures
I told you to switch around subject and verb. But what if there is no subject… like those things:
- Dir ist kalt/warm/langweilig.
If you want to make those into a question just do the same you did before… do the switch.
- Ist dir kalt/warm/langweilig?
Note that the question is NOT “bist du…”!!!… the literal translation of the question is this:
- Is it cold/warm/boring to you?
The it is just missing in the German sentence. So get used to the pattern “Ist dir…“.
Then, the next thing beginners have trouble with is the German version of “there is”… in German, we use geben (to give) and we say:
- Es gibt hier eine gute Bar.
- It gives here a good bar. (lit)
- There is a good bar here.
Now… if we want to make that into a question, what do we have to do? Exactly THE SWITCH :)
- Gibt es hier eine gute Bar?
- Is there a good bar here?
The last structure that often throws off beginners is the gern-structure also known as the gern-thing. Without going into it too deep… adding gern to a verb changes the meaning from doing the action to like doing the action.
- Du hörst gern Musik.
- You like listening to music.
- Hörst du gern Musik?
- Like you listening to music?(lit.)
- Do you like listening to music?
- Ich esse Pizza.
- I eat pizza.
- Ich esse gern Pizza.
- I like eating pizza.
So now we’ve learned how to ask yes or no question. Let’s top this of with an incredibly useful way of responding that will make you sound like a native for a second.
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.
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?
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.