Questions in German – Part 2

Hello everyone,

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?”
    “Affirmative!”

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

just switch around the subject and the verb and you’ve got a question…

And it doesn’t matter what tense or mode or whatever… it ALWAYS works that way:

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:

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:

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:

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.

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:

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:

If you want to make those into a question just do the same you did before… do the switch.

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:

Now… if we want to make that into a question, what do we have to do? Exactly THE SWITCH :)

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.
  • Ich esse Pizza.
  • eat pizza.

All right.
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:

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) .

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?

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.

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….

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

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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cmalbrecht

In my favorite restaurant, a sign behind the bar reads: Morgen gibt’s Freibier. That’s why I always come back tomorrow.

hansathan

Hello,

Just wanted to say I really enjoy your writing style and wanted to thank you for the funny and informative posts. I was a German student in high school, but I did not take it as seriously as I should have. In the last 14 months, I completed all 5 levels of Rosetta Stone with my best friend, and now am trying to find ways to supplement my learning. This blog is one of those learning tools. Keep it up!

Vielen dank,

-Hans

Joe
Joe

Du hast gesagt dass man sagt “es gibt” um “there is” zu sagen aber wann verwendet man stattdessen “da ist/sind”? Gibt es ein Unterscheid? (tut mir leid, ich weiß dein Post geht um Frage und nicht das, aber ich frage mich das seit Monaten)

Übrigens, bin ich Hans’s Freund haha. Wir beide lieben dein Blog!

Joe
Joe

I just thought of another example that I was wondering about. Does your way of answering yes/no questions also work for “werden”? Like can you say:

ja, werd’ ich.

Heiko
Heiko

What I have always done with gefallen is think of it as “to please”, eg “Wie gefaellt dir Berlin?” “Berlin gefaellt mir sehr” would be translated as “how does Berlin please you?” “Berlin pleases me a lot.” Hope this helps!

Steve Hobbs

Great post! I love your writing style and as such, makes it easy to understand what you’re trying to explain :-)

I had a question which I guess is alongside this topic of “asking and answering”. I’ve heard in the past people use “Kannst du Deutsch?” or “Ja, ich kann ein bisschen Deutsch”. Of course, literally it means “Can you German?” and “Yes, I can a little German”. In English, this is nonsensical as we would need to specify the implicit verb “to speak”, but it seems in certain cases in German, this is not required.

Can you give a little advice as to when/where it’s acceptable to do this and with which verbs? Is it only possible with specific phrases or only with modal verbs, for example?

Thanks!

catrapture

This has been an excellent post. A few ‘a-ha!’ moments. Thanks again for all your effort writing for this blog – I visit your site daily! :)

ganesh
ganesh

dass ist zehr gut.

Nathan
Nathan

Wow, fantastic read as usual! Thanks a lot.
I do have several questions though, and normally I’d look back through your other posts to see if you’ve already covered them, but I didn’t see anything on ‘hören’, and you kind of dropped a bomb in the middle of this by saying that you can replace it with almost any verb, and I’m afraid I didn’t understand what you meant exactly. Is it that ‘hören’ can be replaced by any verb, or that it can replace any verb? But more importantly, is there anyway you could give examples of this?

My next question: In English you can turn almost any statement into a question simply by raising your voice at the end. Is this possible in German as well? Here are some examples of what I mean. Also, it’s usually accompanied by a pause for an answer and/or a puzzled look.
-You are making cookies? (raised voice at the end)
-They’re getting back at 5? (same)
-All of our troops are dead? (same)

Next, I’ve seen you (and I think other people) type out the shortened hab’. I understand the ‘e’ is dropped in spoken German, but it seems odd to me when this is done in written German, as hab’ and habe contain identical amounts of characters. Do you just do this to get people used to talking like that and to show how the sentence would most likely pop up in real life, or do Germans write like that most of the time?

Lastly, your example: “Hat dir Berlin gefallen?” I was wondering, does “Hast du Berlin gemocht?” mean the same thing?

Oh also, I know it’s just a typo, but I believe you’ve left an ‘A’ off the English word ‘Bread’ in your sentence about missing German breads while away in America. It’s just funny because ‘German bred’ is making me think of something else entirely lol. :)

Vielen Dank! Bis später!

Nathan
Nathan

Oh sorry, I think I understand what you were saying about hören. You were just using it as an example?

Nathan
Nathan

Danke! Sie erklären alles, was ich wissen wollte.
Und ja… tut mir leid, Englisch Muttersprachler ist mein zweiter Vorname!
Heute Abend muss ich über “mögen-gern-gefallen” lesen. :)
Danke nochmal!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Its funny, cause German questions are like Middle English, its full of that style of question.

Jenny
Jenny

Just a quick question about short sentences like “Yes, I am!” or “Yes, I know!”

In this post, you mentioned that one cannot say, “Ja, ich bin” or “Ja, ich weiss” in response to a question. But what if you are simply making a statement in response to someone else’s statement. For example:

–A: “This is really confusing.”
–B: “Yeah, I know.”

or

–A: “You are smart.”
–B: “Yeah, I am.”

Would the same flip apply here?

youcef
youcef

hi

kubota excavator

You ought to take part in a contest for one of the greatest blogs on the web.
I most certainly will recommend this site!

Kwang
Kwang

Awesome blog! It helped untangle a lot. I’m still waiting for part 3 :)

Angie
Angie

Thanks to you, my understanding of the German language is improving. :))

Just a quick tip for you, you have written ‘So, first of….’ a few times in various answers that you give, but it should be ‘first off’…which would mean, the first one taken off the list, (I believe this use was originally taken from the sayings like ‘the runner was first off his mark’, or, ‘to kick off with’).

AruaT
AruaT

I understand the sentence order better now, but I still struggle with understanding them because I keep trying to translate them into english in my head and then they stop making sense. lol.

Anyways, awesome post. Helped a lot.

aa_6
aa_6

How is part 3 coming along Emmanuel?

Anonymous
Anonymous

soooooooooooooooooooooo bad bad

Rella
Rella

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.