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A Comprehensive Guide to German Question Words

If you have ever listened to the German opening of the famous TV series Sesame Street, you might have stumbled upon the following line:

Wieso, weshalb, warum — wer nicht fragt bleibt dumm!
(“How come, for what reason, why — if you don’t ask you’ll stay stupid.”)

As per usual for the German language, this is a true, but very matter-of-fact—almost blunt—statement. It’s also the perfect introduction to today’s topic: German question words!

Before I’ll dive deeper into the specific uses for each question word, let’s have a look at all of them:

Wie? How?
Was? What?
Wann? When?
Wo? Where?
Warum? Why?
Wohin? Where to?
Wer? Who?
Seit wann? Since when?
Wie lange? How long?
Worüber? About which? (About what?)
Woran? By which? (By what?), what?
Welche? Which?
Wessen? Whose?
Wie viel? How much?
Wie viele? How many?
Mit wem? With whom?
Womit? By what? (Through what?), how?
Gibt es…? Is there…?
Wodurch? Whereby? How? What? In what way? By what?

This is quite the extensive list, and probably the best way to memorize them all is to simply learn them by heart.

The more of these German question words you know, the easier it will be for you to ask the right questions.

Let’s now have a look at a couple examples, so that you will know when and how to use the German question words you’ve just learned!

Wie?

Wie gehts es dir? — How are you?
(A very common German phrase you are definitely going to encounter, if you haven’t already!)

Wie kann ich dir helfen? — How can I help you?

Wie hast du die Matheaufgabe gelöst? — How did you solve the math problem?

Wie kannst du nur? — How could you?

Was?

Was hast du heute vor? — What have you got planned for today?

Was hat sie gesagt? — What did she say?

Was für eine Farbe hat euer Auto? — What color is you guys’ car?

Was für eine seltsame Frage! — What a strange question!

Wann?

Wann hast du sie zuletzt gesehen? — When did you see them last?

Wann geht er nach Berlin? — When is he going to Berlin?

Wann fängt bei dir die Uni wieder an? — When will university start for you again?

Wann sollen wir uns treffen? — When should we meet up?

Wo?

Entschuldigung, wo ist der Bahnhof? — Excuse me, where is the train station?

Wo treffen wir uns am Dienstag? — Where are we meeting up on Tuesday?

Wo in München wohnst du? — Where in Munich do you live?

Wo habt ihr geplant, euren Urlaub zu verbringen? — Where did you guys plan to spend your vacation?

Warum?

Warum hat er sich nicht bei dir gemeldet? — Why didn’t he contact you?

Warum bist du nicht mit uns mitgekommen? — Why didn’t you go with us?

Warum müssen wir am Montag länger in der Schule bleiben? — Why do we have to stay in school longer on Monday?

Du hast sie nicht gefragt, warum sie das getan hat? — You didn’t ask her why she had done this?

Wohin?

Wohin gehst du? — Where (to) are you going?

Wohin in Frankreich wollt ihr gehen? — Where to in France are you intending to travel?

Hat er dir erzählt, wohin er gefahren ist? — Did he tell you where (to) he was driving?

Wohin sollen wir am Freitag gehen? — Where (to) should we go on Friday?

Wer?

Wer hat meine Schlüssel geklaut? — Who stole my keys?

Wer war gestern zuletzt im Büro? — Who was the last person at the office yesterday?

Hast du gesehen, wer uns gestern besucht hat? — Did you see who visited us yesterday?

Wer hat mich gerade angerufen? Ich kenne die Nummer nicht. — Who did just call me? I don’t recognize the number.

Seit wann?

Seit wann sind Nathan und Rachel zusammen? — How long have Nathan and Rachel been dating?

Seit wann magst du Erbsen? — Since when do you like peas?

Seit wann lebst du in Deutschland? — Since when have you been living in Germany?

Seit wann hat sie sich nicht mehr bei dir gemeldet? — Since when has she stopped being in contact with you?

Wie lange?

Wie lange lebst du schon in den USA? — How long have you been living in the US?

Wie lange muss der Kuchen im Ofen backen? — How long does the cake have to bake in the oven?

Wie lange hast du Zeit? — How much time do you have?

Wie lange geht der Film (or: wie lange dauert der Film)? — How long is the movie?

Note: A lot of times in German spoken language, the “e” in “lange” is silent. Most of the time, people will opt for saying “Wie lang”, although it’s technically not one hundred percent correct.

Worüber?

Worüber habt ihr gesprochen? — What did you guys talk about?

Worüber lachst du? — What are you laughing at?

Ist das etwas, worüber ich mir Gedanken machen sollte? — Is this something I should worry about?

Worüber denkst du nach? — What are you thinking about?

Woran?

Woran erkenne ich, ob das Fleisch noch gut ist? — How (by what) do I know if the meat is still good?

Woran sollte ich denken, bevor wir losfahren? — What should I think of before we leave? (Meaning: what should I think of packing?)

Woran hast du gesehen, dass etwas nicht stimmte? — How (by what) were you able to tell something wasn’t right?

Woran hast du gedacht? — What were you thinking of?

Note: As you might notice here, the translation for the word “woran” isn’t always “by what” or “through what”, but sometimes also simply “what” or “how”. It’s one of the German question words that seem to shift in meaning depending on how it is used.

Welche?

Welche Fragen sind jetzt noch unbeantwortet? — Which questions haven’t been answered yet?

Welches Kleid soll ich anziehen? — Which dress should I wear?

Welchen Film sollen wir uns anschauen? — Which movie should we watch?

Welche Ausfahrt müssen wir nehmen? — Which exit do we have to take?

Note: Depending on the gender of the noun following the word “welche” as well as the case, the question word “welche” changes its form, as you can see in the examples above.

  • If the noun is neuter (like “das Kleid” — “the dress”), the word “welche” remains in its regular form.
  • If the noun is male (“der Film” — “the movie”) — and also due to the case, as the question word is in the accusative here — “welche” becomes “welchen”.
  • If the noun is female, the word “welche” does not change.

This is an excellent opportunity to brush up on your knowledge on German cases, if you get the feeling that you’re struggling with them a bit! (There’s no shame in that — most Germans will find themselves struggling with them, because they are a mean bunch.)

Wessen?

Wessen Jacke habe ich gestern versehentlich mitgenommen? — Whose jacket did I accidentally take yesterday?

Wessen Bücher liegen auf dem Tisch? — Whose books are on the table?

Wessen Auto ist das? — Whose car is that?

Wessen Idee war es, Kaugummi ins Schlüsselloch zu stecken? — Whose idea was it to stick chewing gum in the keyhole?

Note:Wessen” is not only a question word, but also indication for you that you are dealing with the genitive case. As I previously mentioned, the genitive is somewhat of a dying case, since a lot of people (even German native speakers!) do not know how to use the case properly.

Instead, a lot of people use “wem sein” instead of “wessen”, and essentially wrongly replace the genitive with a dative case.

(Every time someone does this, somewhere on this planet a kitten dies.)

So just know that whenever someone yells “Wem seine Jacke ist das?”, the correct form is “Wessen Jacke ist das?”

Wie viel?

Wie viel kostet diese Vase? — How much is this vase?

Wie viel Brot habt ihr eingekauft? — How much bread did you guys buy?

Wie viel Trinkgeld soll ich der Bedienung geben? — How much should I tip the waiter?

Wie viel Gehalt verdienst du in deiner Position? — How much does your position pay?

Wie viele?

Wie viele Leute waren bei der Amtseinführung? — How many people were at the inauguration?

Wie viele Male soll ich mich denn noch wiederholen? — How many more times do I have to repeat myself?

Wie viele Paar Schuhe hast du? — How many pairs of shoes do you own?

Wie viele Gäste sind zu deiner Party eingeladen? — How many guests are invited to your party?

Mit wem?

Mit wem hast du dich gestern getroffen? — With whom did you meet up yesterday?

Mit wem fährst du dieses Jahr in den Urlaub? — With whom are you going on vacation this year?

Mit wem hat er gestern gesprochen? — Who did he talk to yesterday? (With whom did he talk yesterday?)

Mit wem arbeitest du an dem Projekt? — Who are you working on the project with?

Womit?

Womit hat er die Flasche geöffnet? — How did he open the bottle?

Womit kann ich dir helfen? — How can I help you?

Womit hat er das Auto bezahlen können? — By what means was he able to pay for the car?

Womit hast du dich beschäftigt? — By what means did you keep yourself occupied?

Gibt es…?

Entschuldigung, gibt es in diesem Gebäude eine Toilette? — Excuse me, is there a restroom in this building?

Gibt es denn nichts anderes, was dir einfällt? — Isn’t there anything else you could think of?

Gibt es auf der Feier etwas zu essen? — Will there be food at the party?

Gibt es keine andere Möglichkeit? — Isn’t there another option?

Wodurch?

Wodurch wurde er berühmt? — How did he become famous?

Wodurch unterscheidet sich dieses Sofa von den anderen? — In what way is this sofa different from the other ones?

Wodurch hätte ich das wissen sollen? — By what means could I have known that?

Wodurch werden Ressourcen verschwendet? — How are resources being wasted?


So, there they are! The most important question words in the German language!

There are quite a few of them, but the good news is that they’re pretty easy to keep in mind.

In case you are curious about testing your knowledge on German question words so far, you can head over to our quiz section — Clozemaster will help you learn all the important verbs and grammar in no time!

Until next time, have fun and viel Erfolg!

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