Asking Questions

Types of Questions

There are two types of questions in German (just like in English!):

  • W-Questions
  • Yes/No Questions

Examples:

  • Woher kommst du?“ - „Ich komme aus Deutschland.“
  • „Kommst du aus Deutschland?“ – „Ja/Nein.“

Yes/No-Questions

As the name suggests, yes/no-questions are ones where the only possible answers are yes and no (plus a special word „doch“ for so-called negative questions).

Examples:

Positive Questions: „Kommst du aus Berlin?“ 

  • Ja, sicher“
  • Nein, aus Bern.“

Negative Questions: „Magst du Lisa nicht?“

  • Doch, ich mag sie.“
  • Nein, ich mag sie nicht.“


What does „doch“ mean?

In English, it's difficult to know how to answer when someone asks a negative question like "Do you not like Lisa?" Does „ja“ mean "Yes, it's correct that I do not like Lisa" or does it mean "Yes, I do like Lisa"?

German has a solution to this problem: the word „doch“. „Doch“ is used when you disagree with what the person said in the question, so in a sense „doch“ means "actually I do."

Remember:

„Doch“ is used whenever you disagree with a question with a negative, because the answer „ja“ would not be clear whether you like the person, as in the example, or agree with the person asking.

Word Order and Yes/No-Questions

The conjugated verb goes in Position 1.

The subject goes in Position 2.

Examples:

Wortstellung Ja Nein Frage


Like in English, you can also form a yes/no-question by making a statement and raising your voice at the end of it: "You're coming to the party?" But in order to avoid misunderstandings, it's better to use the standard form of asking a yes/no-question: conjugated verb in position 1 - "Are you coming to the party?"


W-Questions

W-questions are questions that use question words. They are called w-questions because all question words in German start with the letter "w".

W-questions are asking for more information, and a "yes" or "no" is not enough to answer them.

Just like in English, the question word goes in position 1 and the conjugated verb goes in position 2.

Examples:

  • Woher kommst du?“ – „Ich komme aus Deutschland.“
  • Was machst du?“ – „Ich spiele Fußball.“


W-Question Words:

Recommendation: Question with Prepositions / Indirect Question

When you ask about things that are used together with a preposition, you usually have to use the preposition in the question word as well. I'll explain how this works in the lesson: Questions with Prepositions.

You can also ask indirect questions. That is, ask something without asking a question (from a grammatical point of view). This is less direct and often more polite. I explain how indirect questions work in the lesson: Indirect Questions.

Summary

  • In German, there are w-questions and yes/no-questions
  • W-questions start with a question word - in German, all question words start with the letter „W“.
  • Yes/No-Questions can be answered with „ja“, „nein“ or „doch“.

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