Just as English questions do, German questions fall into two major categories. There are questions that can by answered by ja or nein (yes or no); other questions begin with an interrogative word such as wer (who) and can have a variety of answers.
Yes and no questions
German questions that are answered with either ja or nein place the present or past tense verb, the modal auxiliary, or any other auxiliary before the subject of the sentence. The result is a question.
present Spielst du Schach? Do you play chess?
past Waren Sie schon in Berlin? Were you already in Berlin?
modal Könnt ihr mich verstehen? Can you understand me?
present perfect Hat Martin das Fenster zerbrochen? Did Martin break the window?
future Werden wir bald essen? Will we eat soon?
No matter what tense the German verb is in, the first element in a ja or nein question will be a conjugated verb.
Words that ask for information other than yes or no are interrogatives. They ask questions about time, place, or manner or ask for identification of someone or something. The German interrogative words are wer, was, wann, wo, warum, and wie. The rule used with questions answered with ja or nein prevails here, too: The verb precedes the subject of the sentence. And the interrogative word precedes the verb.
Wen haben sie besucht? Whom did they visit?
Mit wem spricht dein Sohn? With whom is your son speaking?
Be aware that a question beginning with warum (why) is answered with a statement that uses weil or denn (because).
Warum willst du nicht Fußball spielen? Why don’t you want to play soccer?
Ich will nicht Fußball spielen, denn ich bin sehr müde. I don’t want to play soccer, because
I’m very tired.
When the interrogative word is the subject of the sentence, as can be the case with wer or was, the interrogative word begins the sentence and is followed by the verb. Remember that the interrogative wer has three other forms: wen in the accusative, wem in the dative, and wessen, which replaces a possessive pronoun.
nominative Wer spielt Ziehharmonika? Who plays the accordion?
accusative Wen hast du gesehen? Whom did you see?
dative Von wem bekam sie das Geschenk? From whom did she receive the gift?
possessive Wessen Wagen ist das? Whose car is that?
If a preposition is used with an interrogative word, it should precede the interrogative, unlike the flexibility of a preposition’s position with an English interrogative.
Von wem hat er gesprochen? About whom did he speak? or Who did he speak about?
Be aware that several new interrogatives are formed by combining certain words with wie.
wie alt how old
wie groß how big
wie hoch how high
wie lange how long
wie oft how often
wie spät how late
wie viel how much
Wie alt ist dein Bruder? How old is your brother?
Wie oft kommst du nach Freiburg? How often do you come to Freiburg?
Various interrogatives are formed by using wo- as the prefix for certain prepositions and adverbs. They are prepositional adverbs.
wobei at what
wogegen against what
wohin where (to)
womit with what
worin in what
wozu to what
Wohin fahren die Touristen? Where are the tourists traveling to?
Womit schreibt man einen Brief? What does a person write a letter with?
Other questions that seek distinguishing information begin with welcher (which, what). In such questions, welcher must be declined according to gender, number, and case.
nominative Welches Haus ist das Neue? Which house is the new one?
accusative Welchen Mann wird die Polizei verhaften? Which man will the police arrest?
dative Mit welchem Zug sollen wir fahren? By what train should we travel?
genitive Der Sohn welcher Frau ist Arzt geworden? Which woman’s son became a