Well, one of the first things you’ll learn in German is how to ask questions. For that, we have to learn about "interrogative adverbs."

You might ask: Why is this so important?” (“Warum ist das so wichtig?”).

Hm… Why? Because without it, you wouldn’t even be able to ask the above question! Let's start with Anja's video on the subject as a warm up. 🙂 


Without question words, you wouldn’t be able find out important things in your everyday life like somebody's name, where you can eat or when your train leaves:

  • Wie heißt du? (What’s your name?)
  • Wo kann ich etwas essen? (Where can I eat something?)
  • Wann fährt der Zug ab? (When does the train leave?)


You can ask questions in German with words that start with the letter “w” which is why we call them “w-words” (wie? wo? wann?). 

These are known in German grammar as “W-Wörter” and in English grammar as “wh-words”.

girl raises her hand in class

It’s always “better to ask the way than go astray”, which we can interpret as: don’t shy away from asking questions!


What are adverbs?

Adverbs describe other words like verbs, adjectives or even other adverbs and provide information about time, place, manner or reason. Ok, but what does that mean? Let's take a look:

  • Adverbs of time: gestern (yesterday), heute (today), morgen (tomorrow) abends (in the evening), etc.;
  • Adverbs of place: hier (here), da (there), überall (everywhere), etc.;
  • Adverbs of manner: irgendwie (somehow), anders (differently), vergebens (in vain, without success), etc;
  • Adverbs of reason: deshalb (that's why), nämlich (namely), daher (therefore), etc.


You can learn more about German adverbs right here!


What are interrogative adverbs?

W-words that we use in German to ask questions are also known as "interrogative" adverbs, for example:

  • Wann? (When?)
  • Wo? (Where?)
  • Wie? (How?)
  • Warum? (Why?)


Their equivalents in English are mostly wh-words (When? Where? How? Why?). Every 'w-word’ is asking for something speficic, so you can’t answer with just “yes” or “no”.

Instead, interrogative adverbs (w-words) ask information about time, place, manner or reason, so you also use adverbs of time, place, manner or reason as an answer. 

Let’s take a look at some examples:

1. W-word: Wann?

Answer: gestern / heute / morgen etc.

  • Wann beginnt der Winter? (When does winter start?)
  • Der Winter beginnt heute. (Winter begins today).


2. W-word: Wo?

Answer: hier / da / überall etc.

  • Wo ist meine Sonnenbrille? (Where are my sun glasses?)
  • Deine Sonnenbrille ist hier. (Your sunglasses are here.) 


3. W-word: Wie?

Answer: irgendwie / anders / vergebens etc.

  • Wie ist dein neuer Freund? (What's your new boyfriend like?)
  • Er ist anders. (He is different.)


4. W-word: Warum?

Answer: deshalb / nämlich / daher etc.

  • Warum lernst du Deutsch? (Why are you learning German?)
  • Ich mag es. Deshalb. (I like it. That's why.)


As we can see from the above examples, the connection between interrogative adverbs and other adverbs can be described like this:

  • They can be grouped by their type of information (time, place, manner, reason) they offer.
  • They act as question-answer pairs.    


On the other hand, the interrogative adverbs differentiate themselves from other adverbs through the following: 

  • They are always placed at the beginning of the sentence.
  • They signal that the sentence is a question.


Interrogative adverbs can also introduce indirect questions. They look like this:

  • Er hat mich gefragt, wann ich morgen komme. (He asked me when I’m coming tomorrow.)
  • Ich habe dir doch gesagt, wie man das macht. (I told you how to do that.)


Examples of interrogative adverbs

Since interrogative adverbs ask about time, place, manner and reason, we can divide them into groups based on each of those categories:

1. Time

Wann (when)? 

  • Wann fährt der Zug ab? (When does the train leave?)
  • Wann beginnt der Winter? (When does winter start?)
  • Wann kommt er? (When is he coming?)


Bis wann (until when)? 

  • Bis wann bleibst du im Kino? (Until when will you stay at the cinema?)
  • Bis wann ist das Zertifikat gültig? (How long is the certificate valid?)
  • Bis wann brauchen Sie die Informationen? (Until when do you need the information?)


Seit wann (since when, how long)? 

  • Seit wann bist du wieder hier? (How long have you been back here?)
  • Seit wann hat er eine neue Freundin? (Since when does he have a new girlfriend?)
  • Seit wann trainiert er Tennis? (How long has he been training tennis?)


Wie lange (how long)? 

  • Wie lange lernst du Deutsch? (How long have you been learning German?)
  • Wie lange kennen wir uns? (How long have we known each other?)
  • Wie lange bleibst du noch? (How long will you stay?)


Wie oft (how often)? 

  • Wie oft gehst du ins Kino? (How often do you go to the movies?)
  • Wie oft kommt er? (How often does he come?)
  • Wie oft lernst du Deutsch? (How often do you study German?) 


2. Place and direction

Wo (where)?

  • Wo wohnst du? (Where do you live?)
  • Wo arbeitet er? (Where does he work?)
  • Wo siehst du dich in fünf Jahren? (Where do you see yourself in five years?)


Woher (Where from?)

  • Woher kommst du? (Where are you from?)
  • Woher kommt der Lärm? (Where is the noise coming from?)
  • Woher hat sie diese Information? (Where did she get this information from?)


Wohin? (Where (to))?

  • Wohin gehst du? (Where are you going?)
  • Wohin damit? (Where should I put it?)
  • Wohin gehören die Hemden? (Where do the shirts belong?)


3. Manner

Wie? (How?)

  • Wie heißt du? (What’s your name?)
  • Wie hast du das gemacht? (How did you do it?)
  • Wie komme ich zum Bahnhof? (How can I get to the railway station?)


4. Reason

Warum? (Why?)

  • Warum musst du das wissen? (Why do you have to know that?)
  • Warum willst du nicht kommen? (Why don't you want to come?)
  • Warum nicht? (Why not?)


We can say “warum (why?)” in two other ways: “weshalb?” is a formal version, while “wieso? (Why? How come?)” is a colloquial variation. 

Wozu (what for?)

  • Wozu brauchst du das? (Why do you need that?)
  • Wozu dient das? (What’s this for?)


Conclusion

  • You can ask questions in German with words that start with the letter “w” which is why we call them “w-words” (wie? wo? wann?);
  • They are known in German grammar as “W-Wörter” and in English grammar as “wh-words”;
  • W-words that we use in German to ask questions are also called “interrogative adverbs”;
  • They are always placed at the beginning of the sentence and signal that the sentence is a question.
  • Every 'w-word’ requires a specific type of answer, so you can’t answer with just “yes” or “no”;
  • Interrogative adverbs (w-words) ask for information about time, place, manner or reason and can be divided in groups based on this;
  • W-words that ask for information about time are: Wann? Bis wann? Seit wann? Wie lange? Wie oft?
  • W-words that ask about place and direction are: Wo? Woher? Wohin?
  • W-word that ask about manner is: Wie?
  • W-words that ask about reason are: Warum? Wozu? 

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