German Lessons

Topics

German Verbs of Questioning

I've spoken German with native German speakers on a daily basis for many years, but I still think that some verbs related to the root verb fragen are confusing. The fact that they all deal with different types of "asking" just makes matters worse! Let's see if this lesson can help us all get a better overview of the verbs abfragen, anfragen, befragen, and erfragen.

 

Also gut. Dann werde ich dich abfragen, Sabine.

All right. Then I'll quiz you, Sabine.

Caption 10, Bundesländer und ihre Rezepte: Rheinland-Pfalz

 Play Caption

 

 

Dann werde ich euch jetzt abfragen.

Then I'll ask you now.

Caption 4, Bundesländer und ihre Rezepte: Baden-Württemberg

 Play Caption

 

banner PLACEHOLDER

The verb abfragen is used when you want to formally test or quiz somebody to find out how much they know about something. It is usually translated as "to ask," or "to quiz."

 

Bei Interesse einfach bei einem Outdoorfitness-Anbieter anfragen.

If you're interested, simply inquire at an outdoor fitness provider.

Caption 40, Neuer Fitness-Trend: Kinderwagen-Workout

 Play Caption

 

 

Die haben dann auch immer angefragt und wir haben oft denen Sachen hinterhergebracht.

They then always asked as well, and we often brought them things afterwards.

Captions 18-19, Die Klasse: Berlin '61

 Play Caption

 

 

The verb anfragen is the best choice of words if you are approaching somebody with a question or inquiry. It's usually translated as "to ask" or "to inquire." 

 

Ich mein, wir sollten sie mal intensiver befragen.

I mean, we should question her more intensively.

Caption 70, Die Pfefferkörner: Endspurt

 Play Caption

 

 

Der Kollege Johannes Lemke hat ihn noch einmal befragt nach der spielentscheidenden Szene.

Colleague Johannes Lemke interviewed him again after the match-winning scene.

Caption 35, Fußball: U21-Nationalmannschaft

 Play Caption

 

The verb befragen, on the other hand, usually means to get specific information from somebody in a more formal sense, for example in a survey, or even a police interview. It is often translated as "to question" or "to interrogate," or even—as in the above example—"to interview." 

 

Sie können dort sehr gerne die Ankünfte beziehungsweise Ausgänge zu den ankommenden Flügen erfragen.

There you can easily inquire about arrivals or exits for arriving flights.

Captions 24-25, Flugreisen: Was mache ich, wenn...

 Play Caption

 

 

... so dass wir alle nötigen Infos vorab schon einmal erfragen und die Drehtermine ausmachen können.

... so that we can request all the necessary information in advance and set up the dates for the shoot.

Captions 11-12, Rund um den Airport: Hinter den Kulissen

 Play Caption

 

 

Lastly, the verb erfragen means to get information by asking questions, for instance for an address, directions, the time of day, or an opinion. 

 

As you can see, there seems to be a lot of overlap in the meaning of these words, but if you can remember the following, you'll usually find the right word for the context: 

 

USE                 IF YOU
abfragen          want to find out how much someone knows about something (quizzing)

anfragen           are approaching somebody with a question (inquiring)

befragen           want specific information from somebody (questioning, interrogating)

 erfragen           want to get information by asking questions (requesting).

 

Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and find more examples of the above verbs. See if you can guess the meaning of some other verbs that use the root word fragen, such as ausfragen, durchfragen, gegenfragen, nachfragen, and weiterfragen. You can also look up the German definitions of the words at Digitales Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache or on the Duden website.

The verb gelingen

You probably came across the verbs gehören and gefallen quite quickly when you began learning German. They both belong to a group of verbs in German that require a dative object. They are both a bit perplexing at first because most past participles in German begin with ge- (and gehört is indeed the past participle of hören), and also because they follow a particular structure when used in a sentence that doesn't necessarily match the structure in English.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Also, mir gehört er auf jeden Fall nicht.

Well, it definitely doesn't belong to me.

Caption 49, Das Urban-Art-Projekt - Polnischer Militärhubschrauber

 Play Caption

 

Das gefällt mir richtig, richtig gut.

I really, really like it.

Caption 5, Auto-Bild-TV - Tops & Flops der IAA

 Play Caption

 

Notice that in the case of gehören we use the same structure in English, whereas with gefallen the sentence doesn't translate directly. The closest we could come in English is "It pleases me," but this is rarely used nowadays.

 

Now let's look at gelingen. We notice right away that, like gehören and gefallen, it begins with ge-, which can cause some confusion since it resembles a past participle. Gelingen is indeed the infinitive, and gelungen is the participle. 

 

Gelingen means "to succeed," "to work out," or "to manage to do something." When we express this in English, the structure is very different. You could almost say that the subject and object are switched. Whereas Das gehört mir is easily translatable as "That belongs to me," there is no such easy direct translation for phrases like Es gelingt ihnen or Es ist mir gelungen in English.

 

Den Tauchern gelingen die ersten Filmaufnahmen dieses Verhaltens.

The divers manage to get the first film footage of this behavior.

Caption 35, Alpenseen - Kühle Schönheiten - Part 3

 Play Caption

 

Zusammen mit seiner Freundin gelingt ihm dann beim dritten Versuch endlich die Flucht.

Together with his girlfriend, he finally manages to escape on the third attempt.

Caption 20, 25 Jahre Mauerfall - Radtour durch die Geschichte

 Play Caption

 

In the sentences above, the subjects are die ersten Filmaufnahmen and die Flucht and the objects are den Tauchern and ihm. In English, this is essentially reversed, or the adjective "successful" is employed. Here are a few more examples: 

 

Dem treuen Charlie gelingt zur Halbzeit, was er in sechshundertundzwei Bundesligaspielen nicht geschafft hat.

Faithful Charlie achieves at halftime what he hasn't managed in six hundred and two national league games.

Captions 28-29, Fußball - Prominente beim Benefizspiel

 Play Caption

 

Das ist uns nicht gelungen und... jetzt gilt es natürlich die nächsten Spiele hochkonzentriert anzugehen und dann die möglichen Punkte zu holen.

We were unsuccessful and... Now it's necessary of course to approach the next matches highly concentrated and then to get all points possible.

Captions 50-51, Fußball - U21-Nationalmannschaft - Part 3

 Play Caption

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Further Learning
Some verbs that follow similar structures in German (but not always in English!) include: fehlengehorchenpassenschmecken, and wehtun. Look these up, and then go to Yabla German to see them used in a real-world context.

German Soccer Expressions

If you are a soccer fan, you are probably already familiar with many soccer terms, but here are few that may be new for you!

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

A referee is a Schiedsrichter, but just as "ref" is often used as a shorter form for "referee" in English, so too in German is Schiri a shortening of Schiedsrichter:

 

Am besten holt sich jeder Schiri... knöpft sich einen Spieler vor.

It would be best if every ref got... to button up a player.

Caption 30, Die OLElympischen Spiele - Laotischer Hühnertanz

 Play Caption

 

The slang term Gelb sehen, literally to "see yellow," means a player has been penalized with a yellow penalty card:

 

Dafür habe ich aber 'ne gelbe Karte wegen Foulspielen an 'n Rasen bekommen,

For that, however, I received a yellow card for foul play against the field,

Caption 49, Rhein-Main-TV aktuell - Kick für Kids

 Play Caption

 

In the above caption you see the football terms das Foulspiel (foul play) and der Rasen (the playing field) too!

A penalty shot is called an Elfmeter, literally an "eleven meter," in reference to the distance from the goal, and in this case the shot was verschossen or "missed":

 

Aus Scham über den verschossenen Elfmeter pumpt Vettel erst mal ein paar Liegestütze.

From shame over the missed eleven meter [penalty shot], Vettel first pumps a few push-ups.

Caption 40, Fußball - Prominente beim Benefizspiel

 Play Caption

 

Here we manage to get four football terms in a single sentence!

 

Es ist ein Laufduell, ein Pass, der vor die Abwehr kommt, und ein Zweikampf.

It's a sprinting duel, a pass that comes before the defense, and a tackle.

Caption 37, Fußball - U21-Nationalmannschaft

 Play Caption

 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Further Learning:

Pop quiz: without peeking, what do the terms we just read about mean? Der Schiri, die gelbe Karte, das Foulspiel, der Rasen, verschossen, der Elfmeter, das Laufduell, der Pass, die Abwehr, der Zweikampf. If you would like to go beyond vocabulary and into some very funny German soccer philosophy, read the article in der Spiegel entitled "German Football's Greatest Sayings."

Expressions

You May Also Like