Ways To Say What In German

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Written By Jessica Knight

Founder of Linguatics. Passionate multilinguist.

Are you struggling to find the right words to express ‘what’ in German? Look no further! In this article, we will explore various ways to say ‘what’ in German, ranging from basic translations to informal expressions and formal alternatives.

We will also delve into common contractions and alternative phrases that you can use to enhance your language skills. Understanding different contexts and regional variations is crucial, so we will cover those too.

Additionally, we will touch upon idiomatic expressions with ‘what’ and provide practical tips for practicing and remembering these phrases. By the end of this article, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of the different ways to say ‘what’ in German, allowing you to communicate more effectively in various settings.

So let’s get started on your journey to master German expressions for ‘what’!

Basic Translation of ‘What’

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with a German speaker and wanna know how to say ‘what’ in German?

Well, it’s pretty simple! The basic translation for ‘what’ in German is ‘was’.

So, whenever you’re unsure about something or need clarification, just ask ‘was?’ and you’ll be good to go.

It’s a handy word to know and will definitely help you in your German conversations.

Informal Expressions for ‘What’

Discover various informal expressions in German to ask ‘What’ in a more casual and friendly manner. When engaging in a relaxed conversation, you can use expressions like ‘Was geht?’ or ‘Was ist los?’ to mean ‘What’s up?’ or ‘What’s going on?’

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Another option is to say ‘Was hast du vor?’ which means ‘What are you up to?’ These informal expressions will help you blend in and connect with German speakers in a more laid-back way.

Formal Ways to Say ‘What’

Formal expressions for ‘What’ can be used to engage in polite conversations and show respect. When addressing someone formally, you can use the phrase ‘Was mögen Sie?’ which translates to ‘What do you like?’ This allows you to inquire about someone’s preferences or interests in a respectful manner.

Another formal expression is ‘Wie bitte?’ which means ‘Pardon me?’ or ‘I beg your pardon?’ This can be used when you didn’t hear or understand what the person said and need them to repeat it.

Common Contractions for ‘What’

Imagine how much easier it is to understand others when you’re familiar with common contractions for ‘What’. Instead of saying ‘Was ist das?’ (What is that?), you can use ‘Was ist’n das?’ or ‘Was’n das?’ to sound more casual.

Similarly, instead of ‘Was machen Sie?’ (What are you doing?), you can say ‘Was machen Sie’n?’ or ‘Was’n Sie machen?’. These contractions are commonly used in informal conversations and can help you blend in with native German speakers.

Alternative Phrases for ‘What’

There are alternative phrases for ‘What’ that can help you sound more natural in German conversations, such as ‘Was zum Teufel’ (What the hell) or ‘Was zur Hölle’ (What the hell).

These expressions add emphasis and can convey surprise or frustration. It’s important to note that they are considered informal and should be used with caution in formal settings.

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Incorporating these phrases into your German vocabulary will enhance your ability to express yourself effectively.

Using ‘What’ in Questions

Learn how to use ‘What’ in questions to add depth and intrigue to your conversations.

Start your questions with ‘Was’ or ‘Was für ein’ to ask about things.

For example, ‘Was machst du?’ means ‘What are you doing?’ and ‘Was für ein Auto hast du?’ means ‘What kind of car do you have?’

These phrases will help you engage in meaningful conversations and show your interest in others.

Understanding Different Contexts

Step into various social settings and observe how people communicate in different contexts. This will help you gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies that shape their interactions. Pay attention to the subtle nuances in language and tone that indicate the appropriate use of ‘what’ in German. Notice how the context of the conversation influences the choice of words and the level of formality. By immersing yourself in these diverse situations, you’ll develop a keen awareness of how to navigate the German language with confidence.

Regional Variations for ‘What’

Intriguingly, regional variations for ‘what’ in German add a fascinating layer of diversity to the language, eliciting a sense of curiosity and wonder in language enthusiasts. Depending on the region, there are different ways to say ‘what’ in German.

In northern Germany, people often say ‘was’ while in southern Germany, ‘was für’ is commonly used. This showcases the rich linguistic tapestry of the German language, making it even more captivating to explore.

Idiomatic Expressions with ‘What’

Now that you’ve learned about the regional variations for ‘What’ in German, let’s explore some idiomatic expressions with ‘What’. These expressions add a touch of flair and cultural insight to your German conversations.

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From ‘Was zum Teufel?’ (What the hell?) to ‘Was geht ab?’ (What’s up?), these phrases will help you sound more like a native speaker and deepen your understanding of the German language.

Tips for Practicing and Remembering

Practicing and remembering can be challenging, but with these helpful tips, you’ll be well on your way to mastering German and impressing others.

Firstly, immerse yourself in the language by watching German movies or TV shows, and listening to German music or podcasts.

Secondly, practice speaking with native speakers or language exchange partners.

Lastly, create flashcards to help you memorize vocabulary and grammar rules.

Consistency and dedication are key to success!


In conclusion, learning the different ways to say ‘what’ in German is essential for effective communication.

Whether you’re using informal expressions, formal language, contractions, or alternative phrases, understanding the context and regional variations is crucial.

Additionally, idiomatic expressions can add depth to your German language skills.

By practicing and actively remembering these different ways to say ‘what,’ you’ll be able to engage in meaningful conversations and enhance your language proficiency.

Keep practicing and soon you’ll be fluent in German!

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