One of the most important first steps when learning German is to ask them how they are and respond when they return the question.
I’ve put together a simple guide on greeting people in German already. This guide expands on that by enabling you to ask how they are.
Hopefully, after you finish these guides you’ll feel more confident in social situations with German-speaking people.
Also, if you’re struggling getting to know people in German, check out my guide to introducing yourself in German.
How are you in German
The following are some of the most common ways to ask how someone is in German.
Probably the most-used — or at least the most well-known — way to ask a German person how they are is to use some variation of wie geht’s?
Translated directly, it means “how goes it?” (the s is short for es or “it”) and can be used, in some form or another, in both formal and informal situations.
Basically, if you’re going to learn only one way to ask people how they are, this is it.
However, there is a small manual on how to use it correctly, which I’ll get into now.
Wie geht es dir?
The only way you’ll use wie geht’s is in informal situations, where you can use it directly, like so:
Hallo Hans, wie geht’s?
Or you can use it as a greeting by itself:
Wie geht’s, Sandra? Lange Zeit nicht gesehen!
However, you can formalize it a little bit, by asking wie geht es dir? (check out our guide to German pronouns to see why I used dir).
It’s kind of a stiff way to ask people how they are: either go formal by using Sie or stay informal and use the shortened version.
That said, you can use it in situations where you can be informal but you’re not entirely comfortable with somebody.
LIke you know somebody as a friend of a friend, but not much beyond that.
However, if you know somebody at least a little, just stick with wie geht’s; you should be fine.
Wie geht es Ihnen?
The nice thing about wie geht’s is that you can easily formalize it.
In fact, it’s probably the best way to ask somebody how they are in a formal way, any other ways will come across as archaic.
Hallo Herr Müller, wie geht es Ihnen?
All you need to do to make this work is to change du with Sie, and, as gehen goes with the German dative, then change it to Ihnen.
If you want to be really formal, you can even add the word mit in there:
Guten Abend, Frau Becker, wie geht es mit Ihnen?
However, I wouldn’t bother with mit in there, it’s not used much and it makes an everyday phrase seem more stiff than it needs to be.
However, you do use it when asking about a third person, so for example:
Wie geht’s mit deinem Mann?
Leaving mit out of the question in that sentence feels a bit weird, so leave it in.
Much the same goes when replying to wie geht’s? too.
Was ist los?
If you suspect somebody isn’t doing too well, though, you have some good options to see what’s wrong.
The best is probably to simply ask directly, like so:
Was ist los?
As it’s a pretty straightforward way of asking, I wouldn’t use it with anybody I don’t know as you’re definitely infringing on their space.
The way to answer the question is to, well, simply tell what’s wrong.
To do so, though, you need to know some more advanced German, so we won’t cover it in this guide.
A more common and upbeat way of asking people how they are is to simply ask if everything is well.
For this, I really like alles gut? Which literally means “all good?”
As you can guess, it’s pretty informal and can be used in any situation where you want to come across as easy-going.
Interestingly enough, an identical phrase can be found among Greek greetings.
It’s most common use is as part of a greeting, like this:
Hallo Sara, alles gut?
The answer is quite simply alles gut or even just saying ja.
You could also do something like this:
Ja, mir geht’s gut, mit dir alles gut?
There are also two variations of this phrase, namely alles klar? and alles okay?
In both cases, they fulfill the same function as alles gut, they just use other words for “good.”
You can use any of these three and get along just fine among people you know.
Was macht die Arbeit?
Finally, let’s take a look at how to ask how something specific is doing.
For this we’ll take work as our main example.
Like in most English-speaking countries, it’s pretty normal to ask people how work is going. The easiest way to do so is like this:
Was macht die Arbeit?
Literally, the above means “what makes the work?” which makes absolutely no sense in English.
You could also ask wie geht’s der Arbeit? but that sounds a little odd to my ears, though it’s perfectly correct.
The nice thing about the was macht…? construction is that you can use it for a number of different things.
For example, imagine if your friend just bought a house and needs to fix it up a bit:
Was macht das Haus, denn?
With just one simple question you asked him how the sale went and how the renovations are going.
You can use this construction to ask about just anything, though not about people, mind.
If you want to ask about a friend of a friend you’d have to use the wie geht’s construction.
Der Arbeit geht’s gut
There are several ways to answer this type of question, the simplest of which is to just use a form of es geht.
Der Arbeit geht’s gut
Though it feels a little counterintuitive to answer a question with machen by using gehen, it works fine in practice.
Another way to answer is to use machen and say something like:
Wir machen es gut
Though it sounds a little outdated, it’s a perfectly good way to answer the question and get the conversation going.
Whichever way you go with, you’re in a position to start a great conversation with your new German friend.
When you’re asked wie geht’s? or one of its variations, you have a few options for replying.
The simplest is the following:
Mit mir geht es gut, und mit dir?
There’s a few things to unpack in this sentence, most of them to do with the preposition mit.
As I discuss in my article on German prepositions, mit always goes with the dative, so you need to make sure you make all the pronouns in that sentence match with it.
Hence we say mit mir and mit dir (or mit Ihnen for the formal).
Another grammatical issue is that we’re asking how “it” is going and thus “it” needs to make an appearance in the reply.
That said, it may be best to just learn the questions and answer as a set formula rather than focusing too hard on the grammar of it all.
Speaking of which, if things aren’t going too well, you can also answer the question this way:
This is a wholly unenthusiastic way of replying and is a clear signal that somebody isn’t feeling their best.
Whether or not you want to inquire further is entirely up to you.
As in English, it’s considered rude to reply that you’re doing badly (schlecht), so I would never use that unless you’re dealing with somebody you know very well.
Start asking Germans how they’re doing
Hopefully this guide has put you on the road to asking ‘how are you’ in German.
Though German can be tricky, Germans themselves are usually pretty easy-going with language learners, so get out there and don’t be afraid to make some mistakes.