German for Beginners: My Family

Men talking on city street
Cultura RM Exclusive/Matelly / Getty Images

Learning how to you ask about someone's name or inquire about the family in German is a great way to get to know people. Even if you just want to learn to make small talk these kinds of questions will come up. Rules for addressing people in German tend to be stricter than in many other cultures. Learning the rules will help keep you from being unintentionally rude. Below are some common questions and answers in German and English.

 

Die Familie • The Family
Continued
Fragen & Antworten - Questions & Answers
Wie ist Ihr Name? - What's your name?
DeutschEnglisch
Wie heißen Sie?What's your name? (formal)
Ich heiße Braun.My name is Braun. (formal, last name)
 
Wie heißt du?What's your name? (familiar)
Ich heiße Karla.My name is Karla. (familiar, first name)
Wie heißt er/sie?What's his/her name?
Er heißt Jones.His name is Jones. (formal)
Geschwister? - Siblings?
Haben Sie Geschwister?Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Ja, ich habe einen Bruder und eine Schwester.Yes, I have a / one brother and a / one sister.
Notice that you add -en to ein when you say you have a brother, and an -e for a sister. We'll discuss the grammar for this in a future lesson. For now, just learn this as vocabulary.
Nein, ich habe keine Geschwister.No, I don't have any brothers or sisters.
Ja, ich habe zwei Schwestern.Yes, I have two sisters.
Wie heißt dein Bruder?What's your brother's name?
Er heißt Jens.His name is Jens. (informal)
Wie alt? - How old?
Wie alt ist dein Bruder?How old is your brother?
Er ist zehn Jahre alt.He is ten years old.
 
Wie alt bist du?How old are you? (fam.)
Ich bin zwanzig Jahre alt.I'm twenty years old.
 


YOU: du - Sie
As you study the vocabulary for this lesson, pay attention to the difference between asking a formal (Sie) and a familiar (du/ihr) question. German-speakers tend to be much more formal than English-speakers. While Americans, in particular, may use first names with people they have just met or only know casually, German-speakers do not.

When a German-speaker is asked his or her name, the reply will be the last or family name, not the first name. The more formal question, Wie ist Ihr Name?, as well as the standard Wie heißen Sie?, should be understood as "what is your LAST name?"

Naturally, within the family and among good friends, the familiar "you" pronouns du and ihr are used, and people are on a first-name basis. But when in doubt, you should always err on the side of being too formal, rather than too familiar. 

For more about this important cultural difference, see this article: You and thou, Sie und du. The article includes a self-scoring quiz on the use of Sie und du.

Kultur

 

KLEINE FAMILIEN
Families in the German-speaking countries tend to be small, with only one or two children (or no children). The birthrate in Austria, Germany and Switzerland is lower than in many modern industrialized nations, with fewer births than deaths, i.e., less than zero population growth.