German Word of the Day – WitD – “antworten vs. beantworten”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And today it is time for a short What is the Difference Special. And our, very legitimate question today is:

Pils or Lager? – What the heck is the difference… after all?

Let’s answer … this question.
The difference is not so big. Pils and Lager both were born out of the desire to make beer more long-lasting and hops are a great way to keep the nasty bacteria and mold in check. So both Pils and Lager contain a lot of hops and are hence rather bitter.
So this was our What is the Difference special… aaaaaand, we actually have a lot of time left… god, we’ve not even made it past the picture…. hmmm… hey you know what, I have a spontaneous idea… why don’t we talk a bit about the difference between antworten and beantworten.… yeah let’s do that.

Both words, antworten and beantworten mean to answer. The difference lies in the dark forests of grammar…

Antworten can not be done with a thing. You cannot take a question and antworten es. But you can do it to someone.

  • Ich antworte dir.
  • I answer you.

I answer … I answer you… but I don’t answer the question… grammatically that is. If you want to answer it, you need a preposition to assist. Auf to the rescue.

  • Ich antworte dir auf die Frage.
  • I answer you your question (sounds weirds, I know).

So technically this is more like

  • I respond to your question to you (sounds weird,I know).

Beantworten on the contrary is done with the question. You pose it, I take it and answer the hell out of it till it will never raise its voice again … get it? Get it?… raise voice… like… at the end of a question…
so
funny.

  • Ich beantworte die Frage.
  • I answer the question.

If you want to include to whom you answer that question, you use the case 3 once again.

  • Ich beantworte dir die Frage.
  • I answer you the question.

So… from a grammatical standpoint antworten is actually to respond.

  • Where were you last night? Answer/ respond!
  • Wo warst du letzte Nacht? Antworte!
  • Wo warst du letzte Nacht? Beantworte!    is wrong
  • Wo warst du letzte Nacht? Beantworte mir das!
    would be correct but a bit more complicated than necessary… and NO. That does NOT mean that it is good German :)

So… you can just antworten but you always have to beantworten something. Here is an example for a situation in which beantworten is preferable:

  • Kannst du mir beantworten, wieso du immer zu spät kommst?
  • Can you answer me, why you’re always late?

The same expressed with antworten requires you to use one of the infamous da-words.

  • Kannst du mir darauf antworten, warum du immer zu spät kommst?

Why the darauf-stuff? Because if you want to use antworten and the question itself as object you need auf. That is news to you? Well … then you didn’t pay attention earlier ;).
No need to feel bad though… also me myself, I have something I haven’t payed yet… my beer(s).
So I’ll do that now and then head home, because… and here comes a REAL surprise… I have had NO INTERNET at home since last Wednesday and it is awesome…. so Zen.

Alright… sorry, if I was a little stupid but I have been working the whole weekend in the bar so I hope I am excused.
Questions or suggestions? Leave me a comment…. hope you liked it and see you next time.

17 responses to “German Word of the Day – WitD – “antworten vs. beantworten”

  1. Thank you! Or, ich soll vielen Dank sagen! You are the deutsche-grammatik Koenig! I will be a fan forever. Keep up the posts please!

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  2. Very helpful! Thanks!

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  3. Hey Emanuel… Another good one! Very helpful. I’ve tried to figure ‘antworten’ versus ‘beantworten’ out few times and not found an answer, so this sorts that one out! Now, the question is can you continue to help with a number of the other verbs with inseparable prefixes that also don’t have clear rules around usage. As I am still in the intermediate stage of my German learning and not get a huge chance to speak with natives, I often come across verbs that are prefixed with ‘ver’, ‘be’ or ‘er’ and have the equivalent unprefixed version that, when looking in a dictionary, appear to have the same meaning and it’s unclear when to use one over the other. As you know, quite often the prefix distinctly changes the meaning, but in many instances it doesn’t appear to. So, when to use one or the other often remains perplexing…I know some of learning this will come with practice in real life, but it would be nice to have some source that can help. Are there a number of other key verbs like the ‘antworten/beantworten’ example where the rules are clear? I can’t readily think of the examples that have bothered me, but ‘wählen’ and ‘erwählen’ are one’s I’ve recently come across. There are many more!

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    • wow that is a tough question and I have never thought about that actually…. as you said, sometimes the prefix doesn’t change much and sometimes it changes everything but I don’t think there is a list out there :) so… if you have specific examples , please please let me know and I’ll try to explain… but I really can’t say anything in general… that is except THIS:

      adding er often just epifies things… makes them sound a little less mundane:

      aufwachen – erwachen
      aufwecken – erwecken
      kaufen – erkaufen
      wählen – erwählen

      so “Ich erwähle den Tee.” sounds really over the top
      “Gott hat mich erwählt.” sounds fine.

      Also wählen implies a definite choice with a discard of the other options, while erwählen can be done to all items … maybe… but erwählen always sounds epic

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  4. Emanuel, wie geht’s dir?
    Kannst du mir eine Frage… beantworten?

    (ENGLISH MODE ON)
    I’m guessing that in the sentence “Ich antworte dir auf die Frage” the article in “die Frage” stays in the accusative form because it wouldn’t be grammatically correct to say/write “der Frage” which can be easily confused with the genitive case, am I right?
    (ENGLISH MODE OFF…back to spanish)

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    • Ja ich kann dir die Frage beantworten :).

      It is die Frage because it is acc.. Auf can take either or and for the usages of auf and other 2-way-preps. that are NOT pure locational it is acc. ,most of the time. The Dative really sounds like a location.

      Ich antworte dir auf der Frage… sounds like I am sitting on the question and I answer something.
      Similar examples are :

      Ich warte auf den/dem Bus (the second means I am sitting on the bus)
      Ich denke an meine/meiner Frau.
      (the second one means that I have physical lateral contact to my wife while thinking of something else

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      • So, for those verbs which ask for prepositions like an, auf, vor… we usually use the accusative when we are not talking about “direction/location situations”? It’s a doubt I have but I’ve never stopped to think about properly.

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        • I think for the most part it works that way… when you use Dative, it really sounds like you’re answering where? in the physical sense… I am sure there are a few exceptions but Accusative is a save bet when your content is not really location related… like “freuen auf”, freuen über, denken an, … oh wait, no… with vor it is almost always Dative.. fürchten vor, Angst haben vor, Aufgeregt sein vor… but it makes sense as a location… like if you’re in front of the tiger you’re scared :)… so yeah… I think it actually depend on the preposition but an and auf are Accusative pretty much

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  5. Thank you for a wonderful blog! Keep it up!

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  6. Those verbs with prefix really drive me banana…. :’( So it is really really helpful! Thanks for your great work!!
    Ich habe nur eine einfache Frage, und ich glaube, dass du mir das beantworten kannst (LOL! I have no idea if the sentense is grammatically correct.)
    Wo warst du letzte Nacht? Antworte!
    Can I also say Antworte mir! ?
    Danke schön! :DDDD

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  7. Is it the same with nutzen and benutzen? Vielen Dank :)

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    • No for those 2 the grammar is identical:

      - Ich nutze meinen Computer.
      - Ich benutze meinen Computer.

      I think for “nutzen” the focus is a little bit shifted toward “to employ” if that makes sense… so for for certain things I “employ” something while “benutzen” is really “to use”. Maybe the past makes it more clear… a thing can look “benutzt” (used) in sense that it doesn’t look new anymore… I can’t use “genutzt” for this. Nutzen leaves less marks on the thing being used than benutzen in a way… which makes sense in the whole “inflict usage on” context of be-
      Anyway… nutzen has also a second meaning which benutzen does not share… “to of use for someone”

      - Das nutzt mir nichts.

      This means something like:

      - That doesn’t help me.

      I hope that clears it up a little. If not please keep asking :)

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  8. Ich danke ihnen für die Erklärungen der nutzen und benutzen. Würde es möglich der Unterchied zwischen überreden und überzeugen zu erklären bitte?

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    • Hmmm…. “überreden” is more of a talking so much until the person gives in while “überzeugen” has to do with arguments and reasoning… so your friend can “überreden” you to come to the party just by doing this for 10 minutes:

      - Oh komm mal, das ird bestimmt lustig. Maria ist auch da. Und es gibt Bier. Und hier ist doch auch langweilig oder nicht, Biiiiiiiitte, Komm mit. Bitte bitte bitte. Ich will nicht alleine gehen. Sei keine Spaßbremse….

      “überzeugen” is more formal. YOu can “überzeugen” your boss to abandon a project but you cannot really überreden him… unless you 2 are really close friends and still it would be weird for something somewhat official.

      Ich hoffe das hilft… und wenn nicht, dann gerne weiterfragen :)

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  9. Hi Emanuel,

    I just want to be totally sure on one thing with beantworten. If I want to simply say “I’m sorry that I didn’t answer you”, then I’m not specifically mentioning what I’m answering, so would it still be “Es tut mir sehr leid, dass ich dir nicht beantwortet habe”, or is it “…dass ich DICH nicht…” because there is no specific object?

    I totally get the “I answer the question to you” and why we use the dative, but I see just the “you” as the direct object in the sentence and therefore it would be accusative..

    Thanks!

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    • Nah.. you just cannot use “beantworten” if you don’t mention the thing you’re answering.

      - Tut mir leid, dass ich dir nicht beantwortet habe.

      Everybody would be like “WAS? WAS hast du nicht beantwortet.”. If you say “dich nicht beantworten” then you’re simply assigning the role of “thing in question” to “you”. You can do that in theory but I can’t think of a situation where it would make any sense.
      Generally, cases do assign certain roles and those roles are pretty fixed for a given verb. You can assign this role to whatever you want but if one thing has a certain role, it will stay as it is no matter what the other parts do. So it is “dir” no matter what.
      If you don’t want to mention the thing in question, then you have no choice but to go with “antworten”…

      - Es tut mir leid, dass ich dir nicht geantwortet habe.

      Hope that helps. If not let me know and I’ll try again :)

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