I've learned, the hard way, you can't just say "'are' you hungry?" or "how late 'are' you open?" - the German version of these sentences are made with haben.

Are there any rules or rules of thumb to decide when this happens?

OR, If you'd like, you could just give me ONE other example where this happens. Thanks, Jim

  • 4
    I do not think that this question is a good fit for our site as it is asking for a big list (which is hence never complete). However, you might want to ask instead whether there are any rules or rules of thumb to decide when this happens.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 8:50
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    No. Bist du hungrig? is, as far as I know, valid.
    – c.p.
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 8:57
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    Wie lange ist das Geschäft offen? is also possible, you just can’t say so about a person (clerk or whatever). For hungry, not that German doesn’t ask Have you hungry?, but Have you hunger?.
    – chirlu
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 9:00
  • 1
    Related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/7586/…
    – chirlu
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 9:01
  • 5
    The answer to this question is pretty simple: Never. You don't translate "to be" with "haben" ever. The thing is, however, that German does not necessarily have an equivalent idiomatic way with "to be". We don't say, for instance, "How are you" but "Wie geht's dir". Well, OK, actually we can say "How are you" but it means something different. Long story short: as you never supposed to translate verbatim, you'll find occasions where it seems that "is" becomes "haben" but in fact the German figure of speech just differs from the English one. But "is" is never "haben".
    – Em1
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 9:55

1 Answer 1


being hungry

The premise of your question is wrong (at least at the example “hungry”):

eng: Tom is hungry.
ger: Tom ist hungrig.

There is just an alternate way do express the same, which is:

ger: Tom hat Hunger.

There is also a literal translation of this sentence into english, but in English this construction is bad style. It is: “Tom has hunger.” Here “hunger” is a noun, it is the name of the feeling that Tom has. In German this construction is as common (or maybe even more common) then “Tom ist hungrig.”

being afraid

Just when talking about being afraid there is no is-construction in German, because German has no adjective that has exactly the same meaning as the english afraid. This is discussed in detail here: »Peter hatte angst« – Why do we use »hatte« instead of »war«?

being open

When you ask the owner of a shop, or one of his employees

How long are you open?

Then you literally ask how long the owner or employee is open, like as if there was an door in his body, that is open now, and will be closed sometimes. If you literally would ask for how long the shop is open, you would ask

eng: How long is your shop open?
ger: Wie lange ist Ihr Geschäft offen?

As you see, the correct German translation is in this case a word-by word translation.

But if you word-by-word translate “How long are you open?” then you get “Wie lange sind Sie offen?” (or “Wie lange bist du offen?”). This is a grammatically correct German sentence, but you are asking about the person being open, not about the shop.

So here we have the problem, that the english sentence has a transformed meaning, that the German word-by-word translation doesn't have.

When someone keeps his shop open, you say:

Herr Geiger hat sein Geschäft von 9:00 bis 19:00 Uhr geöffnet.
Herr Geiger hat sein Geschäft von 9:00 bis 19:00 Uhr offen.

You could translate this as “Mr. Geiger has his shop open(ed) from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.” But I guess this is bad english (I'm not sure, English is a foreign language for me)

But when you ask in German

Wie lange haben Sie offen?

You also literally ask for how long the person has open. Literally you don't ask for the opening of the shop. But in this case (when you use “haben”) this will be understood as

Wie lange haben Sie Ihr Geschäft offen?

So in this case we have the same transformation of meaning, that works in English with “how long are you open”. And this is why we use “Wie lange haben Sie offen?” for what is in English “How long are you open?”

rules of thumb

As you can learn from those examples, the reasons of “being angry” = “Angst haben” and “being open” = “offen haben” are very different. They have nothing in common, so there is no rule of thumb for this.

(Just to say it again: “being hungry” = “hungrig sein”)

  • "When someone keeps his shop open, you say:" - the examples here sound almost a bit as if we were indeed talking about (a specific day in) the past. At least in my place (South-Western Germany), I would consider "Herr Geiger öffnet sein Geschäft von 9.00 bis 19.00 Uhr." to be more idiomatic, if we are talking about the regular opening hours of a store. Likewise, while "Wie lange haben Sie offen/geöffnet?" is indeed very common (and refers to the present/regular schedule), "Wie lange öffnen Sie [heute/mittwochs/kommenden Samstag/...]?" is similarly common in my impression. Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 11:19
  • @O.R.Mapper: Don't mix up: »Er hatte (gestern) geöffnet.« with »Er hat (täglich außer Sontag) geöffnet«. And don't mix up: »Er hat die Bierdose geöffnet« (The opening of a can is a short event) with »Er hat das Geschäft geöffnet/offen« (The shop is open for many hours) Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 11:34
  • I would understand "Das Geschäft hat geöffnet." as "The shop is open." (present, or regular state), but "Er hat das Geschäft geöffnet." as "He opened the store." (past event) Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 12:04

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