Imagine we have a bunch of identical pens on a table. How do I ask what they are? I want to say:

Was sind das?

And I would want to answer:

Das sind Federn.

Is this the most natural way to do both sides of this dialog? I almost want to put die instead of das, how would that sound? What nuances should I be aware of?

  • The thing is, if you don't know what it is, you don't know yet whether it is a countable or an uncountable noun. Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 9:50

2 Answers 2


Well, your instinct is right, the numerus does not agree, thus it sounds somewhat odd. Using die as plural demonstrative pronoun is possible, but diese, die da, die hier sounds better.

Was ist das? could be used, irrespective of the actual number (pointing at the pile). Here an explanation is expected as answer, giving the word usually does not suffice.
When asking for the word: Wie nennt man die hier? or Wie heißt das?/ Wie heißen die hier? would work fine.

Anyway, pens are not Federn, but Füller (Füllfederhalter) or more general Stifte. Or the other way round, Federn means quills, feathers or springs.

  • Good explaination, agree 100% Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 7:18
  • 1
    One can write with a quill, though...
    – PMF
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 9:21
  • 2
    @PMF : Yep, that's why I bothered listing it. But while a writing quill can be referred to as a (Schreib-)*Feder, it doesn't fit into this description: Imagine we have a bunch of identical pens on a table. A quill is not a pen, as far as I'm concerned, even though it can fullfill the same role. Multiple ones won't be identical.
    – Chieron
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 9:42
  • +1 although minor wording/spelling/grammatical errors that are not part of the question should be corrected in the original post and explained in a comment ;)
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 10:47
  • Which I will do in the future, as I can actually comment now ;-)
    – Chieron
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 12:04

In a colloquial setting, you could ask:

Was sind das für Dinger/Teile/Sachen?

But you would probably only do so if you really do not recognize the objects as what they are.

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