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Can we respond by

Ich habe zweiundzwanzig Jahre alt.

?

I know that you can answer by

Ich bin zweiundzwanzig Jahre alt.

Which answer is more idiomatic correct.

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    why would the first sentence be an option? – Vogel612 Dec 3 '15 at 22:05
  • You have probably French or a simiklar langauge as your mother tongue? Because in French you would say (J'ai vingt-deux ans - Ich habe zweiundzwanzig Jahre alt.). The common wy to say it correct, is your second option – mbed_dev Dec 4 '15 at 7:46
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    The verb in the question ("wie alt bist du?") implies that the same verb must be in an answer. – Eller Dec 4 '15 at 10:18
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Ich habe zweiundzwanzig Jahre alt is wrong.

In colloquial language you may say Ich habe zweiundzwanzig Jahre auf dem Buckel (I have 22 years on the hunchback).

But the correct version is: "Ich bin zweiundzwanzig Jahre alt."

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  • It even becomes more obvious when you leave out the detail: ich bin () alt – Burki Dec 4 '15 at 9:20
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    @Burki: That is not a good indicator, given that languages that do use "to have" with respect to an exact age, such as French ("J'ai 22 ans.") would still use "to be" to express (unspecific) age: "Je suis vieux." – O. R. Mapper Dec 4 '15 at 11:39
  • @O.R.Mapper but french does not have vieux in J'ai xy ans. – Burki Dec 4 '15 at 12:23
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Well, even though I think the question is already answered, I'd like to share some thoughts and additions:

For the question:

Wie alt bist du?

The (direct) answer would be a number, but now it depends on how you would answer:
If you want to say "I'm 21 years old.", you see in English it's the same verb (to be = sein), and you answer by telling your actual age. So, you could say:

Ich bin 21 Jahre alt.
Ich bin 21.
21 Jahre.

But if you, for example, answered "So far I lived (have lived) 21 years!", the emphasis is not on (only) your actual age and could be on some additional information you'd like to tell in your answer or dialog, so I might say the answer is somehow indirect!

Then you can use haben; for example, one could say:

Ich habe 21 Jahr auf dem Buckel (as @knut quoted).
Ich habe 21 Jahre hinter mir. (but this sounds also as if he was expecting to die as @Iris commented)

Ich habe lange gelebt. (Looking back on a good or long life.)
Ich habe noch viele Jahre vor mir. (Looking forward to a long life.)
Ich habe gut gelebt. (Looking back on a good life and maybe expecting a near death.)

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    I wouldn't recomment to say "Ich habe 21 Jahre hinter mir". That sounds like: "Ich habe mein Leben hinter mir" and that you are ready to die in peace. – Iris Dec 4 '15 at 11:49
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    "Ich bin 21 Jahre jung" – Reese Dec 4 '15 at 12:41
  • @Reese stimmt die Antwort kam irgendwann in mode! – Medi1Saif Dec 4 '15 at 12:43
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Reading the questions and the answers I noticed a key bit of information that may be the clue to handling this.

In French one says:

J’ai {…} ans.

Which can be shortened to:

I have {…} years.

Essentially you are quantifying the number of years you ‘own’. Likewise probably for all romance languages e.g. Italian.

The Germanic languages, however, say:

Ich bin {…} alt.

I am {…} old.

Essentially, one states the age with an adjective and further specifies the adjective with the number of years. Since we are adding an adjective, it only makes sense to do so with the copular verb. Likewise probably for all Germanic languages.

Those constructions would probably have been the etymologically oldest and any shortenings happened later when the verb usage had already been established; it then made sense to stick to the verb.

Any German constructions using haben always will depict a place where the years can be had or kept (one’s back or the area behind one) or use an additional verb which uses haben in the perfect tense.


I assume but cannot prove that this hypothesis can be generalised. It at least works for Finnish, where you say:

Minä olen {…} vanha.

I am {…} old.

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