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I am wondering if this translation is wrong:

Do you know where the train station is?

Wisst ihr wo der Bahnhof ist?

Should kennen be used here since it is talking about a place?

  • The translation is OK, but AFAIK there should be a colon after ihr. – Arsak Jun 8 '16 at 5:06
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    Comma, not colon... – Hans-Martin Mosner Jun 8 '16 at 5:19
  • @Hans-Martin Mosner: You are right, thanks for correcting! – Arsak Jun 8 '16 at 5:56
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    @Stark Naked, welcome to German.Stackexchange! It's generally nice to say hi and thanks, but it is not recommended in Stackexcahnge, as it reduced the readability of the question. – Iris Jun 8 '16 at 7:05
  • ihr since informal and plural is only applicable, if a group is addressed. Otherwise the question should start with Weißt Du or Wissen Sie depending on politeness level. – guidot Jun 8 '16 at 8:29
10

The difference between kennen and wissen is not about places referred to, whether the place is extraordinary or you're talking about fact or fiction or whatever:

It's simply two different words with two different meanings that both unfortunately overlap with the meaning of "to know" in English.

"kennen" is about familiarity, "wissen" is about knowledge.

"kennen" normally can be translated to "to be familiar with", which is one of the meanings of "to know" in English, but rarely of "wissen" in German.

"wissen" normally translates to "to know", in the sense of "to have the knowledge of".

So, if you are asking whether someone knows where the train station is, it's

Wissen Sie, wo der Bahnhof ist?

and if you are asking whether someone is familiar with how to go to the station, it's

Kennen Sie den Weg zum Bahnhof?

And if it's a famous building, you might be asking

Kennen Sie den Bahnhof von Uelzen?

[Train station with interesting architecture in Uelzen, Germany, (re-)designed by famous Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser]

So, if you can replace "to know" in the English sentence with "to be familiar with" - use "kennen". If not, use "wissen".

There are also some more differences - "wissen" is rarely used with a direct object in German (one notable exception would be Wissen Sie die genaue Uhrzeit?) - it is normally used with some sort of sub-clause, while "kennen" will in most cases use a direct object (see example sentences).

Kennen Sie Herrn Müller?

works

Wissen Sie Herrn Müller?

doesn't.

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  • 3
    +1 - The distinction familiarity ./. knowledge is essential! – tohuwawohu Jun 8 '16 at 10:34
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The exact object of the question matters. In your example, the question is where the train station is located. The verb "kennen" doesn't ask where an object is situated, but wether the respondend knows the object itself.

There are cases where "kennen" would be ok - e.g., if the train station is an extraordinary building in matters of architecture. In this case "Kennst Du den Bahnhof?" would mean "Have you already seen that train station?".

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