Why is the conjugated helping verb sind used at the 3rd position and not at the 2nd position in the Fragesatz

Wie alt sind Sie?

up vote 8 down vote accepted

In

Wie alt sind Sie?

the verb is indeed in second position as wie alt has to be treated as a unit here, it occupies the first position.

Indeed the sentence

Wie sind sie alt?

would be grammatical, but rather strange. It would mean something like "How are you old?" or "In which way are you old?".

It's the exact same as in English.

How old are you?
Wie alt sind Sie?

The verb is almost always in second position in the sentence (except in yes/no questions like Sind Sie alt? / Are you old?, and sentences in the imperative mood). This here is no exception, because the first part is made of 2 words. In this case, the 'Wie' refers to 'alt' and together they build one part of a sentence: 'Wie alt'. Second comes the verb, and then the subject - 'Sie'.

You could interchange the sentence parts as long as the verb still comes second:

You | are | how old?
Sie | sind | wie alt?

  • It is not true that in questions the verb is always in second position. In questions without an interrogative pronoun (questions that can be answered with yes or no) the verb comes first: Sind sie alt? – RHa Nov 19 at 12:26
  • @RHa thanks for pointing that out, I edited my answer. – Cashbee Nov 19 at 12:39
  • There is another exception. In the imperative mood, the verb occupies the first position in the sentence as well. In your answer, you didn't specify if you are talking only about questions. – Abdullah Nov 19 at 14:02

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