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Consider the following sentences:

Wir spielen heute Tennis

and

Heute spielen wir Tennis.

Even though both, factually, say the same thing, their emphasis/meaning is different. The former emphasis "Wir" and "spielen" whereas the latter emphasizes "Heute".

Question:

Is there a similar/parallel construct when asking a question?

For example, I want to ask: are you working in an office?/Arbeitest du im einem Buro? But I want to emphasize the location, i.e "im einem Buro", rather than the action, i.e working.

How can I do this?

4 Answers 4

7

In spoken German emphasis is more a matter of intonation than of word order.

In your example sentences

Wir spielen heute Tennis.

and

Heute spielen wir Tennis.

it's not really clear, what sentence emphazises what part of the sentence just from word order.

You wouldn't ask:

Ist es ein Büro, in dem du arbeitest?

The grammar is correct but you just wouldn't talk like this. Instead a native speaker would just ask:

Arbeitest du in einem Büro?

and emphazise Büro by intonation.

Let's use another example: Two people meet somewhere in a company building.

A: Wohin gehst du?
B: Ich bin auf dem Weg zur Kantine.
A: Arbeitest du in der Kantine?

Here it's pretty clear. A is asking B, if B is working in the canteen or having lunch ... So A would probably stress arbeitest by intonation.

Now let's imagine, A knows B for a while but they didn't speak for a while. A knows, that B is really good in cooking but wouldn't expect B to work for that company because B was never really interested in the companies field. Now A is asking:

A: Was machst du denn hier?
B: Ich arbeite hier.
A: Arbeitest du in der Kantine?

Even though A is explicitly asking for the place here, A would never change the word order just to emphazise Kantine.

Ist es die Kantine, in der du arbeitest?
Ist der Ort, an dem du arbeitest, die Kantine?

No native speaker would ever do that. A would just stress the word Kantine by intonation.

3

For your example, you could ask:

Ist es ein Büro, in dem du arbeitest?

This emphasizes the location by pulling it to the front of the question, describing what the person does in the office almost as an afterthought.

Of course, you could also take the direct route and let the person know that you are specifically interested in the location:

Ist der Ort, an dem du arbeitest, ein Büro?

3

In principle, you can also form questions by just using the same structure as the declarative sentence, and pronounce it as a question. Then the position left of the verb takes a similar function as the question word in a w-question:

Wo spielen wir Tennis?

Heute spielen wir Tennis?

This construction usually verification of a surprise: "I didn't think we'd play today -- do we?"

Wir spielen heute Tennis?

Here, if the wir is emphasized, that's again a surprise: "It is us who play today?" However, if you don't specifically mark the wir, it is more of a confirmation of the object: "we do play tennis today, don't we?"

Tennis spielen wir heute?

Im Büro arbeitest du?

You can even do that with the arguemnt of the verb, as in these examples. Again, this is a strong surprise: "It's really tennis that we play?" "You really work in an office?".

Note that all of these forms tend to be used primarily in spoken language; not only because they require intonation nuances, but because they are stilistically different. Especially the last example you'll hardly find written.

And again, as mentioned in wir spielen heute Tennis?, changing intonation can lead to different meanings.

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  • many thanks for the answer!
    – Our
    Jan 17 at 13:11
1

If the one asking the question wants to stress the location, they would phrase it possibly like this:

"Du arbeitest (also) in einem Büro?" / "Sie arbeiten in einem Büro?"

similarly, if they want to stress the job

"Du arbeitest als Installateur?" / "Sie arbeiten als Installateur?"

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