Can you only talk about indirekte Fragesätze only in the context of indirect speech?

I am trying to read german and recognise the Nebensätze i see; many of which start with an Relativ/Interrogativ adverb and there's not enough information in the books i have/online to tell them apart, to know for sure when i am looking at an indirect question and when i'm looking at a Relativsatz. I do know complemental clauses that start with an interrogative adverb are all indirect questions though.

To be fair, i completely forgot wie can also be a conjunction, introducing a comparative clause (modal), which is mainly the word with which the Nebensätze i so much fail to recognise start with and which lead to me asking this question. So maybe i confused comparativsätze for relativsätze... so maybe its rather a question about nebensätze introduced with wie and distiguishing them...

Thanks for your time.

  • 1
    Indirekte Nebensätze are in indirect speech. They use Konjunktiv mode for the verb, and they follow a verb of questioning, like "fragen" or "sich wundern". May 27, 2023 at 22:14

1 Answer 1



A Nebensatz introduced with a question word can mean three things:

  1. A thing that would answer the question (relative clause)

Er war so rot wie ein Apfel (rot ist).

  1. The answer to the question (indirect question)

Er sagte ihr, wie er heißt.

  1. The question itself (indirect question)

Er fragte sie, wie sie heißt.

And all of them can describe nouns (as attribute) or entire phrases (as adverbial).

This is the most important distinction. You will rarely find any sentence where more than one of the meanings can make sense. A contrived example would be:

Er fragte sie, wie sie fragen würde.

which could both mean

He asked her how she would ask.


He asked her like she would ask.

And which is meant could be only inferred from context and intonation.

Because of the different meaning, indirect questions with an interrogative adverb function as objects, while relative clauses with an interrogative adverb function as adverbials. So

Wie das funktioniert, ist irrelevant.

can only be an indirect question, while

Wie Marie sagte, ist das irrelevant.

can only be a relative clause. [Actually, there is another trick here: The "Wie X sagte/mitteilte" clauses never have an Akkusativobjekt.]

Triggering contexts

Indirect questions can only be found in limited contexts. Meaning 3 can only be found in conjunction with the word "fragen" or "die Frage" itself, like in

Er fragte sich, wie er nach Hause kommt.
Wie ich nach Hause komme, ist die Frage.

If used with other verbs of speech, it always is Meaning 2. In

Er rief ihnen zu, wie sie nach Hause kommen.

er is telling them the answer, not questioning them.

Meaning 2 can be found with various verbs expressing speech and knowledge, such as "wissen", "vergessen", "sagen", "erzählen", ..., so you should look for them.

Er weiß, wie sie ist. Er vergaß, woran er gearbeitet hatte.

  • just to make sure, are relativsätze with wie related to comparativsätze(vergleichsätze) with wie?
    – Srmuiel
    May 28, 2023 at 16:22
  • 1
    @Srmuiel At least superficially, they mean the same: "Ich bin so groß wie du." is the same as "Ich bin so groß, wie du groß bist.". The "wie du groß bist" is modifying the "so" of "so groß". For some reason however, "wie groß du bist" is not a valid relativsatz.
    – Dodezv
    May 28, 2023 at 16:50
  • @Srmuiel In some interpretation, they are seen as modal relative clauses, yes. May 28, 2023 at 18:07
  • @Dodezv Why should 2) be an indirect question? It's just a Fragenebensatz. Not even 3) is an indirect question, because it's missing the Konjunktiv mode. May 28, 2023 at 18:09
  • @EagleFliesBanana Just like indirect statements do not always require Konjunktiv, indirect questions don't either. Konjunktiv I is rarely used in spoken German.
    – Dodezv
    May 28, 2023 at 20:05

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