In the following sentence why using Was instead of Wo is not possible?

Wo arbeitet Hans?

according to my book the only possible W-question is Wo

  • 2
    Wo arbeitet Hans? Im Krankenhaus. Als was arbeitet Hans? Als Pförtner. Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 0:45

1 Answer 1


Arbeiten is (in standard German) an intransitive verb, i.e. it cannot have an accusative object; which is what you would be asking for with was. When asking for an occupation, the question is:

Als was arbeitet Hans? Hans arbeitet als Maurer.

With wo, you ask for the place. This can give you a hint about the occupation, but it is usually less specific, and it may also prompt a completely different answer:

Wo arbeitet Hans? Hans arbeitet auf dem Bau. Hans arbeitet in Frankfurt.

In colloquial language, Was arbeitet Hans? is sometimes heard, but it wouldn't be considered correct.

It is not true that wo is the only possible question word. You can of course ask:

Warum arbeitet Hans? Wie arbeitet Hans? Wann arbeitet Hans?

  • We can also hear "An/Mit/Für [...] was arbeitet Hans" - this indicates that we need a preposition here like in "Für wen/Mit wem/Bei wem arbeitet Hans".
    – Takkat
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 6:07
  • Thanks a lot for your answer, I'm a new German learner and its very confusing right now. Many thanks...
    – Spenser
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 11:49
  • In colloquial German the question "Was arbeitet Hans" does exist... maybe not with Hans, because he is on Hartz4 as far as I know but anyway... It can either ask for the profession "Was arbeitet der?" "Der is' Zahnarzt". I think this use might be a rephrased "Was machst du?"... the second meaning is "Why?"... "Was arbeitest du? Geh mal lieber auf's Amt." This is asking why the person is working. I think this comes from Kiezdeutsch and there similar phrasings with "was" the most prominent one being "Was guckst du?" or "Was lachst du?"
    – Emanuel
    Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 22:49

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