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Wer? Wen? Wem? What is the difference and how to use them

Dive into the thrilling depths of the German language with this exploration of the question words: Wer, Wen, and Wem. If you've ever wanted to ask about a person in German, these are the tools you'll need in your linguistic toolbox. But what makes them unique? Why do they differ in endings and color? This blog post aims to shed light on these questions, sprinkled with numerous examples and helpful language learning tips.


The Fundamentals

Wer, Wen, and Wem, collectively known as Fragewörter (question words), are actually pronouns, capable of changing their endings. In English, this concept simplifies to 'who.' Although English can also use 'whom' in specific contexts, we're keeping things straightforward here.

Let's get straight to the crux of the matter: Wer aligns with the nominative case, representing 'who.' Wen stands for 'who' in the accusative case, while Wem translates to 'who' in the dative case.


The Nominative Case: Wer

Wer is the subject of a sentence, holding the first position due to the nominative case's role as the subject case. It influences the verb to conjugate in third-person singular form, aligning with the subject.

For instance, consider these examples:

  • "Wer ist der Mann dort?" (Who is that man there?)

  • "Wer hat dich gestern angerufen?" (Who called you yesterday?)

  • "Wer hat dir die E-Mail geschrieben?" (Who wrote you the email?)

In each case, Wer maintains its position at the start of the sentence, with the verb conjugating according to the third-person singular form (ist, hat).

When answering these questions, remember that the subject remains consistent. For example, "Wer hat dich gestern angerufen?" could elicit responses like "Max hat mich angerufen" or "Sie hat mich angerufen," keeping the nominative subject intact.


The Accusative Case: Wen

Next up, we have Wen, representing the accusative case. It serves as the direct object in a sentence, occupying mostly the first position. This 'who' can also work with prepositions, which may occasionally alter its position.

Examples include:

  • "Wen filmst du gerade?" (Who are you filming right now?)

  • "Wen hast du gestern angerufen?" (Who did you call yesterday?)

The subject of these sentences (du) influences the verb conjugation (filmst, hast). When responding to these questions, the person inquired about remains in the accusative case, such as "Ich filme ihn" (I'm filming him).


The Dative Case: Wem

Wem, representing the dative case, serves as the indirect object in a sentence. Like its counterpart, Wen, Wem usually holds the first position and can sometimes partner with a preposition.

Here are some examples:

  • "Wem gehört die Tasche?" (Who does the bag belong to?)

  • "Wem müsst ihr morgen helfen?" (Who do you have to help tomorrow?)

  • "Wem hast du meinen Stift gegeben?" (Who did you give my pen to?)

When answering questions initiated by Wem, the person being asked about also appears in the dative case in the response. For instance, "Wem gehört die Tasche?" could be answered as "Die Tasche gehört ihr" (The bag belongs to her).


Tips and Tricks

Understanding Wer, Wen, and Wem can be simplified when we correlate them with the masculine definite articles - der, den, and dem, respectively. The endings of these pronouns match those of the articles,

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