Chucke2009 what an idiot
The meaning and use of "was für"
and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
And today, it's double trouble time, because we'll look at the meaning of the combination:
what kind of
A quite useful combination, especially in spoken German. And don't worry ... it's not all that much trouble actually.
Today, we'll find out what it means and how to use it, including a really weird, dangerous looking stunt that spoken German makes. A crazy split, to be precise. Like it's some ballerina or something.
Anyway, let's jump right it.
So, literally taken what means what for and the core idea of it is asking for options. So it's a translation for what / which kind or simply what / which.
Here’s an example straight from the bar I used to work at.
- "Hi, do you know?"
"Yes, I'll have some tea."
"OK. What kind ofTea?"
"Oh ... uh ... what do you have?"
- "Hi, are you ready to order?"
"Yeah, I'll have a tea."
"OK. What kind.”
"Oh ... uhm ... what do you have."
Oh man, this conversation ... it's actually often tourists who order "A tea". Please don’t do it. In Germany, there is no default tea, and most if not all places have multiple options. At least black tea, green tea some kind of herbal tea and probably also some Indian spice tea. At least in Berlin, if you just order "A tea", the wait staff will probably get annoyed and they will show it.
Instead, you could ask what kind of tea they have, by using what kind of.
They will still get annoyed, of course, because you didn't check the menu. And if you do know which tea to order, they'll get annoyed because you order a tea. In fact, they get annoyed if you just walk in the door.
I ... I'm kidding of course. It's not THAT bad.
Anyway, let's look at some more examples:
- I want to eat pasta, but I don't know what kind ofa sauce
- I want to eat pasta but I don’t know with what sauce.
- "On what kind ofwould you like a movie? An Adam Sandler comedy? Or rather something funny? "
- “What / which kind of movie do you feel like watching? Adam Sandler Comedy? Or rather something funny? "
- What kind of Do you have beer on tap?
- Whatbeers do you have on draft?
- "Do you already know my new dress?"
“Nah what kind ofa dress?"
- "Do you already know my new dress?"
“No, what / whichdress? "
As you can see in the last example, what for actually doesn’t ALWAYS involve actual options. But it's the same in English, so it's all pretty straight forward.
There's one little difference when you use it as a stand-alone, though. In English, you can just ask “What kind?”.
"what kind of" can't stand alone like that. You then have to add the word a - with the appropriate ending, of course. Because: fun!
- "I'll buy a bike tomorrow."
"Cool. What (because) Forone?"
- "I am going to buy a bike tomorrow."
"Cool, what kind?”
- "I think I drink wine."
“What kind ofone? "
- "I think I'll drink wine."
On and of course that also works for plural. There is no indefinite artilce in plural, but there IS an indefinite pronoun: Which.
- There are many mushrooms in this forest. But what kind ofWhich.…
- There are many mushrooms in this forest, but what kind ...
Now many of you are probably like “Wait a minute. Doesn’t which one also mean which? "
And you're completely right. Which(…) is the direct brother of which.
Which of course raises the question what the difference is between what kind ofother Which?
Well, just like what kind, the German what kind ofdoes NOT work as soon as there’s a specified pool of choices. Then, you HAVE to use Which(…).
Here are two examples.
- “Which Do you like my shirts best? "
"The clean one ... always the clean one."
- “Which of my shirts do you like best. "
"The clean one ... always the clean one."
- “What kind of Do you like shirts best? "
"Hmm ... think about it ... I think cotton, white and with a V-neck."
- “What kindof shirts do you like best? "
"Hmmm ... let me think ... I’d say cotton, white and with v-neck."
What kind of would sound very wrong in the first one, because there, we are searching for one specific item out of a fixed pool. Which, on the other hand, could be used in the second example, but what kind of sounds much better there.
So now that we know what what kind of means, it's time to talk about its acrobatic skills ... the split.
what - ballet split - for
Splitting up stuff is something Germans like. We do with bills, we did it with the Christian religion, heck ... we even did it with our country. And of course we're doing it with our verbs. And that's not the only example in the German language. Some of you might have read my article on the da-wordssplitting up. If not, I'll put a link below because it's kind of a similar thing.
But anyway, in German there's a trend to actually split up what kind of. Here’s an example.
- What do you want For‘N tea?
- What tea do you want?
I actually use that quite a lot these days in quarantine, when I'm making a tea and I ask my girlfriend if she wants one as well.
And it feels MUCH more “fluid” to me than asking "What kind of tea do you want?"
You see, in German sentence structure, there is this gradual divide between a setup and a payoff.
And it's kind of the same dynamic here. The question is set up, then the action is setup, then the question is brought to a conclusion (with "For") And then the action is brought to a conclusion (with tea).
German speakers are used to these arcs, it feels “nice” to us. And so that might be why we do it with what kind of. It is spoken German, yes. But it's by no means low brow or slang.
Anyway, here are some more examples.
- What do you have For Wine?
- What wine do you have?
- What did you ... yourself Forbought a book?
- What book have you bought?
- What did you meet your girlfriend yesterday For watched a movie?
- Whatmovie did you watch yesterday with your girlfriend?
The last sentence is a good example for how tricky what kind ofcan be. They’re so far apart and the für is so easy to miss.
But yeah… go ahead and try it out if you want to sound really like a native speaker. Just make sure not to actually forget the For.
- What do you have beer here? ... NOPE
That sounds really really wrong and honestly… I am not sure if I would even understand what you are asking.
Now, there’s one instance when we CAN’T split up what kind ofand that's if it is part of a phrase with a preposition.
- With [what kind of a car] did you drive?
- With what kind of car did you drive?
- In front [what kind of Animals] are you afraid?
- What kindof animals are you afraid of?
The reason is that here, what for is a part of the box / unit  that comes after the preposition and taking a part out of that would be wrong.
Now, there's one more use of what kind of that we need to talk about before we call it a day.
what for - what a
It's not actually that different from what we've already seen, but I didn't want it to go unmentioned.
I am talking about what kind of used in a sense of expressing surprise or astonishment.
Here are a few examples:
- My God, what kind ofshitty weather.
- My god, what a shitty weather.
- What kind of you have to be an idiot not to see this.
- What an idiot do yo have to be to not see this.
- What kind ofa waste ...
- What awaste ...
And contrary to what I initially wrote in this article, this is not limited to singular (thanks Joe for pointing that out in the comments).
- What kind of nice shoes.
- What beautiful shoes.
This exclamatory what kind of can actually also come after the noun; you just need to add ein / e / en / er / s like we already saw earlier.
- I saw a dog today and what a…
- I've seen a dog today and what dog that was, (my god)
- There are many mushrooms in this forest, and what kind of…
- There are many mushrooms in this forest and they are some (big) mushrooms, I tell ya ’…
So this is what for as a sort of exclamation. Technically, you can also do that with what a(…), but that’s more for books, I’d say.
And now that I think of it what a sounds a bit positive while what kind of is kind of neutral ...
- What a Movie…
- What amovie… probably a great one
- What kind of a film…
- What a movie… maybe a bad one or a disturbing one or thought provoking one
And I think that's it for today. Hooray :).
This was our look at the meaning and use of what kind of - a true colloquial German powerhouse, you should start using.
If you want to check if you remember all the important bits and pieces, you can take the little quiz we have prepared for you.
And as usual, if you have questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.
Oh, if you’d like to practice using “was für” a bit and see more examples… Jenny from German with Jenny has you covered here :)
da-words undone - On the split of the da-words
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