Q is for question

I have a question. Ich hätte da mal ‘ne Frage.

Dear Germans, liebe Freunde, we English speakers sometimes complain that you can be so direct that it’s almost rude. And yet you have the very charming habit of adding that little introductory phrase, I have a question, when you want to ask one. It’s almost as if making a statement was understood, but asking a question was a little unusual, and had to be announced, formally, with a little blast from your trumpet, and then permitted, with a small megaphone being handed over to allow you to speak. 

Your announcement sounds so formal to a native speaker because questions are at least as permissible as statements, I think. Of course, it all depends on the context and the question. In fact, we turn statements into questions all the time — don’t we, dear Brits? right, dear Yankees? — to make sure we’re all on the same page (über dasselbe reden) and on the same wavelength (auf der gleichen Wellenlänge sein). On the other hand, we don’t usually ask all too personal questions without adding “, if I may ask” at the end, along with all sorts of other little tricks to pretent we aren’t being too curious.

So if you catch an English person grinning when you announce I have a question, just imagine what it would sound to you if he or she announced I want to speak! before any statement. That would make you smile, too, wouldn’t it?

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Anne

Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

3 thoughts on “Q is for question”

  1. Just out of curiosity, if it’s not too much trouble, i wondered if you’d mind answering something?
    I can’t think of a better person or a better place to ask.
    My German was learnt in passing and was only ever capable of survival but if i wanted to say “i have a question” my mouth would produce “ich habe eine frage”.
    How many rules am i breaking and what is the “da mal’ne” doing up there?

  2. @Hassan Thank you:) All is well. Yourself?
    @Chris: Completely correct! The other phrase is idiomatic and includes softeners, so that’s our “sorry, but…” Ich haette is conditional “I would like (to have)”; da mal is (literally) “there once” and used as we might say “just” and “sort of”; and haett’ and ‘ne are dialect contractions, southern or western Germany.

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