People love to make small talk all over the world. As Germans are no exemption, saying how you are is one of the first things you will learn. But many people make a classical mistake here. After reading this article, you will never say it wrong again!

Small talk in German

When a German asks you how you are, it will be like this:

“Wie geht’s?” OR “Wie geht es dir?” 

Now, the classical small talk answer would be something like “fine”, “good” or “I am fine.”, “I am good.” etc. Of course one can answer the same things in German:

“Gut” OR Mir geht es gut.” / “Es geht mir gut.”

And here many people hit the hay of assuming that English grammar can be adapted to German grammar. So they tend to say: “Ich bin gut.” (literal translation from “I am doing good”) in German small talk. But using Nominative here is wrong.

The reasons for this are:

  1. The question “Wie geht es dir?” literally (and forgive me the chopped-up English here) means: “How goes it to you?”. Now you should answer the same way the other person asked you, and therefore it needs to be “Mir geht es gut” OR in chopped-up English: “To me it goes good”. As you might see now, there is a pattern, and this is why you would ask back: “Und dir?” OR chopped-up English: “And to you?” and NOT “Und du?” (And you).
  2. The second reason, we need to use Dative here and not Nominative is, that “I” does not actively do something here (like in “I sleep in a bed”) and therefore “I” is not the subject of this sentence. The subject is “es”. As a consequence, you cannot represent yourself with “ich”. “I” is the indirect object in this sentence because nothing is done to “I” as in Accusative but it reflects the place of where something happens.
  3. Besides all of the detailed grammar reasons, if you say “ich bin gut” in German, it means that you are good in something or as something like in “Ich bin ein guter Schüler” (I am a good student) or “Ich bin gut in der Schule” (I am good in school).

Now, this construction is ONLY valid when you want to say:

  • Mir geht es gut. (I am doing good.)
  • Mir geht es sehr gut. (I am doing very good.)
  • Mir geht es nicht so gut. (I am not doing so well.)
  • Mir geht es schlecht. etc. (I’m not doing well.)

I hope that after reading this article, you finally understood how you can adequately react if somebody asks you: “Wie geht’s?” and can improve your small talk skills.

Bis Bald!



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