This is one of the most frequent mistakes made not only by beginners but also by many advanced German learners. They say Wie bist du? (“How are you as a person?”) or Ich bin besser. (“I am a better person/I can do that better.”) or Wie gehst du? (“How are you going?”).
In this post I’m going to explain why we say Wie geht es dir? in German and I give you different forms to answer this question.
1. Impersonal Expressions in German
In the expression wie geht es (or wie geht’s), the verb gehen is used in an impersonal way. This means is does not agree with the alleged “subject” (ich, du). Indeed, there is no subject at all, there is just an empty es occupying the position of the subject.
In German, we have many expressions with no real subject, having instead an empty es. This is why the verb, grammatically, is in the 3rd person singular always (never in plural), for example:
- Weather: es regnet, es schneit, es hagelt, es weht, es stürmt (the same as in English “it rains/snows/etc.”).
- Temperature/feelings: es ist heiß/warm/kalt/kühl/frisch. If we want to say “I am cold”, the person is in dative case: mir ist heiß/warm/kalt (in this case, es disappears in this expression).
- Feelings/state: mir geht es gut/schlecht, mir ist nicht gut/schlecht/übel/schwindelig (meaning: ich fühle mich gut/schlecht; I feel sick; I’m dizzy).
2. Dative Case in German: mir/dir/Ihnen
As you can see in the last example of point 1, with impersonal expressions (verb always in the 3rd person singular!), when a person is affected, i.e. they feel what the verb or adjective expresses, the person is in dative case.
However, these expressions are not to be confused with sentences like mir gefällt/schmeckt or mir gehört. These are normal verbs you can conjugate in all the other persons, the 3rd person (singular or plural!) is simply the most used form.
So, when someone asks you the following question, you can answer like this (never with ich!):
Wie geht es dir/Ihnen? – Mir geht es…
- ? (sehr) gut/super/prima/wunderbar.
- ? nicht (so) gut. (Or just: Es geht (so).)
- ☹️ schlecht/übel/scheiße.
Or you can answer with other feelings (generally negative): Mir ist…
- ? langweilig.
- ? schlecht/übel.
- ? schwindelig.
- ?❄️☔️ kalt.
- ☀️? warm/heiß.
Aber ich hoffe, es geht dir super!! ?