"Was ist los?" vs. "Was ist passiert?"

Discussion in 'Deutsch (German)' started by Vārds, Jun 5, 2011.

  1. Vārds Member

    Latvian, Russian

    Can someone, please, explain me difference between "Was ist los?" and "Was ist passiert?". Both of them means "What's happened?", but it looks like Germans is using them in different situations.

  2. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    Both usually refer to ask about a recent negative experience and the difference is only minor:

    "Was ist los?" - What wrong with you? Why do you feel badly? - The focus is on the present state of mind/feelings

    Was ist passiert? - What has happened (to you)? - Here the focus is on the event which caused the current feelings; you want to know the reason -> past

    "Was ist los?" can also have a completely different meaning: "What's going on (somewhere)?" but you usually add a place, e.g. "Was ist dort/in der Stadt/im Kino (heute) los?
  3. ablativ Senior Member

    "Was ist los?" can also have the meaning of "what's up?" in English.
  4. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US English
    Could "Was ist passiert?" be neutral or even positive? If I walk into your office with a big smile on my face, could you ask,
    "Was ist passiert? Gestern warst du ja hoffnungslos."
  5. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    Sure but mostly people ask when somebody does not look too well.
    If you ask someone "Was ist passiert?" because (s)he's looking happily then you imply something like "How does it come that you're smiling? You usually look mean."

    So you have to add something like:
    "Was ist passiert? Gestern hast du noch ganz niedergeschlagen/bedrückt ausgesehen?",
    as you already did you in your example.

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