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Konjunktionen
Conjunctions vs Prepositions

A conjunction is a "little word" that connects two clauses: "You're so fine, and you're mine"; "Long stemmed roses are the way to your heart, but he needs to start with your head." In German, a conjunction either "cooordinates" two "equally important" clauses, or it "subordinates" one clause to the other. Subordinating conjunctions make the verb go to the end in the clause they introduce, while coordinating conjunctions leave the verb position unchanged (==> the verb will usually, but not always, be in position 2 after a coordinating conjunction). Since conjunctions determine the relation between clauses (and, because, although, as if...), it's crucial for you to be familiar with their meanings.

A preposition is a "little word" that brings a noun or pronoun into the sentence: "Zephyr in the sky at night I wonder, do my tears of mourning sink beneath the sun?" Prepositions don't affect word order in German, but they do determine the case of the noun or pronoun they bring into the sentence. Since prepositions determine what the nouns or pronouns they bring into the sentence are doing there (on, under, with, without, instead of...), it's again crucial for you to be familiar with their meanings. Click here for more information on prepositions.

A few words (e.g. seit, während) can be both conjunctions and prepositions, and you have to determine their function by looking to see if they are connecting two phrases (Ich esse SPAM, seit ich in Amerika bin: conjunction; Ich esse seit drei Stunden SPAM: preposition). English uses "after" and "before" as both conjunctions and prepositions, but German distinguishes the conjunctions nachdem and bevor from the prepositions nach and vor.

Even after reading this explanation, you're likely to sometimes confuse prepositions and conjunctions. ==> When your instructor uses either term and you're not sure what s/he means, please ask. Many of your classmates will be grateful to you!

Please refer to the Word Order
page for practice exercises and
diagnostic exercises on this topic
Usage Notes and Examples:

Coordinating Conjunctions

Two-Part Coordinating Conjunctions
Subordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating Conjunctions

These ocupy position 0 and leave the verb position the same as in the preceding clause.

und and
denn because
sondern but (rather)
aber but
oder or
beziehungsweise or, or more precisely 
allein [rare] but (unfortunately)
doch but, however
jedoch but, however

 

 

Subordinating Conjunctions

These send the conjugated verb to the end of the clause.

bevor before
ehe before
nachdem after
während during, while, whereas
seit, seitdem since (for time, not for "because")
bis until, by
als when (past events)
wenn when (pres. & fut.), whenever, if
wann when (questions only)
obwohl although [can also use obgleich [less common] and obschon [least common]]
als ob, als wenn, als as if
solange as long as
sooft as often as (whenever)
sobald as soon as
da because
weil because
indem by ...-ing
wenn if, when
ob whether, if [use only if you could say "whether" in English]
falls in case, if
um...zu in order to
damit so that
so dass so that
dass that

 

Two-Part Coordinating Conjunctions

These ocupy position 1 (except for the "oder" in "entweder...oder") and leave the verb position the same as in the preceding clause.

entweder...oder either...or
weder...noch neither...nor
sowohl...als auch both...and
einerseits...andererseits on one hand...on the other hand
bald...bald sometimes...sometimes
mal...mal sometimes...sometimes
teils...teils partly...partly

 

Usage Notes and Examples

Coordinating Conjunctions

Und, denn, sondern, aber, oder

1. Silly note for disco fans: these can be sung to the tune of "Stayin' Alive." Amaze your friends at Retro Nights...:
 
und denn son- dern aber-oder aber-oder
ah ha ha ha stayin'alive stayin'alive

2. After a coordinating conjunction, continue with the same word order as in the previous clause. The conjunction occupies "position zero." This usually means that the conjugated verb will be in position two (or first position, if the subject is omitted--1st & 3rd example):

Einstein war ein sauberer Mensch, aber [er] kämmte sich nie die Haare. Einstein was a clean person, but he never combed his hair.
"X-Rays" heißen auf deutsch "Röntgenstrahlen", denn sie
wurden 1895 von Wilhelm Röntgen entdeckt.
"X-rays" are called "Röntgen rays" in German because they were discovered by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895.
Das Universum wird ewig expandieren, oder [es] wird eines Tages kollabieren. The universe will expand eternally, or it will collapse one day.

If, however, the previous clause has dependent word order (conjugated verb at the end), then the sentence continues with dependent word order after the coordinating conjunction:


Es regnet, weil die Luft feucht ist und es kalt ist. It's raining because the air is moist and (because) it's cold.
Der Autor glaubt, dass Evolution kein deterministischer Vorgang ist, sondern ein Zufall war. The author believes that evolution is not a deterministic process, but rather, that it was a chance occurrence.

This applies also when coordinating and subordinating conjunctions appear side by side:

Es regnet, weil die Luft feucht ist und weil es kalt ist. It's raining because the air is moist and because it's cold.
Wir sind jetzt müde, aber sobald wir in die Deutschklasse kommen, werden wir wach [=awake]. We're tired now, but as soon as we get into the German class we become awake.

Other notes and examples

1. Aber vs sondern:

a. Use sondern if you could say "but rather" [in the sense of instead] in English.

b. Sondern must be preceded by a negation; aber can be.

c. Nicht nur is always followed by sondern auch.

 
Die Sonne ist nicht sehr groß,
aber sie ist heiß.
The sun is not very big, but it is hot.
Die Sonne ist nicht sehr groß,
sondern durchschnittlich.
The sun is not very big, but rather [instead], it is average.
Unsere Sonne ist nicht nur groß, sondern auch heiß. The sun is not only big, but also hot.

2. Denn vs weil: both give a reason, and their meanings are as similar as those of "because" and "since" in English. The only differences are that they require different word order (since weil is a subordinating conjunction), and that denn-clauses cannot start a sentence. The following sentences are all equivalent, but the last one is illegal:

Die Dinosaurier sind ausgestorben, weil ein gewaltiger [=huge] Meteorit auf die Erde gefallen ist. The dinosaurs died out because a huge meteorite hit the Earth.
Die Dinosaurier sind ausgestorben, denn ein gewaltiger [=huge] Meteorit ist auf die Erde gefallen.
Weil ein gewaltiger [=huge] Meteorit auf die Erde gefallen ist, sind die Dinosaurier ausgestorben. Because a huge meteorite hit the Earth, the dinosaurs died out.
Denn ein gewaltiger [=huge] Meteorit ist auf die Erde gefallen, sind die Dinosaurier ausgestorben.

3. Aber can follow the verb and nouns/pronouns, or just the subject. This adds emphasis. See jedoch below for more examples.

Ein roter Riese endet oft als Neutronenstern, kann aber auch ein schwarzes Loch werden. A red giant often ends as a neutron star, but can also become a black hole.
Der Präsident ist ein Alien, wir wollen ihn aber wieder wählen. The president is an alien, but (still) we will vote for him again
Der Präsident ist ein Alien, wir wollen aber ihn wieder wählen. The president is an alien, but (still) we will vote for him again]
Der Präsident ist ein Alien, wir aber wollen wieder für ihn wählen. The president is an alien; we, however, will vote for him again

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Other coordinating conjunctions: allein, doch, jedoch, beziehungsweise

allein: Can be used instead of aber to express unwelcome or unexpected problems or restrictions. Sounds formal and a little archaic.

Es gibt viele kosmologische Theorien, allein wir wissen über 90% der Materie des Universums gar nichts. There are many cosmological theories, but (unfortunately) we know nothing at all about 90% of the material of the universe.

doch, jedoch: Slightly more formal and slightly more emphatic than aber. They may occupy position 0, like und, denn, etc., or they may occupy first position, as in the second example below.

Wir hatten Hunger, jedoch/doch ich aß das Eis nicht. We were hungry, but I did not eat the ice cream.
Wir hatten Hunger, jedoch/doch aß ich das Eis nicht. We were hungry, but I did not eat the ice cream.

Jedoch is a little stronger than doch, and can come after the subject and/or the verb and nouns/pronouns, like aber, for added emphasis.  Notice how the emphasis changes as jedoch moves around in the following sentences:

Wir hatten Hunger, ich aß das Eis
jedoch nicht.
We were hungry, but I did not eat the ice cream.
Wir hatten Hunger, ich aß es jedoch nicht. We were hungry, but I did not eat it.
Wir hatten Hunger, ich aß jedoch das Eis nicht. We were hungry, but I did not eat the ice cream.
Wir hatten Hunger, ich aß jedoch es nicht. We were hungry, but I did not eat it.
Wir hatten Hunger, ich jedoch aß das Eis nicht. We were hungry, but I did not eat the ice cream.
Wir hatten Hunger, ich jedoch aß es nicht. We were hungry, but I did not eat it.

beziehungsweise (abbrev.: bzw): This is a relatively formal synonym for oder, used with mutually exclusive alternatives. It can also mean "or more precisely."

Ein Hamburger kostet € 2.40, bzw. € 2.80 mit Käse. A Hamburger costs € 2.40, or €2.80 with cheese.
Die beiden gingen ins Gefängnis [=prison], beziehungsweise zum elektrischen Stuhl. The two of them went to prison and the electric chair respectively.
Homer Simpson hat den Fisch gegessen, beziehungsweise gefressen. Homer Simpson ate the fish, or more precisely he devoured it.
Die Erde kreist um die Sonne,
bzw. Sonne und Erde kreisen umeinander.
The Earth revolves around the Sun, or more precisely the Sun and the Earth revolve around each other.

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Two-Part Coordinating Conjunctions

entweder...oder: either...or

Entweder du gibst mir € 100, oder ich gehe zur Polizei. Either you give me € 100 or I'm going to the police.
Entweder gibst du mir € 100, oder ich gehe zur Polizei.
Du gibst mir entweder € 100, oder ich gehe zur Polizei.
Du kannst entweder das rote oder das grüne Hemd tragen. You can wear either the red or the green shirt.

weder...noch: neither...nor

Du kannst weder das rote noch das grüne Hemd tragen. You can wear neither the red shirt nor the green shirt.
Der Stern von Bethlehem war weder eine Supernova, noch (war er) ein Komet. [usual word order] The start of Bethlehem was neither a supernova nor a comet.
Weder war der Stern von Bethlehem eine Supernova, noch (war er) ein Komet. [uncommon word order]

sowohl...als auch: both...and

Du kannst sowohl das rote als auch das grüne Hemd tragen. You can wear both the red shirt and the green shirt.
Wir haben sowohl die Hausaufgabe gemacht, als auch alle Vokabeln gelernt. We did the homework and we learned the vocabulary.

einerseits...andererseits: on the one hand...on the other hand

Einerseits mache ich Diät, andererseits will ich gern ein Eis essen. On the one hand I'm on a diet, on the other hand I'd like to eat some ice cream.
Ich mache einerseits Diät, andererseits will ich gern ein Eis essen.

bald...bald/mal...mal: sometimes...sometimes

Bald regnet es, bald scheint die Sonne. Sometimes it rains, sometimes the sun shines.
Mal ist der Pandabär aggressiv, mal ist er unglaublich süß. Sometimes the panda bear is aggressive, sometimes it's unbelievably sweet.

teils...teils: partly...partly

Wasser besteht teils aus Sauerstoff, teils aus Wasserstoff. Water consists partly of Oxygen, partly of Hydrogen.
Die Studenten gehen teils zur Bibliothek, teils bleiben sie zu Hause. Some of the students go to the library, some stay at home.
Teils gehen die Studenten zur Bibliothek, teils bleiben sie zu Hause.

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Subordinating Conjunctions ==> Verb in final position

als/wenn/wann: when. To refer to a completed event in the past, use als, even if that event went on for a long time (Als ich jung war,...; Als ich fünf war,...). Use wenn with the past tense only if you are referring to a repeated event.

In present and future tense, use wenn for when.

Use wann only for questions and indirect questions (i.e. a statement without a question mark that directly or indirectly implies uncertainty about when the event will take place).

Als ich jung war, mochte ich Aal. When I was young, I liked [eating] eel.
Als ich 5 war, aß ich oft Aal. When I was 5, I often ate eel.
Als ich nach Ulm ging, aß ich Aal. When I went to Ulm, I ate eel. [this happened once]
Wenn ich nach Ulm ging, aß ich Aal. When(ever) I went to Ulm, I ate eel. [this happened repeatedly]
Wenn ich nach Ulm gehe, esse ich Aal. When I go to Ulm, I'll eat eel [This can also mean: When(ever) I go to Ulm, I eat eel.]
Wann gehst du nach Ulm? When are you going to Ulm?
Ich weiß nicht, wann ich nach Ulm gehe. I don't know when I'm going to Ulm [indirect question: the statement directly implies uncertainty about when I'm going].
Es ist egal, wann ich nach Ulm gehe. It doesn't matter when I'm going to Ulm [indirect question: the statement indirectly implies uncertainty about when I'm going].

Note that, although wenn can sometimes be translated as whenever, as in the fourth and fifth examples above, the best translation for whenever is immer wenn.

ob/wenn: Both translate if, but only one is right in any given sentence. If you can say whether in English, you must use ob in German. If you cannot, you must use wenn.

Ich weiß nicht, ob das stimmt. I don't know whether (if) that is right.
Wenn es stimmt, bin ich froh. If (whether) it is right, I'm happy.

falls: in case, if. Falls can sometimes be used instead of wenn to express possibility. It is a little more tentative than wenn.

Falls ihr es baut, werden sie kommen. If you build it, they will come. [more tentative]
Wenn ihr es baut, werden sie kommen. If you build it, they will come. [less tentative]
Nimm einen Schirm mit, falls es regnet. Take an umbrella along in case it rains.
Nimm einen Schirm mit, wenn es regnet. Take an umbrella along if it rains.

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bevor/ehe: before. Ehe is slightly more formal. Reminder: use bevor with actions, but vor with nouns (Wir sehen uns bevor der Film beginnt; Wir sehen uns vor dem Film).

nachdem: after. Reminder: use nachdem with actions, but nach with nouns (Wir sehen uns nachdem der Film beginnt; Wir sehen uns nach dem Film).

seitdem, seit: since. Reminders:

1. Use seitdem or seit with actions, but only seit with nouns (Wir schlafen seit/seitdem die Klasse begann; Wir schlafen seit der Klasse).

2. Seitdem and seit mean "since" in the temporal sense only.  They cannot be used in the sense of "because."  For this, you would have to use weil, da, or denn.

damit/so dass/um...zu: so that. See "Superwörter I" for more explanations!

da/weil: because. Da is slightly more formal.

als ob/als wenn/als: as if. Als ob is the most common of the three. Since they describe conjectures or contrary to fact conditions, these are usually used with Subjunctive II. Note: when als is used in this sense, the conjugated verb is in position 2, not in final position.

Dieser Schmetterling sieht aus, als ob/als wenn er ein Blatt wäre. This butterfly looks as if it were a leaf.
Dieser Schmetterling sieht aus, als wäre er ein Blatt.

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bis: until; by.Bis usually means until, but can also mean by the time or by.

Wir kitzelten Rumpelstilzchen, bis sie lächelte. We tickled Rumpelstizchen until she smiled.
Bis sie lächelte, waren viele Jahre vergangen. By the time she smiled, many years had passed.

dass: that.Like its English equivalent "that," daß can often be omitted, but in that case the verb goes to position 2.

Einstein glaubte, daß Gott nicht würfelt. Einstein believed that God does not play dice.
Einstein glaubte, Gott würfelt nicht. Einstein believed [that] God does not play dice.

indem: by ...-ing. Explains how something is achieved.


Manchmal begehen Lemminge Massenselbstmord, indem sie ins Meer springen. Sometimes lemmings commit mass suicide by jumping into the sea.
Indem er dem Lehrer eine Banane gab, sicherte sich der Student eine gute Note. By giving the teacher a banana, the student secured a good grade.


obwohl/obgleich/obschon: although. Obwohl is the most common of the three, obschon is least common.

Obgleich/obschon/obwohl es ein nützliches Wort ist, benutzen die Studenten "obwohl" selten. Although it is a useful word, the students rarely use "obwohl."

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sobald/solange/sooft: as soon as/as long as/as often as (whenever). These indicate the conditions under which something will happen.

Sobald die Kinder Barney sehen, hört ihr Gehirn auf zu funktionieren. As soon as the children see Barney, their brain stops functioning.
Solange das Innere der Erde heiß ist, werden die Kontinente sich bewegen. As long as the interior of the earth is hot, the continents will move.
Der Schneider wird Daumen abschneiden, sooft ein Kind seinen Daumen lutscht. The tailor will cut off thumbs as often as/whenever a child sucks its thumb.


Während: during, while. Like while in English, während can be used temporally to indicate that two actions are going on simultaneously, or "conceptually" to contrast two ideas or events.  See also Superwörter II for some more details about während.

Nero spielte seine Flöte während Rom brannte. Nero played his flute while Rome burned.
Die meisten Autos haben einen Viertakt-Motor, während der Trabant einen Zweitakt-Motor hat, wie ein Motorrad oder eine Kettensäge. Most cars have a four-stroke engine, while/whereas the Trabant has a two-stroke engine, like a motorcycle or a chainsaw.

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