2. Conjunctions

Conjunctions are those words that connect other words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. English examples include: “and,” “but,” “because,” and “although.”

These words fall into two categories: coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. In German, these two categories are important to be aware of because of their differing effect on sentence word order.

Coordinating Conjunctions

These conjunctions do not alter the word order of a sentence. The most common German coordinating conjunctions are:

aber but, however
denn for / because
entweder . . . oder either . . . or
oder or
sondern but rather (used after a negative)
sowohl . . . als as well as
und and
weder . . . noch neither . . . nor

Examples of their use:

Er lernt fleißig, denn er findet Deutsch schwer.
He studies hard because he finds German difficult.

Sie geht in den Laden und kauft ein neues Fahrrad.
She goes into the shop and buys a new bicycle.

Wir gehen nicht ins Kino, sondern in die Bibliothek.
We are not going to the cinema but (rather) to the library.

Entweder wir fahren mit dem Bus, oder wir gehen zu Fuß.
Either we take the bus, or we walk.

You can use the “verb in second position” rule from Unit 1 to help you identify the core elements of subject, verb, and object in these sentences. For example, if, after a coordinating conjunction, the first word is a conjugated verb, then you know the missing “first position” element must be implied (carried over) from the preceding clause.

Subordinating Conjunctions

These conjunctions do affect the sentence word order. The verb in a subordinate clause stands in final position within that clause. Note the locations of the verb waren and its subject ihre Eltern in this example, using the conjunction als (when / while):

Sie wohnte in Berlin, als ihre Eltern noch Studenten waren.
She lived in Berlin while her parents were still students.

When a subordinate clause is first in a sentence, then the finite verb of the main clause immediately follows the subordinate clause. Note the locations of the verb wohnte and its subject sie (its second occurrence in this sentence) in the next example, which simply follows the basic rule that the main verb of a German statement always comes in second position.

Als sie jung war, wohnte sie in Berlin.
When she was young she lived in Berlin.

A subordinate clause is also called a dependent clause because it does not make sense by itself. In German all dependent clauses are separated from main clauses by commas and the verb or verbs of the dependent clause stand at the end of that clause. This is an important punctuation practice worth remembering since it will enable you to split longer sentences apart when reading and translating.

The most common German subordinating conjunctions are:

als when (referring to past events)

Als er in Deutschland war, sah er seinen Bruder.
When he was in Germany, he saw his brother.

Caution: this word also has uses as an adverb, in which case it behaves like a normal adverb:

  • “than.” Example:  besser als – “better than”
  • “as.” Example:  als Ingenieur – “as an engineer”
als ob as if
(see Unit 15 for examples)
bis until

Bis es regnet, bleibt es trocken.
Until it rains, it will remain dry.

da since (because)

Ich gehe nicht ins Kino, da ich kein Geld habe.
I don’t go to movies because I have no money.

Caution: This word can also be used as an adverb (“there”) and is used in da-compounds where it means “it” (see Unit 12). Those uses appear with standard word order.

damit so that

Damit Sie das Examen bestehen, sollen Sie fleißig studieren.
So that you pass the exam, you should study hard.

Caution: Not to be confused with the da-compound meaning “with it” (see above).

daß that

Die Kinder wußten sehr wohl, daß Feuer gefährlich ist.
The children knew very well that fire is dangerous.

Note that the current German spelling of daß is dass, which you will see in 21st-century newspapers and other mass-media publications.

Like English, German sometimes omits this very common conjunction. You can tell this has happened because then the word order of the subordinate clause appears in normal German statement order. And more helpfully than in English, such sentences in German will always use a comma to signal where one clause ends and the next one begins. For example:

Ich glaube, ich kriege ein Fahrrad zum Geburtstag!
I think I’m getting a bicycle for my birthday!

Just for illustration, this is how the same sentence would look if the speaker bothered to use the daß conjunction:

Ich glaube, daß ich ein Fahrrad zum Geburtstag kriege!

bevor before

Bevor es regnete, sahen wir Wolken.
Before it rained we saw clouds.

nachdem after

Erst nachdem der Schnee schmilzt, sieht man Tulpen.
Not until after the snow melts does one see tulips.

ob whether / if (only used for true/false possibilities)

Wir wissen nicht, ob er kommt.
We don’t know if he’s coming.

obwohl /
obgleich
although

Obwohl zwei fertig waren, blieben noch drei in Arbeit.
Although two were done, three were still being worked on.

seitdem since (the time when) / ever since

Seitdem sie heirateten, reisen sie jedes Jahr nach Mallorca.
Ever since they got married, they travel to Mallorca every year.

sobald as soon as

Wir fliegen, sobald das Unwetter vorbei ist.
We will fly as soon as the storm has passed.

solange as long as

Solange es so stark regnet, starten wir nicht.
As long as it rains this hard we won’t take off.

während while / whereas

Während er auf der Universität studierte, lernte er seine Frau kennen.
While he was a university student, he got to know his wife.

Caution: Not to be confused with its use as a preposition meaning “during,” with normal prepositional word order.

weil because

Ich trinke nachmittags Kaffee, weil ich dann schläfrig bin.
I drink coffee in the afternoon because that’s when I’m sleepy.

wenn when(ever) / if (used to set a condition)

Wenn es regnet, fährt sie mit dem Bus, nicht mit dem Fahrrad.
When it rains, she takes the bus, not her bike.

Last revised on October 13, 2014.