Das and dass are two little German words which can cause a lot of confusion among German learners. Although they look similar and sound the same, they are used in completely different grammatical ways.
While das is used as a definite article and relative pronoun for neuter nouns, dass is a subordinating conjunction used to join sentences together.
After reading this post you’ll know:
- The grammatical differences between das and dass
- Which one to use depending on what sentence you want to create
- The 2 words in use with example sentences
Das in German: Definite Article & Relative Pronoun
In German grammar, das has 3 uses. Firstly, it’s a definite article for neuter nouns, so is basically the German word for ‘the’. Learning the noun genders and articles is another challenge of the German language, but if you encounter a neuter noun, the definite article will be das (shown in green).
|das Buch||the book|
|das Mädchen||the girl|
|das Wohnzimmer||the living room|
Pretty straightforward right?
The second use of das in German is that of a relative pronoun for neuter nouns using the nominative and accusative cases. Relative pronouns are used to refer back to a noun that has previously been mentioned. Think of how we use ‘who’, ‘which’ or ‘that’ in English.
Let’s take a look at an example:
|Das Buch, das ich gefunden habe, ist interessant.||The book that I found, is interesting.|
|Das Mädchen, das gegenüber wohnt, ist nett.||The girl who lives over the road is nice.|
In these examples the relative pronoun das is shown in red. We also have the definite article das shown in green.
A third way we can use das in German is as a really straightforward ‘that’. Das can be used as a demonstrative pronoun to highlight something that doesn’t have a physical existence like a thought, idea or suggestion:
|Ich kann nicht schwimmen, wusstest du das?||I can’t swim, did you know that?|
|Gefällt dir mein Kleid nicht? Wie kannst du das sagen?||You don’t like my dress? How can you say that?|
Dass in German: Subordinating Conjunction
And now we come to the similar looking and identical sounding dass. Since we’re doing a das vs dass comparision, our dass with a double ‘s’ is a completely different animal.
Dass in German is a subordinating conjunction which translates as ‘that’. It’s used to link two parts of a sentence together in order to give more information about the main part of the sentence. Let’s take a look at it in action:
|Ich freue mich, dass es dir gut geht.||I’m pleased that you’re ok.|
|Ich finde es toll, dass du Deutsch verstehst.||I think it’s great that you understand German.|
|Das einzige Problem ist, dass ich nicht schwimmen kann.||The only problem is that I can’t swim.|
In order to use German correctly, it’s important to note that using the conjunction dass introduces a subordinate clause which changes the standard German word order around a bit. You can read about how subordinate clauses affect word order but just for the purposes of this article, the subordinate conjunction dass always makes the conjugated verb go to the end of the sentence.
Note: Before the German Spelling Reform in 1996, dass was spelled with the eszett (ß): daß. You may spot this spelling in some older books or texts, so it’s worth bearing this in mind.
Das vs Dass: Summary
Let’s have a quick review of what we’ve learned in this post:
- Das is used as a definite article for neuter nouns: das Auto etc.
- Das can be used as a relative pronoun to refer back to neuter nouns: Das Auto, das ich gekauft habe (the car that I bought)
- Das can be used to point to ideas & thoughts: Ich wusste das nicht (I didn’t know that)
- Dass is subordinating conjunction which translates as ‘that’. It gives more information about a main sentence: Wusstest du, dass ich ein neues Auto gekauft habe? (did you know that I bought a new car?)
To finish, it’s entirely possible to use both das and dass together in a sentence, and this happens quite a lot:
|Wusstest du, dass das Auto, das ich gekauft habe, eine Panne hat?||Did you know that the car (that) I bought broke down?|