German Conjunctions: Everything You Need To Know

german conjunctions

You won’t be learning German for long before you encounter German conjunctions. These little words such as ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘because’ and ‘if’ are used to link sentences together.

After reading this post you will know:

  • What German conjunctions are
  • The difference between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions
  • How conjunctions affect German sentence structure and word order
  • How the following conjunctions are used:
aber obwohlwann
sondern während warum
alsweilanstatt … zu
um … zusowohl … als auch

What Are German Conjunctions?

German conjunctions are used to link two similar words or phrases together. They can be used to add further details to a sentence, to contradict something or to express doubt.

Without conjunctions, sentences would be very short. Some of the first German words you learn will probably have been conjunctions.

There are 3 types of German conjunctions:

  • Coordinating conjunctions
  • Subordinating conjunctions
  • Compound conjunctions
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Coordinating Conjunctions in German

German coordinating conjunctions are the simplest type of conjunction, and some of the most common:

sondernbut / rather
dochbut / however
Coordinating conjunctions in German

Und, oder & aber (and, or & but)

As an English speaker und, oder and aber need little explanation. They are used in exactly the same way as we use their English counterparts. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Lena und ich gehe heute ins Kino.Lena and I are going to the cinema today.
Soll ich die rote oder die blaue kaufen?Should I buy the red or blue one?
Ich mag Schokolade, aber ich mag Kuchen mehr.I like chocolate but I like cakes more.

Aber is a very common conjunction, however it can’t be used after a negative (kein / nicht). Instead we have another conjunction, sondern, which means ‘rather’ or ‘but’.

Sondern (but / rather)

Sondern explains that two ideas are incompatible and adds contradiction to a sentence. Just remember that if you are going to use a negative, to swap aber for sondern.

Wir gehen heute Abend nicht aus, sondern bleiben zu Hause.We’re not going out tonight, but staying in.
Er ist kein Freund von dir, sondern ein Fremder.He is no friend of yours, rather a stranger.
Was hast du dir gedacht? Das war keine Komödie, sondern ein Horrorfilm!What were you thinking? That was no comedy, but a horror film!

Doch (but)

Doch is a tricky word, it’s often used on it’s own or as an emphasiser, but it can also be used as a coordinating conjunction.

As a conjunction, it can replace aber as it is used to contradict part of the sentence.

Ich möchte nach draußen gehen, doch das Wetter ist schlecht.I would like to go outside however the weather is bad.
Wir wollen Urlaub machen, doch wir müssen arbeiten.We want a holiday but we have to work.

Coordinating Conjunctions & Word Order

So you’ve seen the coordinating conjunctions in action, but how do they affect German word order? Well the great thing about coordinating conjunctions is that they don’t cause any changes to the standard German sentence structure.

In standard German sentence structure, the subject takes position 1, the conjugated verb takes position 2. Any other info then follows after. If there is a second verb, that goes to the very end.

If we introduce a coordinating conjunction, the conjunction goes after the first part of the sentence, then we repeat the exact same word order after it. Let me show you:

Pos. 1
Pos. 2
Other InfoConj.Pos. 1
Pos. 2
Other Info
Ichmöchteein neues Oberteil kaufen,aberichhabekein Geld.
Iwould liketo buy a new top,butIhaveno money.

You can see in this example, we use the standard word order, then the conjunction aber and then repeat the standard word order for the second part of the sentence.

Of course, not all coordinating conjunction sentences are this long as you can see in the previous examples. But it’s important to note that with coordinating conjunctions, no changes are made to the standard word order.

german conjunctions, woman deciding between two tops.

Subordinating Conjunctions in German

The second type of German conjunctions are known as subordinating conjunctions. So called because they create a subordinate clause or second part to the sentence.

Subordinating conjunctions in German do affect the standard word order. But for now, let’s take a look at the more common subordinating conjunctions and what they mean:

alswhen (the past)
obwhether / if
obwohlalthough / even though
wennwhen / if
German subordinating conjunctions

Question words can also be used as subordinating conjunctions, and will introduce a subordinate clause: wie (how), was (what), warum (why), wann (when), wer (who) etc.

There’s nothing sneaky about the meanings of these conjunctions, we can use them in the same way as we do their English counterparts. What they do that is sneaky, is they mess around with the standard word order.

Before we look at some example sentences with subordinating conjunctions in German, here’s a brief explanation about how word order is affected.

Subordinate conjunctions & word order: When a subordinate conjunction is used, the conjugated verb which comes after it, is sent to the very end of the sentence. It would normally be in position 2 after the subject, but it moves from that spot and goes right to the end.

That’s an extremely simplified explanation, if you want to learn more about subordinate clauses here’s my essential guide.

So, let’s take a look at some examples of German subordinating conjunctions in action:

Als (when)

Als ich Kind war, spielte ich mit meiner Schwester.When I was a child, I played with my sister.

Als translates as ‘when’, but we only use it for describing the past. If we want to talk about things in the present, we use wann. In this case wann ich Kind war, would be incorrect.

Dass & ob (that & if)

Wusstest du, dass ich nicht schwimmen kann?Did you know that I can’t swim?
Ich weiß nicht, ob ich an den Strand fahren soll.I don’t know whether to go to the beach.
Ich fragte sie, ob sie mit mir ausgehen wollte.I asked her if she wants to go out with me.

Ob can be used as ‘whether’ and ‘if’ to express doubt.

Obwohl & während (although & while)

Sie geht zur Party, obwohl sie morgen eine Prüfung hat.She goes to the party even though she has an exam tomorrow.
Obwohl sein English großartig ist, spricht er kein Französisch.Although his English is great, he doesn’t speak French.
Während ich Urlaub mache, entspanne ich mich.While I’m on holiday, I relax.

Wenn & weil (if & because)

Wenn du heute Abend vorbeikommen willst, kannst du das.If you want to come over tonight, you can.
Wir können jetzt reden, wenn du magstWe can chat now if you like.
Ich lerne Deutsch, weil ich die Herausforderung mag.I’m learning German because I like the challenge.

Wenn is another way of saying ‘when’ or ‘if’. It’s use as ‘if’ depends on the context. If you want to express doubt, you would use ob instead.

Question Words as Conjunctions in German

I mentioned earlier that we also use the common German question words as subordinating conjunctions. Let’s take a look at these in action:

Ich weiß nicht, wie ich es sagen soll.I don’t know how to say it.
Ich weiß nicht, was ich sagen soll.I don’t know what to say.
Weißt du, wann er vorbeikommt?Do you know when he’s coming over?
Ich möchte wissen, warum ihr Deutsch lernt.I would like to know why you guys are learning German.
Weißt du, wer dieser Typ ist?Do you know who this guy is?

As you can see, because these are question words they are mostly used for gathering information.

Two-Part (Compound) Conjunctions

Two-Part or compound conjunctions in German, are conjunctions which, you’ve guessed it, have 2 parts to them. These are very useful conjunctions such as ‘instead of’, in order to’ and ‘as well as’.

I’ve cherry picked the most common ones which you’re like to hear and use yourself:

Anstatt … zu (instead of)

Ich würde gerne Urlaub machen, anstatt ständig zu arbeiten.I would like to go on holiday, instead of working constantly.

This way of saying ‘instead of’ is used in front of a verb. Unlike it’s English counterpart, this conjunction can be broken up, like in this case:

  • anstatt ständig zu arbeiten = instead of constantly working
  • anstatt zu arbeiten = instead of working

Um … zu (in order to)

Ich arbeite, um Geld zu verdienen.I work in order to earn money.

This is definitely the most common compound conjunction you’ll find in German. You would use it in the same way as we use ‘in order to’ in English. However, in English we can shorten this phrase.

In the example above, we could just as easily say ‘I work to earn money’. But in German we always use the complete conjunction um … zu, even when it doesn’t make much sense in English:

Er ist nicht mutig genug, um Deutsch zu sprechen.He isn’t brave enough (in order) to speak German.

Sowohl … als auch (as well as)

Ich lerne Deutsch sowohl mit Büchern als auch online.I’m learning German with books as well as online.

Used to express that two facts are true.

So now you know the different types of German conjunctions, what they mean and how to use them in sentences.

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