If you’re already a solid beginner in German and looking to become move into intermediate, one of the things you have to learn to do is understand and use longer, more complex sentences. To transform your German as you burst into intermediate, you’re going to need conjunctions. But what exactly are conjunctions? This post explains all. Let’s look at the most useful German conjunctions and see how to use them.
First, a quick reminder of what you’re expect to be able to do as you move into intermediate. “Upper beginner” is level A2 (“elementary” or “wayfarer”) level on the “global scale” of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. At that level, it’s all still about keeping it simple. You’re expected to be able to “….communicate in simple and routine situations requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters….”
Move into intermediate – B1 (“threshold” or “intermediate)” on the CEFR scale and the bursts of language that you hear, read, say or write are expected not only to include a wider range of vocab, but to be longer and structurally more varied too.
Using “connectors” is a key element of this. So, at B1, says the CEFR, you are expected to produce “simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest…”.
The requirements for TELC B1 German exam confirm these expectations. TELC says that to pass the B1 German exam you expected to show that “you can communicate in a simple and connected way in everyday situations…”.”
To pass the Goethe B1 German exam you need, among other things, to be able to “report on experiences and events, describe dreams, hopes and ambitions as well as make short statements and explanations.”
You’ll find the German conjunctions discussed below very helpful as you develop your skills in doing just this as you prepare for the Goethe B1 exam. Indeed, the new “B1” level conjunctions discussed below all appear in the approved Goethe Institut B1 exam word list.
What are conjunctions?
Before we get to “conjunctions” we need to tackle the concepts of the “clause” and “sentence”.
Simple sentences contain one clause.
A “clause” is a group of words which contains a verb in a “finite” form (showing the subject and the tense: “he listened to music”)(as opposed to a non-finite verb form, e.g. the infinitive or just a participle (“driving the car”). “He listened to music.” is a clause and a sentence. “Driving the car” is neither. “Driving the car, he listened to music.” is also, therefore, a one clause sentence.
Conjunctions are words used to join up two clauses up to make one more complex sentence.
There are two types of German conjugations.
Co-ordinating conjunctions: the are not many of these. You use them as first word in a clause to link up two sentences each of equal importance and expressing information of equal value. You end up with a more complex “compound sentence”. A co-ordinating conjunction can just head up a free-standing sentence, too.
As we’ll see in the examples, co-ordinating conjunctions don’t affect the normal word order in the German sentence.
Subordinating conjunctions link up two clauses by supplementing the main idea in the principle sentence (Hauptsatz) with a subsidiary idea in the subordinate clause (Nebensatz).
Unlike the co-ordinating conjunctions, they only work in a subordinating clause (“Nebensatz”). They cannot introduce in a free-standing principle sentence.
The subordinating conjunction normally comes at the beginning of the subordinate clause and the main verb usually goes to end of the clause.
There are only a few German co-ordinating conjunctions and you’ll probably already know several them.
German (like English) has many more subordinating conjunctions. You’ll probably be tackling these properly for the first time as an intermediate German student.
Let’s start with the co-ordinating conjunctions.
German co-ordinating conjunctions
There are two types: pure co-ordinating conjunctions and adverbial conjunctions.
Pure co-ordinating conjunctions
Pure co-ordinating conjunctions: these German conjunctions doesn’t have any effect whatsoever on the position of the verb in the clause.
As a solid A2 student, you’ll probably already have come across several pure co-ordinating conjunctions:
und (If you don’t know what this means, you’re not ready to move into intermediate yet 😉 ): “Mein Vater hat angerufen, und wir muessen sofort los.” (My father has phoned and we have to leave at once.) “Sie duerfen hier im Wohnzimmer fernsehen und auch telefonieren.” (You may watch TV here in the living room and make telephone calls as well.) You only use a comma if the subject of both clauses is different.
aber: this is “but” but, unlike in English, it does not have to be at the beginning of the clause. It can pop up later (like “however” in English). If you wan’t to say “not….but”, though, you have to use “sondern” (see below). You can’t use “aber”.
oder means “or”. If the subject of the two clauses is the same, you don’t use a comma: “Er kann hier bis morgen warten oder schon heute gehen”.
New in at B1:
allein means “alone” when you’re introducing an unexpected or unwelcome restriction (“before you consider…”, “without even…”) “Allein das Essen hat schoen ueber E50 gekostet.” (the food alone cost more than Euros 50).
denn meaning “because”. “Denn” in this sense is not used much in speech today. A mistake I often make is to think it’s a subordinating conjunction and move the verb to the end, by analogy with “weil” (see below). Among native speakers, it’s the opposite that tends to happen. You’ll often hear “weil” used with the normal word order “weil ich esse nie Fisch” instead of the more “correct” “weil ich nie Fisch esse”, by analogy with “denn”.
naemlich (“namely” but often translated as an emphasised “because”). For example: “Ich muss gehen, ich habe naemlich noch einen Termin beim Zahnaert.” (I have to go because I have an appointment at the dentist.)
sondern/nicht nur, sondern auch (not only…., but): “Es ist nicht nur total schmutzig, sondern es gibt auch viel Kriminalitaet.” (It’s not only totally polluted, but there’s a lot of criminality.)
Something you may well not have met as a beginner are German conjunctions pairs (the concept is familiar enough, as you’ll see from the English translations):
entweder….oder (“either…or”): “Ich konnte entweder dort bleiben oder nach Hamburg fliegen.” (I was able either to stay there or fly to Hamburg.)
weder….noch (“neither…nor”): “Es klappt weder heute noch morgen.” (It’ll work neither today nor tomorrow; it won’t work either today or tomorrow.) “Sie kann weder lesen noch schreiben.” (She can neither read nor write.)
sowohl….als (“both [x] and [y]” or “[x] as well as [y]”): “Sie spricht sowohl Deutsch, als auch Englisch und Franzoesisch.” (She speaks English and French, as well as German – the sense here is “in addition to speaking German not “to the same level as she speaks German.”)
zwar…aber (maybe…but; in fact….but): “Es regnet zwar, aber zum Glueck habe ich einen Regenschirm dabei.” (It may be raining, but luckily I’ve got an umbrella with me.).
The “zwar” makes the info in its clause less important. The rain matters less in this example, because I’ve got my brolly.
You can put “zwar” at the beginning of the clause, in which case the verb comes second: “Zwar regnet es, aber…”.
ebenso….wie (both [x] and [y]” in the sense of “just as much as”). “Meinen Deutschlehrer mag ich ebenso gern wie meinen Englischlehrer.” (I like my German teacher just as much as my English teacher.)
Adverbial conjunctions show the relationship of one idea to another. They are adverbs, that’s to say they describe a verb or an adjective (I eat quickly; a very fast car). They follow the usual rule for German adverbs that they push subject from first to third place when they come at the beginning of the clause (i.e. you need to flip the subject and the verb).
From A2 you’ll probably already know:
also (thus, therefore): “Er hat Geld, also kann er bezahlen.” (He has money, so he is able to pay.)
dann (then): “Wenn Sie noch laenger warten, dann verpassen Sie den Zug.” (If you wait any longer, (then) you’ll miss the train.)
denn (because): “Ich kann nicht kommen, denn ich bin krank.” (I cannot come because I’m ill (for “denn” as because, see below).
New in at B1:
da (as, since, whereas): “Da sie keine Freunde hat, sitzt sie immer allein im Kafe.” (Since/as she doesn’t have any friends, she always sits on her own in the cafe). You probably already know the simple adverb “da” in the sense of “there” or “here”) “Ich bin gleich wieder da.” (I’ll be right back.) You may not yet have met it as a conjunction.
daher (therefore, hence): “Ich war krank. Daher konnte ich gestern nicht kommen.” (I was ill. That’s why I couldn’t come yesterday.)
darum/deswegen/deshalb (therefore): “Marko hat kein eigenes Zimmer. Darum/deswegen/deshalb wohnt er bei Jens.” (Marko doesn’t have his own room. Therefore he lives at Jen’s place).
“Deswegen” and “deshalb” sound more formal than “darum”.
je……desto (umso)(the….the): “Je mehr Geld ich verdiene, desto mehr kann ich kaufen.” (the more money I earn, the more I can buy).
trotzdem: nevertheless “Mein Handy ist schon sehr alt. Trotzdem funktioniert es noch einwandfrei.” (My mobile/cell phone is very old. Nevertheless, it still works fine).
Because the subordinate clause adds information to the main clause, it can’t stand on its own as a separate sentence. It usually comes after the main clause, but not always.
The additional information could be “reported speech” begin with the subordinating conjunction dass (that) or ob (whether) or a question word: wo (where), wann (when), wie (how), mit wem (with whom). We’ll come back to reported speech another time, as it’s a big topic.
The German subordinating conjunctions we’ll now explore add various types of information: the cause – weil (because); purpose – damit/um….zu + INF (in order to, so that); time – als (as), waehrend (during), seit/seitdem (since), bevor/ehe (before), nachdem (after); some condition – wenn/falls (if, in case); a concession – obwohl/obgleich (although); an alternative – (an)statt dass/stat…zu +INF (instead of); instrumental information – indem (by means of); a (non)result – so dass/dass (so that), ohne dass/ohne….zu + INF (without); a comparison so….wie (as…as), NOUN-er als (NOUN-er than), je….desto (the more….the more), als ob (as if).
In the subordinate clause the verb moves to the end.
If the verb is in a compound tense, it’s the auxiliary that goes last, shunting the past participle to second from last place.
Modal verbs also take last place in a subordinate clause.
The subordinating clause can come before the main clause. If this happens, there’s a change in the main clause: the verb and subject of the main clause switch places. For example:
“Jens faehrt nach Berlin, obwohl er ein bisschen Angst hat” (Jens is going to Berlin, although he is a bit uneasy about it) becomes –
“Obwohl er ein bisschen Angst hat, faehrt Jens nach Berlin.” (Although he is a bit uneasy about it, Jens is going to Berlin).
“Ich gehe mit meiner Schwester, da du nicht kommen kannst.” (I’m going with my sister, since you can’t come.) becomes –
“Da du nicht kommen kannst, gehe ich mit meiner Schwester.” (Since you can’t come, I’m going with my sister.)
Subordinating conjunctions familiar from upper beginner German:
dass is used for “that” when you’re reporting speech. You’ll already have met this at A2 but you’ll use it much more at lower intermediate as you start to practise reported speech – die “Indirekte Rede” a lot with the focus on the verb tenses. That’s a big topic, for another day.
weil (because). You’ll have met this one already, of course. In spoken German the normal word order is often heard in a clause beginning with weil (see the comments on “denn”, above).
wenn (when, if). At A2 you’ll already be familiar with “wenn” and (in the past) to give information about time (“Wenn ich fertig bin, sage ich dir Bescheid” – When I’m finished, I’ll tell you), “Als ich fertig war, sind wir nach Hause gegangen.” (When I was ready, we went home.) At B1 you’ll meet it in the sense of “if” with varying degrees of conditionality at various points in time. See below.
New in at B1:
als: You may already have come across “als” to mean “as a” (er arbeitet als Lehrer; he works as a teacher) and studied done some “comparison of adjectives”: “Frank ist junger als Heinrich.” (Frank is younger than Heinrich.)
As a conjunction it means “when”, used in the past (wenn is used for the present and future, see below).
als ob (as if): “Er tut so, als ob wir uns nicht kannten” (he behaves as if we didn’t know each other).
bis: as a beginner, you’ll have come across “bis” as a preposition in simple clauses to mean until/as far as in sentences like “Der Zug faehrt bis Hamburg.” (The train goes as far as Hamburg.) “Ich warte bis 8 Uhr.” (I’ll wait until 8 o’clock.)
In B1 its use as a conjunction is introduced.
“Warte, bis du an die Reihe kommst.” (Wait until it’s your turn).
da: you’ll already know “da” the sense of “there” (sometimes, in English: “here” – “Er ist noch nicht da.” means “He isn’t here yet.”). At lower intermediate it appears as a conjunction, to mean “as”, “whereas”, “since”.
damit means “so that” in the sense of “in order that” or “in order to”. “So that” in the sense of “with the result that” is “sodass”.
bevor (before): “Bevor wir gehen, moechte ich aufraeumen.” (Before we leave, I want to clear up.)
falls (in the event that): “Falls ich im Lotto gewinne, kaufe ich mir ein grosses Haus.” (If I win the lottery, I’ll buy myself a large house.)
indem (by means of – in English we use a participle “-ing” phrase – by + VERB + ing” here. For example: “Ich halte mich gesund, indem ich wenig Fleisch esse.” (I stay healthy by not eating much meat.)
je nachdem (depending on): “Je nachdem, wie lange die Besprechung dauert, bin ich um 18 Uhr zu Hause oder später.” (Depending on how long the meeting lasts, I’ll be home around 6 o’clock or later.)
nachdem (after): “Nachdem wir die Arbeit gemacht hatten, sind wir ins Kino gegangen.” (After we’d done the work, we went to the cinema.)
ob (not A2, yes B1) if in the sense of whether. “Ich weiss noch nicht, ob ich Zeit haben werde.” (I don’t know yet, whether I’ll have time.)
obwohl (although): “Ich trage eine warme Jacke, obwohl es 30 Grad hat.” (I’m wearing a warm jacket, although it’s 30 degrees).
ohne: you’ll have met ohne as a preposition. As a conjunction “ohne….+zu infinitive” and “ohne dass”, in English “without + VERB + ing”. For example,
“Er hat das Restaurant gelassen, ohne die Rechnung zu bezahlen.” or “Er hat das Restaurant gelassen, ohne dass er die Rechnung bezahlte.” (He left the restaurant without paying.)
seit: as a beginner, you’ll have met “seit” as a preposition of time in simple sentences with the meaning since/for a period of time. For example “Ich wohne seit 3 Jahren in Koeln.” (I’ve been living in Cologne for three years. Now it’s time to learn to use “seit” as a conjunction: “Seit ich verheiratet bin, gehe ich nicht mehr tanzen.” (Since getting married, I don’t go dancing any more)
sobald (as soon as): “Sobald ich den Schluessel gefunden habe, mache ich die Tuer auf.” (As soon as I’ve found the key, I’ll open the door.)
waehrend (while, during): “Waehrend ich studiere, hoere ich nie Musik.” (While I’m studying, I never listen to music.). “Waehrend der Ferien ist sie immer bei ihrer Familie.” (During the holiday, she’s always at her family’s place.)
wenn (if): “Wenn ich nicht arbeiten muss, gehe ich einkaufen.” (If I don’t have to work, I’ll go shopping.); “Wenn ich nicht so spaet angekommen waere, haette ich die Rede nicht verpasst.” (If I hadn’t arrived so late, I wouldn’t have missed the speech.) “Wenn ich doch schneller eine Arbeit finden wuerde!” (If only I could find a job quicker.) As you can see from these examples, wenn in the sense of “if”, as opposed to “when”.
I’m sure you can see how all these conjunctions can enrich your powers of German comprehension and expression. Don’t panic at this embarrassment of riches, though. In a good course, they’ll be introduced gradually with lots of opportunities to practise. As always, getting lots of exposure to these forms is crucial in ensuring that you develop a “feel” for the word order. It will come, with time and….more practice.
Into intermediate German with Dr P’s new course
Starting on Sunday 30th June 2019, I’ll be leading a group of learners on a ten-week journey. I’ve partnered with some of the best native-speaker teachers out there to create interesting and realistic conversational materials that are at just the right level so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
There will be guidance on to-the-point, jargon free explanations of key new structures and phrases and a “brain-savvy” interactive study routine. That’s not about technical wizardry it’s about using the materials in ways that reflect the way that cognitive science tells us work best.
There’ll be live mentoring from me and you’ll have my unlimited personal email support….and a lively supportive online community discussion forum.
Enrolment is open now but closes (no exceptions) at midnight (London) at the end of Friday 28th June 2019. Get yourself over to the info and enrolment page for more info Los geht’s! 🙂