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Conjunctions

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Coordinating conjunctions

The most commonly used coordinating conjunctions in German are aber, oder, und, denn, and sondern (but, or, and, because, but rather). A coordinating conjunction combines two independent clauses, each of which can stand alone and make sense. When a coordinating conjunction combines two independent clauses, normal word order takes place, which means that the verb is the second element in each of the two clauses.

Jochen wohnt in Bonn, aber seine Schwester wohnt in Wien. Jochen lives in Bonn, but his sister lives in Vienna.

Naturally, if the combined clauses are formed as a ja or nein question, the verbs in the sentences precede the subject.

Fahrt ihr mit dem Zug, oder fliegt ihr nach Paris? Are you traveling by train, or are you flying to  Paris?

Questions are the only exception to the rule: with coordinating conjunctions, the verb is the second element in each of the combined clauses. Let’s look at some example sentences with the remaining three conjunctions. Take note that the conjunction und is the only one of the five that does not require a comma separating the two independent clauses.

Werner spielt Klavier und Tanja hört Radio. Werner is playing the piano, and Tanja  is listening to the radio.
Erik geht nicht ins Kino, denn er hat kein
Geld. Erik isn’t going to the movies, because he doesn’t have any money.
Sie wohnt nicht in Heidelberg, sondern
sie wohnt in Darmstadt. She doesn’t live in Heidelberg,  but rather she lives in Darmstadt.

The conjunction sondern begins a clause that follows another clause with a negative. Look at the phrase in the preceding example again and notice nicht in Heidelberg, sondern. The negative word nicht is the signal that the second clause will start with sondern. Since the subjects and verbs in the two independent clauses of this example are identical, it is possible to shorten the sentence and omit the subject and verb from the second clause:

Sie wohnt nicht in Heidelberg, sondern in Darmstadt. She doesn’t live in Heidelberg, but rather in Darmstadt.

Subordinating conjunctions

The list of subordinating conjunctions is long. They differ from coordinating conjunctions in that the clauses that follow a subordinating conjunction do not make complete sense when standing alone. Let’s look at a couple of examples in English first.

When I returned home, I found the front door locked.

In this sentence, when is a subordinating conjunction. When you separate the first clause from the second one, you find that the first clause doesn’t make complete sense by itself: When I returned home.

Let’s look at another example. They lived with relatives since the war ended.

In this example, since is a subordinating conjunction. When the subordinating clause stands alone, it does not make complete sense: Since the war ended.

In a German clause beginning with a subordinating conjunction, the verb stands at the end of the clause.

Ich weiß, dass Tina zu Hause ist.                I know that Tina is at home.

If the sentence begins with a subordinating clause, the verb precedes the subject in the second clause. Compare the following two sentences.

Ich besuche Tante Luise, wenn ich in Bremen bin. I visit Aunt Luise, whenever I’m in Bremen.

Wenn ich in Bremen bin, besuche
ich Tante Luise. Whenever I’m in Bremen, I visit Aunt Luise.

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List of commonly used subordinating conjunctions:

als ob (als wenn)                         as if

als                                                when (used for statements in the past tense)
bevor                                           before
bis                                                until, by the time
da                                                 since
damit                                           so that
dass                                             that
ehe                                               before
falls                                             in case
indem                                         by
nachdem                                    after
ob                                               whether, if
obwohl                                      although
seit(dem)                                   since
sobald                                       as soon as
sooft                                          as often as
soviel                                        as far as
während                                   while
weil                                           because
wenn                                         when(ever)
wie                                           (used together with so) as

Use indem where by + present participle is used in English.

Sie löste das Problem, indem sie ihm mehr Geld gab. She solved the problem by giving  him more money.

Also, both da and seit(dem) mean since. But da is used to show a cause.

Da er betrunken war, konnte er nicht fahren. Since he was drunk, he wasn’t able to drive.

Seit(dem) tells from what moment in time something occurred.

Seitdem er das Haus verkauft hat, wohnt er bei seinen Eltern. Since he sold his house, he’s been living with his parents.

Here are the conjunctions used in sentences. Take special note of the position of the conjugated verb in the subordinate clauses.

Sie schrie, als ob Erik sie schlüge.                       She screamed as if Erik were hitting her.
Als ich in Kiel wohnte, ging ich oft segeln.        When I lived in Kiel, I often went sailing.
Bevor das Kind einschlief, lächelte es seinem
Vater zu.  Before the child fell asleep, he smiled at his father.

Ich kann warten, bis du fertig bist.                      I can wait until you’re ready.

Da sie krank geworden war, musste sie zu Hause bleiben. Since she had gotten sick, she had to stay at home.

Du musst schneller fahren, damit wir pünktlich ankommen. You have to drive faster so that we arrive on time.

Ich wusste nicht, dass du das Examen bestanden hast. I didn’t know that you passed the exam.
Ehe er abfuhr, küsste er mich.                                       Before he departed, he kissed me.
Wir werden uns bei mir treffen, falls es regnet.       We’ll meet at my house, in case it rains.
Er hat ihr geholfen, indem er ihr 50 Euro gab. He helped her by giving her 50 euros.

Nachdem die Kinder nach Hause gekommen waren, wollten sie etwas zu essen haben. After the children had come home, they wanted to have something to eat.

Niemand weiß, ob er noch in der Stadt wohnt. No one knows whether he’s still living in the city.

Obwohl er ein guter Mensch ist, kann ich ihm kein Geld leihen.  Although he’s a good person, I can’t lend him money.

Seitdem er bei seinem Vater eingezogen war, hat er nicht gearbeitet.  Since he moved in with his father, he hasn’t worked.

Sobald der Junge das Geräusch hörte, lief er aus dem Haus hinaus. As soon as the boy heard the noise, he ran out of the house.

Ich komme, sooft du es wünschst.              I’ll come as often as you like.

Soviel wir wissen, ist Frau Gerber noch in Afrika.  As far as we know, Ms. Gerber is still in Africa.

Mein Urgroßvater ist gestorben, während wir in den USA waren. My great-grandfather died while we were in the U.S.A.

Er ist um halb elf aufgestanden, weil sein Wecker kaputt ist. He got up at ten-thirty, because his alarm clock is broken.

Wenn ich in Goslar bin, besuche ich meinen Schwager. Whenever I’m in Goslar, I visit my brother- in-law.

Seine Rede war nicht so interessant, wie wir erwartet hatten. His speech wasn’t as interesting as we had  expected.

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