German Adverbs of Time (wann? wie oft?)

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German Adverbs of Time (wann? wie oft?)

Christmas is just one week away and many people will be going home to spend the holidays with their family. Others will be spending time with friends. Inevitably we tell stories when we’re around other people. One of the most important parts of speech that you need to tell a flowing narrative are adverbs

In German, like in English, there are many adverbs of time. I’ve noticed that many German learners find these confusing, because they are rarely addressed early enough in the learning process, but are always used by German speakers and in dialogues.

Let’s get started with looking at these adverbs of time. Generally speaking adverbs of time fall into one of four categories. For that reason, I will introduce these adverbs in the four categories.

Just a quick note to everyone about the positioning of adverbs of time in your sentence. First, remember the all important German sentence structure logic: Time, Manner, Place (TMP). Therefore, adverbs of time should come before those of place or manner. The second point is that we move from general time to specific time. Third, German is the language of punctuality, which means that we often place the time phrase in the first position. If the adverbial phrase is placed at the beginning of a sentence, it is not separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma like in English. I repeat NO COMMA! If you start a sentence with an adverb of time or an adverbial phrase that is your position 1 and the verb must follow in position 2 and the subject in position 3.

Please keep the above in mind as we look at our for categories and their examples:

1. Adverbs of time in category one tell us when or how often an activity occurs. A good idea here is to make a continuum to remember them. Here are some of the most common examples:

  • ab und zu (now and then)
    • Ich bin kein Profieishockeyspieler, ich spiele nur ab und zu Eishockey.
    • (I’m not a professional ice-hockey player. I only play now and then.)
  • bald (soon)
    • Bald nun ist Weihnachtszeit.
    • (Soon it will be Christmas.)
  • immer (always)
    • Er hat sie immer geliebt.
    • (He always loved her.)
  • manchmal (sometimes)
    • Manchmal gehe ich auf den Weihnachtsmarkt alleine.
    • (Sometimes I go to the Christmas market alone.)
  • nie (never)
    • Er wird sie nie enttäuschen.
    • (He will never disappoint her.)
  • oft (often)
    • Oft überrascht sie ihn mit ihrem wünderschönen Lächeln.
    • (She often surprises him with her beautiful smile.)
  • schon (already: this can also be a filler word and is not to be confused with schön)
    • Du bist schon da? Ich dachte, du kommst nicht bis später.
    • (You’re already here? I thought you weren’t coming until later.)
  • wieder (again)
    • Es ist schon wieder Weihnachten.
    • (It’s already Christmas again.)

2. Adverbs of time in category two are used to indicate when an activity begins and are particularly useful for introducing narratives. In fact you will often encounter these in literature.

  • anfangs (in the beginning)
    • Anfangs ging alles gut.
    • (In the beginning everything went well.)
  • damals (then, back then)
    • Damals lebten sie noch getrennt.
    • (Back then they didn’t live together.)
  • eines Abends (one evening)
    • Eines Abends besuchte er sie.
    • (One evening he visited her.)
  • eines Morgens (one morning)
    • Eines Morgens, als er aufstand, wusste er, dass er sie liebte.
    • (When he got up one morning, he knew that he loved her.)
  • eines Tages (one day)
    • Er schwor, dass er sie eines Tages heiraten würde.
    • (He swore that he would marry her one day.)
  • einst (once (past); some day (future))
    • Einst liebte sie einen anderen.
    • (She once loved another.)
    • Einst wird er bedauern, sich nicht anders entschieden zu haben.
    • (One day, he’ll regret having not decided otherwise.)
  • neulich (recently)
    • Neulich traf er sie wieder auf dem Weihnachtsmarkt.
    • (He recently met (bumped into) her at the Christmas market.)
  • vor kurzem (recently)
    • Vor kurzem hat sie an ihm gedacht.
    • (She thought about him recently.)
  • zuerst (first, at first)
    • Er sprach sie zuerst an.
    • (He spoke to her first.)
  • zunächst (first, at first)
    • Zunächst gingen sie einen Glühwein trinken.
    • (First they went and had a mulled wine.)

3. Adverbs of time in the third category are very useful for helping establish a sequence within a narrative. These are really good to use to make your narrative flow.

  • auf einmal (suddenly)
    • Auf einmal kam ein alter Mann in den Laden.
    • (Suddenly an old man came into the shop.)
  • bald darauf (soon, soon thereafter)
    • Bald darauf zogen sie zusammen ein.
    • (Soon thereafter they moved in together.)
  • bis dahin (up until then; by then)
    • Bis dahin hatten sie nur davon geträumt.
    • (Up until then they had only dreamed about that.)
  • da (then; this can also be a filler word and or mean “because” and/or an adverb of place meaning “here/there”)
    • Da lachte er.
    • (Then he laughed.)
  • dann (then)
    • Dann gingen sie ins Kino.
    • (Then they went to the cinema.)
  • danach (after that)
    • Sie nahm die Tabletten, und danach ging es ihr wieder besser.
    • (She took the pills, and after that she felt better again.)
  • immer noch (still)
    • Wohnst du immer noch in der Schillerstrasse?
    • (Do you still live on Schiller Street?)
  • inzwischen (meanwhile)
    • Ich muss noch arbeiten, du kannst inzwischen essen.
    • (I still have to work. You can eat in the meantime.)
  • kurz darauf (shortly after that)
    • Kurz darauf haben sie sich geheiratet.
    • (Shortly after that they got married.)
  • mittlerweile (meantime)
    • Mittlerweile ist es uns gelungen, das Rätsel zu lösen.
    • (In the meantime we’ve been able to solve the puzzle.)
  • nachher (afterwards)
    • Ich gehe nachher Geschenke kaufen.
    • (I’m going to go buy presents afterwards.)
  • plötzlich (suddenly)
    • Plötzlich küsste er sie.
    • (Suddenly he kissed her.)
  • später (later)
    • Er soll später die Leitung der Firma übernehmen.
    • (He should become the head of the company later.)
  • unterdessen (meanwhile)
    • Ich erledigte wichtige Korrespondenz. Unterdessen verwüstete meine kleine Tochter die gesamte Wohnung.
    • (I took care of important correspondences. In the meantime my little daughter completely destroyed the entire flat.)
  • voher (first, beforehand)
    • Wenn ich das nur vorher gewusst hätte!
    • (If I’d only known that earlier!)

Here is an example of a small narrative using a few of these adverbs.

Der Mauerfall

Ich erfuhr davon im Fernsehen, und kurz darauf rief ich einen Freund in Berlin an. Bis dahin, sagte er, hatte er nur davon geträumt. Und dann plötzlich ist es zur Wirklichkeit geworden.

The fall of the Berlin Wall

I heard about it on TV, and shortly afterwards I called up a friend of mine in Berlin. Up until then, he said, he had only dreamed about about it. And then suddenly it became a reality.

4. Adverbs of time in the fourth category are often used to indicate the conclusion of an activity or narrative.

  • am Ende (finally, in the end, in conclusion)
    • Am Ende gingen wir zufrieden ins Bett.
    • (Finally we went contently to bed.)
  • endlich (finally, at long last)
    • Der Film ist endlich fertig!
    • (The film is finally finished!)
  • schliesslich (finally, in the final analysis)
    • Sie nahm ihre Jacke, die Tasche, den Koffer und schliesslich den Schirm.
    • (She took her jacket, the handbag, the suitcase and finally the umbrella.)
  • seitdem ((ever) since then, (ever) since that time)
    • Wir haben sie seitdem nicht mehr gesehen.
    • (We haven’t seen her since then.)
  • seither ((ever) since then, (ever) since that time)
    • Die Studie ist zehn Jahre alt, seither hat sich aber viel verändert.
    • (The study is ten years old, since then a lot has changed.)
  • zuletzt (at last, finally; last)
    • Sie war zuletzt vor fünf Jahren hier.
    • (The last time she was here was five years ago.)
  • zum Schluss (finally, in the end, in conclusion)
    • Zum Schluss möchte ich allen meinen fans bedanken.
    • (Finally, I’d like to thank all my fans.)


Tell something about yourself and use the following adverbs:

  1. ab und zu
  2. bisher (up until now)
  3. stets (continually, always)
  4. endlich
  5. kürzlich
  6. plötzlich
  7. immer noch 

Practice your German temporal adverbs by following the link:

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