German Subordinating Conjunctions — Yes, Sometimes the Verb Goes at the End

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German Subordinating Conjunctions — Yes, Sometimes the Verb Goes at the End

German has a reputation. Having spent a great deal of time in Canada, I know that German is perceived as a terrible sounding language. Irish comedian Dylan Moran says in one of his routines that, “German sounds like typewriters eating tinfoil being kicked down stairs.” where does this idea come from? Probably from all the war movies out there where one only hears angry commands coming from German soldiers. If most people encountered English only as it comes from the Drill Sergeant’s mouth in Forrest Gump, English would probably have an equally bad reputation. However, this notion of German is completely wrong. German in all its thirty plus dialects is often a very musical language.

The other thing that I hear most of my new students saying to me is, “Oh, yeah German’s difficult because the verb always comes at the end.” Somehow the language has a reputation of the verb always coming at the end. As most of us know though the verb generally comes in the second position. I think the verb at the end notion comes from two places. The first is that when there are multiple verbs or verb parts the infinitive or the past participle comes at the end and not in a quick sequence as in English. (ex. Ich muss morgen früh wieder in die Bibliothek und lernen. Am Wochenende bin ich nach Laax gefahren.) The other case when the verb goes at the end is when we use subordinating conjunctions (Subjunktionen). Now we’ve discussed coordinating conjunctions, but subordinating conjunctions are different.

Coordinating conjunctions join two independent clauses (complete ideas). Subordinating conjunctions connect independent clauses (Hauptsätze) and dependent clauses (Nebensätze). A dependent clause is not a complete idea and cannot stand alone. The Nebensatz is created when the subordinating conjunction is introduced. The subordinating conjunction makes the dependent clause dependent on the independent clause. That means that there needs to be a relation between the two. As Emanuel points out in his comment below if we take this example you’ll understand.


Ich habe Hunger. Ich gehe in die Küche. (I’m hungry. I’m going to the kitchen.)

These are two complete ideas. But you really want to give a reason for going to the kitchen. Therefore going to the kitchen is your independent clause and we’ll make being hungry the dependent clause because it is the reason for the action. You’re introducing the information to justify going to the kitchen.

Ich gehe in die Küche, weil ich Hunger habe. 


Weil ich Hunger habe, gehe ich in die Küche.

Note that “Ich have Hunger, weil ich in die Küche gehe.” is grammatically correct, but insinuates that you get hungry by going into the kitchen. It gives a reason for why you are hungry and not for why you are going to the kitchen.

There are nineteen, yes nineteen, common subordinating conjuctions:

I know this is a lot so we’re not going to look at all of them, but rather at the most important ones, though you should make yourself aware of what they all mean.

The basic structure when joining two clauses with a subordinating conjunction is as follows:

Option 1:

Independent Claus (Hauptsatz) + Subordinating Conjunction + Dependent Clause (Nebensatz)

Subject + Verb1 + + (Verb2) + , + Conjunction + Subject + + (Verb2) Verb1.

Ich muss zur Post (gehen), weil ich ein Paket versenden muss.

Option 2:

Subordinating Conjunction + Dependent Clause (Nebensatz) + Independent Clause (Hauptsatz)

Conjunction + Subject + + (Verb2) Verb1 + , + Verb1 + Subject + + (Verb2).

Weil ich ein Paket versenden muss, muss ich zur Post (gehen).

als (as, when)

In a previous blog post I spoke about als and how it’s different from wenn. We use als for a single event in the past. When we use als the verbs must be in the past tense. Als clauses often feature the following words and phrases: plötzlich, gestern, letzte Woche, letztes Jahr, ich Kind war.

We always need to be aware of the order in which the events occurred, or which event was already in progress as the other one started.

Examples of combining clauses using subordinating conjunctions:

Gestern gingen wir los. Es regnete. (We left yesterday. It was raining.)

+ als

= Als wir gestern losgingen, regnete es. (When we left yesterday, it was raining.)


Gestern gingen wir los. Es regnete. (We left yesterday. It was raining.)

+ als

= Es regnete, als wir gestern losgingen. (It was raining, when we left yesterday.)

bis (until)

Don’t get this confused with the preposition. Here we use bis to tell as the point in time at which the event of the independent clause ended. Grammatically it may also be referred to as a temporal subordinating conjunction (Temporale Subjunktion).

Examples of combining clauses using subordinating conjunctions:

Es war so lange still. Plötzlich begann ein Schüler zu reden. (It was quiet for some time. Suddenly a pupil began to speak.)

+ bis

= Es war so lange still, bis ein Schüler zu reden begann. (It was quiet for some time, until a pupil began speaking.)

Der Kuchen ist noch nicht fertig. Es dauert noch eine halbe Stunde. (The cake isn’t finished yet. It will take another half an hour.)

+ bis

= Bis der Kuchen fertig ist, dauert es noch eine halbe Stunde. (Until the cake is finished, it will be another half an hour.)

dass (that)

This dass is used for combining object clauses, subject clauses and attributive clauses to independent clauses.

Examples of combining clauses using subordinating conjunctions:

Er hat mir etwas gesagt. Es sei ein Problem für ihn. (He said something to me. It is a problem for him.)

+ dass

= Er sagte, dass es ein Problem für ihn sei. (He said, that it’s a problem for him.)

Du willst mir schreiben. Das freut mich besonders. (You want to write me. I’m very happy.)

+ dass

= Dass du mir schreiben willst, freut mich besonders. (That you want to write me makes me particularly happy.)

obwohl (despite, despite the fact that)

We use obwohl when in our dependent clause we want to provide information that is in opposition to the information in the independent clause. The short form is obw.

Examples of combining clauses using subordinating conjunctions:

Das Fenster war wieder zu. Ich hatte es gerade vorher geöffnet. (The window was closed again. I had just opened it.)

+ obwohl

= Das Fenster war wieder zu, obwohl ich es gerade vorher geöffnet hatte. (The window was closed again, despite the fact that I had just opened it.)

Er war noch nie Skifahren. Er konnte ziemlich gut Skifahren. (He had never been skiing. He could ski quite well.)

+ obwohl

= Obwohl er noch nie Skifahren war, konnte er schon ziemlich gut Skifahren. (Despite having never been skiing, he could still ski quite well.)

während (while, during)

Here’s one to be careful of. Though the subordinating conjunction weil sounds like the English word while, you actually want to use the german word während. Während is used to tell us that the event in the dependent clause is occurring at the same time as the event in the independent clause. Often people will use während as a preposition and thus leave out the need for a longer sentence.

Examples of combining clauses using subordinating conjunctions:

Wir waren auf dem Fest. Auf dem Fest haben wir uns gestritten. (We were at the festival. We had an argument at the festival.)

+ während

= Während wir auf dem Fest waren, haben wir uns gestritten. (While we at the festival we had an argument.)

Daniel macht das Frühstück. Seine Freundin schläft noch. (Daniel is making breakfast. His girlfriend is still sleeping)

+ während

= Daniel macht das Frühstück, während seine Freundin noch schläft. (Daniel is making breakfast while his girlfriend is still sleeping.)

weil (because)

You might be asking yourself why there is another word for because when there is already the coordinating conjunction denn. The simple answer is that there just is. The longer answer is that with weil you can start a sentence with the dependent clause (giving the reason before hand) and then state the result afterwards.

Examples of combining clauses using subordinating conjunctions:

Er konnte das Skifahren schnell lernen. Er hatte eine ausgezeichnete Skilehrerin. (He was able to learn to ski quickly. He had an excellent ski instructor.)

+ weil

= Er konnte das Skifahren schnell lernen, weil er eine ausgezeichnete Skilehrerin hatte. (He was able to learn to ski quickly, because he had an excellent ski instructor.)

Sie hat für die Prüfungen fleissig gelernt. Sie hat die Prüfungen mit höchsten Noten bestanden. (She studied a lot for the tests. She passed the tests with the highest grades.)

+ weil

= Weil sie für die Prüfungen fleissig gelernt hat, hat sie die Prüfungen mit höchsten Noten bestanden. (Because she studied a lot for her tests, she passed them with the highest grades.)

wenn (when, if)

This is another one that causes quite a bit of confusion mostly because in English the same word (when) is used for so many purposes. Remember, German is a precision language. In German we use wenn for events the occurred numerous times in the past, like we use if in conditional sentences, and like when for the future.

Examples of combining clauses using subordinating conjunctions:

Es wird bald Abend. Am Abend hören wir mit der Arbeit auf. (It will soon be evening. In the evening we stop working.)

+ wenn

Wenn es Abend wird, warden wir mit der Arbeit aufhören. (When it becomes evening, we’ll stop working.)

Ich wäre gern reich. Ich würde mir ein grosses Haus in den Bergen kaufen. (I would like to be rich. I would buy myself a big house in the mountains.)

+ wenn

Wenn ich reich wäre, würde ich mir ein grosses Haus in den Bergen kaufen.

So there we have it, subordinating conjunctions in a nutshell. Ok, a rather large nutshell, but still I think you get the idea. Try combining the sentences in the exercises below using the subordinating conjunction given.


1. AnneMarie fährt nach Berlin. Sie muss viel arbeiten. (bevor)

2. Herr Müller hatte in Bern gewohnt. Er kam nach Zürich. (bis)

3. Ich sehe mein Schwester nie. Sie wohnt in Kanada. (weil)

4. Es gibt viel zu tun. Wir helfen alle mit. (wenn)

5. Sie kommt aus Polen. Sie kennt die Schweiz sehr gut. (obwohl)

6. John studierte in Berlin. Er hat Deutsch gesprochen. (als)

7. Helen fährt Snowboard. Ihr Mann fährt Ski. (während)

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  1. German-is-easyGerman-is-easy04-20-2012

    neat article… I’d like to point out though that it actually the subordinating conjunction that makes a sentence incomplete. So they don’t only join a main clause and a dependent clause but they rather join 2 main clauses by making one of them dependent. Example:
    “Ich habe Hunger. Ich gehe in die Küche.” It is unarguable that both convey complete ideas. Adding “weil” to the second one renders it dependent but it is only now that it is not complete. The action is the same (going to the kitchen). The idea has not changed. So subordinating conjunction don’t just join… they CREATE dependent sentences.

    Greets Emanuel

  2. Ankit KhandelwalAnkit Khandelwal07-25-2012

    Very good blog!! My all german grammatical confusions have been cleared here. You deserve a big thanks!

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