Making Complex German Sentences Easy — Coordinating Conjunctions

Screen Shot 2012 01 15 At 18 58 07

Making Complex German Sentences Easy — Coordinating Conjunctions

Do you remember playing with Lego? Now you’re probably an adult and if you don’t have children the closest you get to assembling things is new IKEA furniture. Have you ever noticed that when you open a new Lego set or an IKEA package and look at all the pieces you sometimes have no idea how they will all form what the picture on the outside of the box looks like? Then you open up the instruction manual and you see that some of those odd shaped pieces are needed to construct the front moving shovel of a Lego backhoe that will later be attached, or the rolling mechanism of an IKEA drawer set. Piece by piece it all comes together.

That is what language is like, and German is no exception. Now we’ve learned about basic German sentence structure. That German is a time, manner, place (wann, wie, wo) language. We’ve seen how you construct questions and answer them using the language pieces they entail. But sometimes we want to go a little further and not simply provide a simple answer, but want to elaborate on it. Well here’s the good news, you have many of the pieces built now and we just need to put those together.

There are three types of ways to join sentences in German and each has a specific use. Today we’re going to look at coordinating conjunctions (Konjunktionen). Conjunctions allow us to combine independent clauses.

What is an independent clause (Hauptsatz)? As the name suggests an independent clause is a sentence that can stand on its own. It does not rely on anything else. It has a subject and a verb and usually an object. Up to now we’ve pretty much been constructing only independent clauses.

There are five key coordinating conjunctions in German: aber, denn, oder, sondern, and und. These are great because the combined independent clauses do not need to be changed at all in their structure when combined.

Often if the subject is explicitly mentioned in the first clause (ex. Der Tisch, Michael, Das Wetter etc.) it is replaced by a personal pronoun in the second clause. Remember der = er, die = sie and das = es. The one thing that can sometimes be done is the subject can be dropped from the second clause if it is the same as the subject in the first independent clause.

Let’s take a look:

In the examples I’ll color the subjects indigo and the verbs maroon.

und (and)

Und is used to combine two words, two clauses and two sentences. Thus it allows for items to be listed and ideas to be coordinated, summarized and added to the previous. It can replace the following punctuation: comma (Komma (,)), semicolon (Semikolon (;)), period (Punkt (.)), colon (Doppelpunkt (:)), exclamation mark (Ausrufzeichen (!)) and question mark (Fragezeichen (?)). In legal documentation u. is often used to shorten und. The ampersand (&) is only used for names.

Examples of independent clauses being combined:

Die Sonne scheint. Es ist warm. (The sun is shining. It is warm.)

+ und

= Die Sonne scheint und es ist warm.

Die Schweiz ist ein Alpenland in Mitteleuropa. Die Schweiz grenzt an Frankreich, Deutschland, Österreich, Liechtenstein und Italien. (Switzerland is an alpine country in the middle of Europe. Switzerland boarders France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Italy.)

+ und

= Die Schweiz ist ein Alpenland in Mitteleuropa und grenzt an Frankreich, Deutschland, Österreich, Liechtenstein und Italien.

*Note: Because Switzerland is the subject in both sentences we can drop the second Switzerland when we combine the two.

aber (but)

We use aber as a conjuction when we want the second clause to express something in opposition or contradictory to the first clause. Before aber we need to place a comma.

Examples of independent clauses being combined:

Hannes will nach Berlin fliegen. Sein Chef gibt ihm keine Ferien. (Hannes wants to fly to Berlin. His boss won’t give him any holidays.)

+ aber

= Hannes will nach Berlin fliegen, aber sein Chef gibt ihm keine Ferien.

 Maria soll schlafen. Ihr Freund schnarchelt. (Maria should sleep. Her boyfriend is snoring.)

+ aber

= Maria soll schlafen, aber ihr Freund schnarchelt.

denn (because)

Yes we’ve talked about denn before. Denn is the coordinating conjuction for because. There are also the subordinating conjuctions weil and da. We use denn to provide a reason (Grund) for what happened in the first clause. When we use denn as a conjunction, we dot start the the sentence with it. also note that there is a comma before denn when we use it as a coordinating conjunction.

Examples of independent clauses being combined:

Markus hat heute einen Kater. Gestern hat er zu viel beim Après-Ski getrunken. (Markus has a hangover today. He drank too much at après-ski yesterday.)

+ denn

= Markus hat heute einen Kater, denn gestern hat er zu viel beim Après-Ski getrunken.

Franziska kann heute nicht ins Kino gehen. Franziska muss für ihre Prüfung lernen. (Franziska can’t go to the cinema today. Franziska has to study for her test.)

+ denn

= Franziska kann heute nicht ins Kino gehen, denn sie muss für ihre Prüfung lernen.

oder (or)

We use oder to provide a differentiation between two or more possibilities. Here we speak of two different kinds of oder: exclusive (when not all the options are possible to choose) and inclusive (when all options are possible to choose.) When used to give an exclusive option it is often used in combination with entweder as in “entweder … oder” (either … or). We can also use oder for showing a consequence. Again, oder is often used as a particle, so be careful with this one. The short forms for oder are o. and od.

Examples of independent clauses being combined:

Exclusive (entweder … oder)

Du hast einen bekannten Vater. Wenn du keinen bekannten Vater hast, hast du einen unbekannten Vater. (You know your father. If you don’t know your father, then you have an unknown father.)

+ entweder … oder

= Du hast entweder einen bekannten oder einen unbekannten Vater. (You either know who your father is or you don’t.)


Gehst du heute ins Kino? Gehst du heute noch Einen trinken? Wir können auch beide. (Are you going to the cinema? Are you going for a drink? We can also do both.)

+ oder

= Gehst du heute ins Kino oder noch Einen trinkenoder wollen wir es verbinden? (Are you going to the cinema or out for a drink — or do we want to do both?)


Komm her! Wenn du nicht herkommst, gibt es Ärger. (Come here! If you don’t come here, there’ll be trouble.)

+ oder

= Komm her, oder es gibt Ärger! (Come here, or there’ll be trouble!)

sondern (but, rather, but rather)

Now you might wonder what is the difference between aber and sondern. The answer is that sondern is only used after a negative clause where in the second clause the positive opposite is given. This is particularly useful when answering questions in the negative, but wanting to add clarification. Ex. Gehst du nach Hause? Nein, ich gehe nicht nach Hause, sondern ins Fitnessstudio. (Are you going home? No, I’m not going home, but rather to the gym.)

When we want to highlight two qualities of something we often use the construction nicht nur … sonder auch.

Examples of independent clauses being combined:

Ich komme heute nicht nach Hause. Ich übernachte bei meiner Freundin. (I’m not coming home today. I’m staying the night at my girlfriend’s.)

+ sondern

= Ich komme heute nicht nach Hause, sondern übernachte bei einem Freund

 Diese Ski sind sehr gut. Sie sind günstig. (These skis are very good. They are well priced.)

+ nicht nur … sonder auch

= Diese Ski sind nicht nur sehr gut, sondern auch günstig. (These skis are not only very good, but also well priced.)

And there we have it, the coordinating conjunctions in German. Note that the word order does not have to change when we combine sentences using coordination conjunctions. However, using conjunctions allows you to often drop out words that would repeat or at least switch proper nouns for pronouns. Coordinating conjunctions do not count as a position in a sentence either, remember you could switch them out for punctuation and often make two separate clauses.

Complete this text about the Tschuggen Grand Hotel in Arosa with the correct conjunction.

Wenn der Schnee in diesem Winter auf sich warten lässt, ist das im Tschuggen Grand Hotel kein Problem. Zwar ist die Region um das Schweizer Dorf bekannt für seine Pisten, _______ auch in dem Luxushotel auf über 1800 Metern wird Urlaubern nicht langweilig. Die Küche ist sehr gut, die Architektur ganz toll _______ das Spa so schön, dass manche Gäste am liebsten gar nicht mehr abfahren wollen. Im Winter können Gäste Skifahren gehen _______ einfach im Spa entspannen. Wenn doch genug Schnee liegt: Vom Hotel fährt eine Bergbahn, der Tschuggen Express, direkt ins Skigebiet von Arosa. Das Hotel hat fünf Restaurants _______ eine Bar. Gäste können in einem von 98 Zimmern _______ 32 Suiten übernachten. Eine Übernachtung ist nicht billig, _______ das Hotel ist ein Fünf-Sterne-Hotel Superior.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: