Using während and damit correctly in German

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Using während and damit correctly in German

One of the things that I so often claim about the German languages is that it’s very specific and that words aren’t used with as much freedom as in English. I still maintain this, but there are certain words that often cause some confusion, when learned with a specific rule and then used differently from that rule. Is the old proverb “rules were meant to be broken” as true in German grammar as in other facets of life? The answer is no, in German, as in Germany, the rules are the rules.

The word that brings on this question is während. Well that’s an easy one many of you might be thinking, it’s a subordinating conjunction (see post on subordinating conjunctions). As some of you just read that you might have been thinking, but in a previous blog post it said that it’s a genitive preposition. And here begins the confusion, but it’s also where we find the answer. In German and in English for that matter, you need to always be aware of how a word is being used. What is it’s grammatical function. Where nouns may have different meanings (suggesting a variety of different objects) many other words like pronouns and conjunctions can have different uses or states – conjunction and adverb for instance.

Let’s look at the words während and damit, as these have both appeared in previous Blog posts.


Prepositional Meaning:

  • At the same time as (zur gleichen Zeit wie)
    • during


  • Während des Festes haben wir uns gestritten. (During the party, we had a fight.)

Subordinating Conjunctional Meaning:

1. Temporal

  • At the time, when (in der Zeit, als)
    • while


Während wir auf dem Fest waren, haben wir uns gestritten. (While we were at the party, we had a fight.)

2. Adversative

  • expresses the opposite case (drückt einen Gegensatz aus)
    • whereas (wohingegen)


Während die meisten noch auf der Suche nach Geschenken sind, habe ich bereits alle gekauft. (Whereas most are still looking for gifts, I’ve already bought everything.)

So let’s look back at these two cases. When we use während as a preposition it demands the genitive case. The noun that comes after während expresses the idea of something that lasts over a period of time like: a party (eines Festes), a war (eines Kriegs), a day (eines Tages), a week (einer Woche), my childhood (meiner Kindheit) [Note I’ve put the German translations in the genitive already]

As a subordinating conjunction though it introduces a clause describing an instance. You need to have a subject and a verb being somewhere or doing something.

Just to make this really clear:

PrepositoinSubordinating Conjunction
Während des Festes + VERBWährend wir auf dem Fest waren, + VERB
During the partyWhile we were at the party

They express the same idea, but differently. Think of these as powerful tools that allow you to be much more expressive in German.


Subordinating Conjunctional Meaning:

  • a conjunction for justifying the setting of a goal: … with the goal that … (Konjunktion zur Begründung der Zielsetzung: … mit dem Ziel, dass …)
    • in oder to


Es wurden Vorräte angelegt, damit es in Notzeiten nicht mangelt. (Provisions were set aside so that there would be enough in times of need.)

Adverb Meaning:

1. demonstrative or relative reference to a means/tool/object in both its literal and figurative sense (demonstrativer oder relativer Verweis auf ein Mittel, ein Werkzeug im eigentlichen und uneigentlichen Sinn)

    • with it / with that


Der Mann nahm den Hammer und trieb damit den Nagel in das Holz. (The man took the hammer and drove the nail in to the wood with it.)

2. temporal, demonstrative or relative reference to a circumstance or objects (temporal, demonstrativer oder relativer Verweis auf Zustände oder Sachen)

    • with it / with that


Der Räuber sah das Geld und rief: „Her damit!“ (The robber saw the money, and yelled: “Give it here!”)

Im letzten Akt des Theaterstücks starb der Protagonist; damit endete auch das Stück. (In the last act of the play the protagonist died and with that the play ended.)

With damit the two uses are not linked like with während, so be careful. Remember that as an adverb damit is a da-compound (so almost two words fused together, whereas damit as a subordinating conjunction is a complete word on its own.)

I hope this post clears up the different grammatical uses that während and damit can demand and the subsequent grammatical structures that they demand.

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