Why the German connectors aber, denn, und, sondern and oder should be your friends

One confusion in terms of German word order for many students of the language is the difference between subordinating and coordinating conjunctions. While the former appear at the start of a subordinate clause (i.e. a dependent clause that cannot be used in isolation) and send the conjugated verb to the end, coordinating conjunctions link two main clauses (that is, independent clauses that do not require any other clause) and do not change the word order. This post focuses on the latter and explains how to use them.

One fundamental principle in German syntax is that the conjugated verb needs to be in second position, unless you phrase a yes or no question. Coordinating conjunctions are another exception to this rule because they are followed by the subject and the conjugated verb. So they link two sentences without having an impact on the sequence of words in a German sentence. In short, they represent position 0. Let's look at some examples.

aber - but

Ich reise gern nach Köln, aber sie fliegt lieber nach Berlin (I like to travel to Cologne, but she prefers to fly to Berlin)

position 0 - 1- 2

Sie spielt gern Tennis, aber sie macht lieber Yoga (She likes to play tennis, but she prefers to do yoga)

denn – because

Ich gehe zum Deutschunterricht, denn Deutsch macht Spaß (I go to my German lessons because German is fun)

Wir wohnen in London, denn London ist eine fantastische Stadt (We're living in London because London is a fantastic city)

und – and

Ich spiele Gitarre und Klavier (I play the guitar and the piano)

Ihr reist gern und spielt gern Fußball (You all like to travel and play football)

sondern – but, following a negative statement

Ich trinke keinen Tee, sondern einen Kaffee ( I don't drink tea but coffee)

Du lernst nicht Spanish, sondern Deutsch (You don't learn Spanish but German)

A more detailed explanation of the difference between aber and sondern can be found on our blog.

oder – or

Am Wochenende mache ich oft Sport oder ich treffe mich mit Freunden (At the weekend, I often do sports or meet friends)

Sie trinken gern Wein oder (sie trinken gern) Bier (They like to drink wine or beer)

As the examples have shown, coordinating conjunctions link two main clauses without changing the word order.

Of course, there are other rules that determine the sequence of words within a main clause, such as tekamolo, but coordinating conjunctions should be learned first. The acronym by which many of my students remember them is ADUSO- the first letters of the 5 most important linking words.

One final thing to note is that coordinating conjunctions are not used at the beginning of sentences. This is just a convention, though, just like English native speakers don't start sentences with "but".

On our German language blog, you will find posts on the difference between weil, da and denn, on the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs in the present tense in German, the rules on the perfekt tense in German, on how to use nicht and kein in German, an explanation of German pronouns generally and mir vs. mich in particular, separable verbs in German, on relative clauses in German, the difference between language levels from a1 to c2, on how to master verbs with prepositions in German, a review of online German dictionaries, and my answer to the question if it is possible to learn German in one year. There, you will also find our top 5 tips on how to improve your German, a post about the best German songs to improve your German, on how to avoid the most common mistakes in the German language.

You might also be interested in my Ultimate Guide to Learning German. Check it out to learn how to learn German fast.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts