Same Word- Different Grammar. On the German Als, Ohne, Statt, Seit, Um

As a German tutor who knows that the language has many grammar rules to learn, you try to neatly explain the various topics and distinguish them from others so that your students are not confused in the end. That's often possible, but unfortunately there are certain words that belong to two or more different grammatical topics. In this post, I explain how to use them and hopefully avoid confusion.

"Als" is used as a subordinate clause conjunction, a compound conjunction, as an adverb in the comparative and- sorry, but I can't help it- as the English "as".


Als ich ein Kind war, habe ich oft mit meinen Freunden auf der Straße gespielt (here, als is a subordinate conjunction that you need to learn to distinguish from "wenn". It translates as "when" but is only used in the past)


Sie mag sowohl Erdbeeren, als auch Himbeeren (the compound conjunction "sowohl..., als auch.." translates as "as well as")


Er ist größer als sie (comparison between unequal adjectives; translates as "than")


Ich arbeite als Deutschlehrer (used in the context of roles, professions, with verbs like "ansehen" (to be considered as) it is similar to the English "as")



"Ohne" is both an accusative-only preposition and a subordinate clause conjunction with zu.


Ich gehe nie ohne mein Handy aus dem Haus (Accusative preposition)


Er will sein Deutsch verbessern, ohne seine Hausaufgaben zu machen (subordinate clause conjunction)



"Statt" and "anstatt" (which can be used synonymously) are also both a preposition- this time one that only goes with the genitive case in German- and a subordinate clause conjunction with zu.


Statt des Tennisspiels sieht er lieber eine Krimiserie (genitive preposition)


Statt seine Hausaufgaben zu machen, spielt er lieber Videospiele (subordinate clause conjunction)



"Um" is another accusative only preposition- with two separate meanings- and the most well-known subordinate clause conjunction with zu.


Wir treffen uns morgen um 12 Uhr (temporal preposition, which translates as "at")


Sie läuft oft um die Kirche (herum) (spatial preposition that means "around")


Sie lernt Deutsch, um besser mit den Eltern ihres Mannes reden zu können (subordinate clause conjunction)



"Seit" is again a preposition- though a dative only one- and a subordinate clause conjunction but without zu.


Ich wohne seit 14 Jahren in Großbritannien (dative only preposition)


Seit sie mir die Grammatik erklärt hat, fällt mir das Sprechen viel einfacher (subordinate clause conjunction)



Learn more about German word order in main and subordinate clauses on my blog. There, you will also find posts about the difference between nachdem and danach, bevor and vorher, when to use zu in German sentence, an explanation of how to use um...zu and damit, and a post about the use of als and wenn in German. Related topics on our blog are relative clauses in German, the German cases, and adjectival endings in German, and the Konjunktiv 2 subjunctive in German.


However, it's not just grammar that we write about. You will also find reviews about online German dictionaries, apps for learning German, and our new blog series on false friends in German and English. In part 1, we discuss the difference between the English word "gift" and its German translation. In part 2, we explain the difference between the English "also" and the German "also".


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