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When To Use Wenn, Falls, Ob in German?

Updated: Apr 11

Conditional statements in German can be likened to a linguistic puzzle, and the trio of "wenn," "falls," and "ob" adds an intriguing layer of complexity. These words, all pointing to conditions or hypothetical situations, might seem interchangeable at first glance, leaving learners grappling with nuances. In this blog post, we'll unravel the intricacies of "wenn," "falls," and "ob," guiding you through their distinct uses and shedding light on when to employ each. By the end of this linguistic exploration, you'll be equipped to navigate the terrain of conditional expressions in German with confidence and precision. Let's dive into the subtle differences that set these conditional connectors apart.

Deciphering Conditional Conundrums: Wenn, Falls, and Ob in German

Among the subordinate clause conjunctions in German students have to master, "wenn", "falls" and "ob" are often considered particularly difficult to use. However, once you understand the difference between them you will no longer confuse them. This is the aim of this post.

How to Use Wenn in German

"Wenn" translates as "whenever" or "if" and is used for recurring events, such as routines and conditions.

Wenn ich meinen Deutschunterricht beginne, frage ich meine Teilnehmer:innen, wie es ihnen geht.

(Whenever I begin my German lessons, I ask my students how they are)

Ich trinke gern ein Glas Wein, wenn ich mein Abendessen esse. Vor einem besondern Essen trinke ich auch gern Champagner.

(I like to drink a glass of wine, when eat my dinner. Before a special dinner I also like to drink champagne)

Wenn man in Deutschland studieren möchte, muss man Deutsch können.

(If you want to study in German, you have to know some German)

Wenn vs. Falls

"Falls" is similar to the conditional meaning of "wenn", but it is used in situations that are deemed less likely. So the best English translation would be "in case"

Ich würde gern morgen mit Ihnen sprechen, falls Sie morgen Zeit haben. Ich weiß jedoch, dass Sie sehr beschäftigt sind.

(I would like to talk to you tomorrow, in case you have the time to do so. I know though that you are very busy)

Falls Sie die Prüfung beim ersten Mal nicht besten sollten, können Sie sie im nächsten Semester wiederholen.

(In case you do not pass the exam on your first attempt, you can resit it in the next term)

Sie reisen Ende Mai nach Mallorca, falls es möglich ist

(They travel to Mallorca at the end of May, in case it's possible/if possible)

Ob in German

"Ob" is very different than "wenn" and "falls" since it translates as "whether" or "whether or not" and so its use is restricted to "yes" or "no" answers and indirect questions in German.

Könnten Sie mir bitte sagen, wie spät es ist.

(Could you please tell me what time it is)

Ich frage mich, ob du morgen Zeit hast.

(I wonder whether you're free tomorrow)

Wissen sie vielleicht, ob der Professor morgen seine Vorlesung abhält.

(Do you happen to know whether the professor is giving his lecture tomorrow)


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