Alles vs Alle in German Grammar

Are you puzzled by ‘alles’ vs. ‘alle’ in German? Fear not, fellow Deutschlerner! In this blog post, we’ll tackle a common conundrum that plagues learners of German: the difference between “alles” and “alle”. These two little words may appear similar at first glance, but they hold distinct meanings and uses that can sometimes trip you up. So, let’s embark on a shallow yet enlightening German deep dive to unravel the mystery behind these words.

Confused by Alles and Alle in German? Watch This! - Shallow German Deep Dive

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Alles vs Alle: The Basics

On the first glance, “alles” and “alle” might remind you of the English word “all.” You might think that the choice between them depends on noun gender, astrological alignments, or some other mysterious factor. But the truth is more straightforward: “alles” usually means “everything,” while “alle” generally means “all.”

Breaking It Down With Examples

Now, let’s examine their usage and dissect the differences using some examples:

Ich lese alle Bücher von Angelika BohnI read all of the books by Angelika Bohn
Ich mag diese Bücher. Ich habe sie alle gelesenI like these books. I have read them all.

In the first example, “alle” functions as an article, often referred to as “additional der-words” in German courses. It imparts a specific quantity to the noun in the sentence, specifically, “all of the things within the category defined in the sentence.” Like other articles, its ending changes based on the noun it refers to. In the second example, “alle” refers back to the plural noun “Bücher,” so it takes the plural ending, i.e., “alle.”

However, “alle” isn’t always just “alle”; it can also take other forms like “aller,” “allen,” “allem,” or even “alles,” depending on the context:

Er schiebt mit aller Kraft, aber die Tür öffnet nicht.He pushes with all of his might, but the door doesn’t open.
Sie teilt ihre Schokoladen mit allen KindernShe shares her chocolates with all of the children.
Wie wollen Sie Ihren Döner? Mit allem?How do you want your Döner? With everything?
Ja, ich möchte alles daraufYes, I want everything on it.

In the first two examples, “aller” and “allen” are used to match the noun’s gender and case. In the last two examples, “alles” is employed to refer to a generic, unspecified group of things. It’s like saying “all of that stuff” without explicitly listing each item.

The Mystery of “Alles” in English

This usage of “alles” in German is quite similar to how “everything” functions in English. It represents an indistinct grouping of items, the contents of which aren’t explicitly defined or are simply too numerous to list. Consider this example:

Woher weißt du das?How do you know that?
Ich höre alles.I hear everything.

In this case, “everything” encompasses all the gossip, chatter, snide comments, and secret tidbits. It’s not practical to list them all, and the vagueness adds an element of mystery.

The Bottom Line

To simplify the difference between “alles” and “alle,” remember this: Do you have a specific group of things, and you want to select all of them? If so, you need “all-” plus an appropriate ending based on the group or gender. If you’re referring to a nondescript group of items and don’t want to delve into specifics, then “alles” or “allem” (in the dative case) is your go-to choice.

Now, to trigger native speakers who are reading this: Do you order your Döner “mit alles” or “mit allem”?

Learning a language involves mastering these subtleties, so don’t be discouraged by the occasional confusion. Keep practicing, and soon you’ll conquer the “alles vs. alle” dilemma!

For more language learning tips and insights, check out our comprehensive guide on How to Express “I Don’t Understand” in German.

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