Coordinating Conjunctions in German: und, oder, aber, denn & more!
Conjunctions connect words, phrases and clauses. In this lesson you will learn how to use the coordinating conjunctions in German. Coordinating conjunctions are connecting words that don’t disturb the word order of the German sentence. Specifically I will focus on und, oder, aber, and denn, but I will also explain a few other more obscure German coordinating conjunctions.
What are the 3 categories of German conjunctions?
There are three main categories of conjunctions in German. The first category of German conjunctions is coordinating conjunctions. They are the easiest to use, which is why we are going to start with them. In future lessons I’ll explain the other two categories of German conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions and two-part conjunctions.
There is also another category that is often left off of conjunction lists, but I believe to be important for German learners to understand. They are technically adverbs that act like conjunctions. I’ll give you one example at the end of this lesson and in a few weeks I will teach you a bunch more.
What are coordinating conjunctions?
Coordinating conjunctions in German are words that can be used to connect other words, phrases or clauses without affecting the word order of the sentence. These conjunctions are: und, oder, aber, denn, beziehungsweise, sondern, doch, jedoch, and allein.
Coordinating conjunctions are easier to use than the other German conjunctions, because they do not affect the word order. Subordinating conjunctions require word order changes and two-part conjunctions require you to understand where to put both parts. Coordinating conjunctions are super easy, barely an inconvenience.
As I mentioned in the intro, conjunctions are words that connect parts of sentences together including words, phrases and clauses. The difference between each of the conjunctions is how they connect them. Sometimes they connect them into a list. Other times the connection is showing that the words on each side of the conjunction are not in the same group. You’ll understand more what I mean as we go through this lesson, but think about that while I talk about each conjunction. What does this conjunction say about the connection between these words, phrases, or clauses?
If you don’t feel like reading all of this stuff or watching the relatively long video at the beginning of this post, you can learn about most of the coordinating conjunctions in German by watching this episode of 3 Minuten Deutsch embedded below.
The first and most common coordinating conjunction in German is “und”. It means “and” and is used just like it is in English. This conjunction shows you that the words, phrases or clauses that are connected with it are in the same group. This is great for building lists. You simply add it before the last thing in the list and now you have a connection between the things on the list. Let’s try some examples.
Ich habe eine Katze, einen Hund und einen Fisch.
I have a cat, a dog and a fish.
In this sentence I connected three words with the conjunction “und”. It shows I don’t just have a dog or a cat or a fish, I have all three. You will notice that I used the article in front of each noun. This is necessary to show the gender and case like you normally would. Also notice that there is no comma between the second to last word and “und”. This is what we call the Oxford comma in English and this doesn’t exist in German. When making a list of words or phrases, don’t add a comma before “und”.
How to Connect Phrases with und
Ich bringe meinem Hund Wasser und meiner Katze Milch.
I bring my dog water and my cat milk.
Here we connected the phrase “meinem Hund Wasser” with “meiner Katze Milch”. These two phrases are more than just one word, which is what we connected in the previous example.
How to Connect Clauses with und
Mein Hund trinkt das Wasser und meine Katze leckt sich.
My dog drinks the water and my cat licks itself.
This sentence connects two full sentences, which we classify as clauses when they are pushed together like this. You can do this with the conjunction “und”. These are just a few examples of how you can use this conjunction. Try it out in the comments. Write your own sentence using the conjunction “und”. I’ll take a look and make sure your grammar is right.
More Examples with “und”
Er fährt mit dem Bus, mit dem Zug, und mit dem Auto.
He goes by bus, train and car.
Wir fahren nach Chicago und essen dort Pizza.
We are driving to Chicago and eating pizza there.
Du gehst ins Kino und ich arbeite.
You are going to the movies and I am working.
Du bist klug, talentiert und schön.
You are smart, talented, and beautiful.
Ich habe einen Kuchen, einen Keks und einen Apfel gegessen.
I ate a cake, a cookie, and an apple.
Er misst und schneidet das Brett.
He measures and cuts the board.
Next up we have “oder”, which means “or”. This is also used to create lists, but the relationship between the things within the list is different than “und”. When you use “oder”, you are saying that it isn’t all of the things in the group, but rather just one of them. Basically, it is used the same as the English conjunction “or”. You are showing options instead of an inclusive list. It is used to give the listener options. Just like “und”, you can connect words, phrases or clauses with “oder”.
Möchten Sie eine Cola, ein Bier oder ein Glas Wein?
Would you like a soda, a beer or a glass of wine?
Möchtest du einen Kaffee trinken, einen Film sehen oder baden gehen?
Would you like to drink a coffee, see a film or go swimming?
Wollt ihr mit uns fahren oder sollen wir alleine fahren?
Do you want to drive with us or should we drive alone?
Fährt er mit dem Bus, mit dem Zug, oder mit dem Auto?
Is he going by bus, train, or car?
Wir fahren nach Chicago oder wir fahren nach Hause.
We are driving to Chicago or we are driving home.
Gehst du ins Kino oder gehst du zur Schule?
Are you going to the movie theater or are you going to school?
Möchtest du lieber klug, talentiert oder schön sein?
Would you rather be smart, talented, or beautiful?
Möchtest du einen Kuchen, einen Keks oder einen Apfel essen?
Would you like a cake, a cookie, or an apple?
Bist du blind oder einfach nur blöd?
Are you blind or simply stupid?
more precisely, as the case may be, respectively and more
Another coordinating conjunction in German that is often left off of lists like this is “beziehungsweise”. It is one of the most common conjunctions, but is also somewhat difficult to really understand all of the nuances of it. If you break apart the word you can see what its real use is. “Beziehung” is a relationship. “Weise” is a manner or a way of doing something. This word shows a relationship between two or more things. This definition gives this word the flexibility needed to fit all of the definitions I will give for it. You will often see “beziehungsweise” abbreviated as “bzw”.
beziehungsweise – more precisely
Ich habe drei Kinder beziehungsweise zwei Söhne und eine Tochter.
I have three children, more precisely two sons and a daughter.
beziehungsweise – as the case may be
Man muss die Wörter kennen um sie zu sagen beziehungsweise zu schreiben.
You have to know the words in order to say or write them as the case may be.
beziehungsweise – respectively
Heute verkaufe ich Erdbeeren und Bananen. Sie sind rot beziehungsweise gelb.
Today I am selling strawberries and bananas. They are red and yellow respectively.
One of the most useful conjunctions and one I personally believe is underutilized by German learners is “denn”. It means “because”. All of the other conjunctions in German that mean “because” are subordinating conjunctions, which means they change the word order. If you are just starting to learn German, you should definitely acquaint yourself with the word “denn”, because it can cure you of your lack of a way to say “because” in German.
“Denn” can’t connect single words. It is used to connect clauses. It shows the reasoning for the other clause. Here are a few examples of “denn”.
Ich muss jeden Tag arbeiten, denn ich brauche das Geld.
I have to work everyday, because I need the money.
Er macht sich keine Sorgen, denn er weiß, dass die finsterste Stunde kurz vor der Dämmerung erscheint.
He isn’t worried, because he knows that the darkest hour comes just before the dawn.
Sie ist traurig, denn ihr Hund ist gestern gestorben.
She is sad, because her dog died yesterday.
Ich habe keine Katze, denn ich bin dagegen allergisch.
I don’t have a cat, because I am allergic to them.
Er fährt mit dem Bus, denn er darf nicht mehr fahren.
He is riding the bus, because he isn’t allowed to drive anymore.
Wir fahren nach Chicago, denn wir wollen gute Pizza essen.
We are driving to Chicago, because we want to eat good pizza.
Du sollst in die Schule gehen, denn du sollst etwas lernen.
You should go to school, because you should learn something.
Ich esse keine Äpfel, denn sie enthalten Cyanid.
I don’t eat apples, because they contain cyanide.
Er kommt nicht, denn er wurde nicht eingeladen.
He isn’t coming, because he wasn’t invited.
Wir essen den Kuchen nicht, denn er enthält Äpfel.
We are not eating the cake, because it contains apples.
All of the rest of the German coordinating conjunctions for today mean “but”. They each have their own subtle differences and specific uses. The first is by far the most commonly used and is the most versatile of them all. This word is “aber”. It is also used in the same way as the English word. It is used to show a difference between one or more options. If one thing is positive, the other thing is negative. It doesn’t have to be a positive versus negative comparison, however. It can simply be a comparison of two options.
Ich habe einen Hund und einen Fisch, aber keine Katze.
I have a dog and a fish, but no cat.
Mein Bruder möchte gute Noten in der Schule bekommen, aber er macht seine Hausaufgaben nicht.
My brother would like to get good grades in school, but he doesn’t do his homework.
Wir haben unsere Nachbarn eingeladen, aber keiner ist gekommen.
We invited our neighbors, but none came.
Er hat kein Geld, aber kauft trotzdem ein neues Auto.
He doesn’t have any money, but is buying a new car in spite of that.
Ich habe einen Hund, aber keine Katze.
I have a dog, but no cat.
Er fährt mit dem Bus, aber nie mit dem Zug.
He goes by bus, but never with the train.
Wir fahren nach Chicago, aber sie fahren nach Hause.
We are driving to Chicago, but they are driving home.
Warum gehst du in die Schule, aber nicht in das Klassenzimmer?
Why are you going to school, but not into the classroom?
Ich esse Kuchen und Kekse, aber keine Äpfel.
I eat cakes and cookies, but no apple.
Ich bin klug und talentiert, aber nicht schön.
I am smart and talented, but not beautiful.
Wir haben ihn eingeladen, aber er kann nicht mitkommen.
We invited him, but he can’t come.
Another conjunction in German that means “but” is “sondern”. This word is a bit more than just “but”, however. It includes a connotation of “rather”. It shows that the thing mentioned before the conjunction is being negated by the thing after it. This means that the conjunction “sondern” must be used after a negation of some sort. For example:
Ich bin nicht hässlich, sondern mittelmäßig.
I am not ugly, but rather mediocre.
Das ist keine Katze, sondern ein Hund.
That isn’t a cat, but rather a dog.
Die Frau fährt nicht mit dem Bus, sondern mit dem Zug.
The woman isn’t riding the bus, but rather the train.
Mein Bruder studiert nicht Mathe, sondern arbeitet als Mechaniker.
My brother isn’t studying math, but rather works as a mechanic.
Ich habe keine Katze, sondern einen Hund.
I don’t have a cat, but rather a dog.
Er fährt nicht mit dem Bus, sondern mit dem Zug.
He isn’t traveling by bus, rather with the train.
Wir fahren nicht nach Chicago, sondern wir fahren nach Hause.
We are not driving to Chicago, rather we are driving home.
Du gehst nicht in die Schule, sondern ins Kino.
You aren’t going to school, but rather the movies.
Ich esse keinen Apfel, sondern ein Stück Kuchen.
I am not eating an apple, rather a piece of cake.
Er kommt nicht mit, sondern bleibt zu Hause.
He isn’t coming along, rather staying home.
Wir laden nicht ihn ein, sondern seine Schwester.
We are not inviting him, rather his sister.
but (with one exception)
The next German coordinating conjunction is “allein”. When this isn’t used as a conjunction, this word means “alone”. This gives you a little insight as to the use of it as a conjunction. It is like saying “but with this exception”. It is pretty rare to see this used as a conjunction, but I wanted to include it to make sure that my list was complete.
Personally, I remember the meaning of this conjunction from a line in Rapunzel. When the man goes to the witch’s garden to steal the rapunzel plant for the third time, the witch catches him and says she will let him go with one exception. The line is as follows:
Verhält es sich so, wie du sagst, so will ich dir gestatten, Rapunzeln mitzunehmen, soviel du willst, allein ich mache eine Bedingung: Du musst mir das Kind geben, das deine Frau zur Welt bringen wird.
If it is as you say, I will allow you to take as much Rapunzel with you as you like, but I make one request (condition): You have to give me the child that your wife will bring to the world.
allein as a Conjunction in Faust
This was the first instance when I encountered “allein” as a conjunction and it reminds me that this is a kind of elevated speech or at the very least not commonly used. You might equate it to the English “alas” to help you get the idea of how it is used. Here are a couple more examples from Goethe’s tragic play “Faust”.
Die Botschaft hör ich wohl, allein mir fehlt der Glaube.
I hear the message, alas I lack the belief.
Die Kraft ist schwach, allein die Lust ist groß.
The strength is weak, alas the desire is great.
A common, but sometimes confusing conjunction that also means “but” is “doch”. “Doch” is more closely related to the English conjunction “however”. It shows a contrast between what comes before the conjunction and what comes after it.
This word is one of the most commonly talked about words in the German language on YouTube and it has been requested by my viewers on multiple occasions. Get Germanized did a video about it. German for Spalding made a video about it. There is even a video for German speakers who are learning English and want to be able to use “doch” in English. These videos, however, only briefly talk about the word “doch” as a conjunction, if they even talk about that usage at all. You can use “doch” to replace the word “aber”, but only if one half of the sentence is negative.
Wir haben unsere Nachbarn eingeladen, doch keiner ist gekommen.
We invited our neighbors, however none came.
Er ist müde, doch er muss mehr lernen.
He is tired, but he has to learn more.
Ich höre normalerweise nur Rockmusik, doch Eminem finde ich gut.
I usually only listen to rock music, however I find Eminem good.
Ich habe einen Hund, doch keine Katze.
I have a dog, but not a cat.
Er fährt mit dem Bus, doch nicht mit dem Zug.
He is traveling by bus, but not with the train.
A slightly more emphatic version of “doch” is “jedoch”. It has pretty much the same use as “doch”, but adds a bit of strength to the meaning. “jedoch” technically isn’t a conjunction, however. It is an adverb. Not that the terminology really matters, but the effect does matter. Since it is an adverb, it bumps the subject to the other side of the verb just like any other time you start a sentence or clause with anything other than the subject. As I mentioned at the beginning of this lesson, I will be making a lesson about more words like this in a few weeks.
Der General wurde verletzt, jedoch zeigte er es seinen Truppen nicht.
The general was injured, however he doesn’t show it to his troops.
Das Konzert war großartig, jedoch auch sehr laut.
The concert was great, however also very loud.
Er behauptet, wir haben gewonnen, jedoch haben wir gar nicht angefangen.
He claims we have won, however we haven’t even started.
A1/A2 Series Lesson About Coordinating Conjunctions
In an older series, I talked about these conjunctions, too. You can find the video for it embedded below and if you click here you can download all of the materials for this entire series for FREE including this lesson about coordinating conjunctions.