German Lessons

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Wann, wenn, ob, and falls

In a previous newsletter, we outlined the difference between wann, wenn, and als. This week, we'll take a look at wann and wenn in the context of the words listed above, which tend to be a bit confusing for beginners. 

 

Wann is a question word, like was or wie. It is concerned with at what point in time something will happen, but not if it will happen. 

 

Wann werden Sie diesen Flughafen eröffnen können?
When will you be able to open this airport?
Caption 28, Berlins regierender Bürgermeister: Pläne für 2014

 

Genau, ja, wir schauen grad, wann der perfekte Zeitpunkt ist.
Exactly, yes, we are looking right now when the perfect time would be.
Caption 40, Wincent Weiss & Benni Freibott: Musik sein

 

The word wenn can be confusing, because it can be translated as “if,” but also as “when” or “whenever.” 

 

Wenn man die Augen schließt und an Berlin denkt, was sieht man da?
If you close your eyes and think about Berlin, what do you see there?
Caption 1, Berlin: Hotel Adlon feiert 15 Jahre Neueröffnung

 

Wenn schon so starker Schneefall ist, dann muss man die Zeit eigentlich optimal nutzen.
When there is such heavy snowfall, then you actually have to use your time optimally.
Caption 30, 48 h in Innsbruck: Sehenswürdigkeiten & Tipps 

 

The word ob means "whether," but is also translated as "if." It is generally used in sentences that involve two options or a question that could be answered with "no" just as easily as "yes."

 

Ich bin mir aber nicht sicher, ob das Eurem Vater gefällt.
But I'm not sure if your father will like that.    
Caption 12, Das Märchen von der Prinzessin - die unbedingt in einem Märchen vorkommen wollte

 

Ich möchte schauen, ob ihr die Regeln verstanden habt.
I want to see whether you have understood the rules.    
Caption 63, Deutschkurs in Tübingen: Trennbare Verben und Wortstellung 

 

Falls also means "if," but, unlike wenn, can only be used with the conditional type I and not conditional type II or III. It is also often translated as "in case." 

 

Ähm, falls Ihre Schwester trockene Haut hat, wär' des [das] ganz toll. -OK, super.
Um, if your sister has dry skin, that would be totally great. -OK, super.    
Caption 35-36, Rhein-Main-TV: Eva Padberg beim Weihnachtseinkauf

 

Natürlich auch einen warmen Pulli, falls es kalt wird.
Of course, also a warm pullover, in case it gets cold.
Caption 9, Christiane: fährt in den Urlaub

 

Further Learning
To review the types of conditional sentences in English (mentioned above), take a look at this website. A newsletter on creating conditional sentences in German is forthcoming, so it's a good way to prepare! When you watch videos on Yabla German, note how wenn, ob, and falls are translated. Consider whether the word used could be swapped out for one of the others, and why or why not. 

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