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The adverb zwar

Today we will look at a unique, but somewhat confusing German word: the conjunctive adverb zwar. Mainly confusing because it doesn’t have a single equivalent in English, it’s a word that can be used to create more expressive German sentences — a great word to know!


First of all, zwar can be used when making a clarification. Where we would use "namely," "that is," or "indeed" in English, in German you often see the phrase und zwar.


Zu seinem einhundertfünfundneunzigsten Geburtstag hat der Philosoph seine Geburtsstadt Trier erobert, und zwar gleich in fünfhundertfacher Ausführung.

For his one hundred ninety-fifth birthday, the philosopher has conquered his birth city of Trier, namely, in the form of five hundred duplicate copies.

Captions 3-5, „Mini-Marxe“: In Trier

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Wir beobachten aber auch, dass sich die Welt verändert, und zwar in rasantem Tempo.

We also observe, however, that the world is changing, and indeed at a rapid pace.

Caption 17, Angela Merkel: Gemeinsame Pressekonferenz mit Barack Obama

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Heute kochen wir ein niedersächsisches Gericht, und zwar eine Hochzeitssuppe.

Today we are cooking a Lower Saxon dish: namely, a wedding soup.

Captions 2-3, Bundesländer und ihre Rezepte: Niedersachsen

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Secondly, zwar can be used to express limitations or contradictions. In these sentences, zwar is in the limiting first statement, which is then followed by a contradictory statement beginning with an adverb like aber, allerdings, or doch. Let's have a look:


Die Raumordnung kann zwar nicht alle Konflikte lösen, aber sie kann als eine neutrale, übergeordnete Größe vieles steuern und anstoßen.

Spatial planning may not be able to resolve all conflicts, but as a neutral, superordinate variable, it can control and initiate many things.

Captions 53-54, Bundesregierung DE: Wie geht Raumordnung?

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Sie darf zwar nicht so lange draußen bleiben wie die Rentiere, aber dafür kann sie alles essen, was der Boden so hergibt.

Admittedly, she's not allowed to stay outside as long as the reindeer, but instead, she can eat everything the ground may happen to yield.

Captions 33-34, Im Zoo: Tiere im Winter

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Das Telefon klingelt zwar ab und zu, aber meistens höre ich nichts.

The phone does ring every now and then, but most of the time I don't hear anything.

Captions 32-33, Marius Müller-Westernhagen: Der Mann auf der Mauer

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Köln ist zwar die Stadt mit den meisten Einwohnern, aber die Landeshauptstadt ist Düsseldorf.

Although Cologne is the city with the most inhabitants, the state capital is Düsseldorf.

Captions 19-20, Bundesländer und ihre Rezepte: Nordrhein-Westfalen

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As you can see, there is not a single equivalent for this in English, but the meaning is essentially that of "although." Additionally, zwar adds emphasis to a statement.


Further Learning
Now that you have a sense of how zwar is used, try integrating it when you speak German. There are many more examples on Yabla German that you can look at as well.