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German Denn & Weil

Instructor: Penelope Heinigk

Penelope holds a doctorate degree in German and a professional teaching license in the state of Colorado. She has taught middle school through university, online and live.

In this lesson, we will explore the similarities and differences between two German words that both mean 'because.' We will learn how these two words are alike and different and how to use them correctly in a sentence.

Because, That's Why!

'Because' is a very important word. It allows us to explain ourselves with complex sentences by joining two clauses together. Take a look at these examples:

  • Ich aß das Plätzchen, weil ich Hunger hatte. (I ate the cookie because I was hungry.)
  • Sie ging ins Geschäft, denn sie brauchte Mehl. (She went to the store because she needed flour.)
  • Wir sind glücklich, weil es heute nicht regnet. (We are happy because it is not raining today.)
  • Er geht nicht zur Arbeit, denn er ist krank. (He isn't going to work because he is sick.)

You may have noticed something peculiar in the German sentences--namely, that there are two different words being used for 'because.' In German, you have two different options: denn (pronounced: dehn) and weil (pronounced: VEY-uhl). They are synonyms and can be used interchangeably. They are both conjunctions that join two clauses together to create a complex sentence.

Keep in mind that, in German, there is always a comma that proceeds conjunctions. The same is true with denn and weil. Don't forget your comma before these two words!

How Denn and Weil Differ

While both are used for the word 'because,' there are some differences between denn and weil:

Meaning

Denn has different uses, only one of which is 'because.' It is also used as a flavoring particle in sentences and to help with comparisons. It is not to be confused with dann (pronounced: dahn), which means 'then.'

Weil, on the other hand, only functions as the conjunction 'because.'

Word Order

Here is the biggest difference between denn and weil: denn is a coordinating conjunction, and weil is a subordinating conjunction. So what, you ask? Well, a coordinating conjunction does not alter the word order of the clause or sentence. A subordinating conjunction, on the other hand, sends the conjugated verb all the way to the end. Let's take a look at this in action:

Coordinating Conjunction Denn

  • Sie geht jeden tag spazieren, denn sie hat einen Hund. (She goes for a walk every day because she has a dog.)
  • Dieter hat Michael nicht gern, denn er ist immer spät. (Dieter doesn't like Michael because he is always late.)
  • Anna geht nicht zur Party, denn sie hat Kopfschmerzen. (Anna isn't going to the party because she has a headache.)

As you can see, denn does not affect the word order of the second clause in any way. The conjugated verb is still in second position after the subject.

Translation: I am taking my umbrella today because it is raining.
city

Subordinating Conjunction Weil

  • Sie geht jeden tag spazieren, weil sie einen Hund hat. (She goes for a walk every day because she has a dog.)
  • Dieter hat Michael nicht gern, weil er immer spät ist. (Dieter doesn't like Michael because he is always late.)
  • Anna geht nicht zur Party, weil sie Kopfschmerzen hat. (Anna isn't going to the party because she has a headache.)

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