WENN vs ALS

Sometimes my students ask me how do you know when to use wenn and also in German. And because of this, I am writing this post, to make life easier for you.

In short:

We use Als for the past. Wenn is used for present and future events. However, Wenn is also used for the past, but only repeated events!

Als

We use als for events that took place in the past, ONE time. Not for events that happened repeatedly. What do I mean by that. Imagine you want to say something like: “Everytime I visited Berlin in the past, I felt really happy.” Here it is clear, we are talking about an event that happened repeatedly.

But what I am talking about when using Als is to think of a one time event that took place in the past.

Example:
Als ich 24 Jahre alt war, bin ich nach New York gezogen.
I moved to New York when (as) I was 24 years old.

You only moved one time to New York at that specific age. It is not a repeated event. So we use Als. Easy right? Let’s see when we would use Wenn.

wenn

We use wenn in these 3 situations:

Present (die Gegenwart)
Future (die Zukunft)
Past (die Vergangenheit…BUT remember only for repeated events)

Best would probably be to look at each of these separately.

the present

We only use wenn here. Imagine you are using the English if.

Example:

Wenn ich Zeit habe, komme ich dich besuchen.
If I have time, I will come and see you.

Ich kaufe ein Haus, wenn ich genug Geld habe.
I’ll buy a house when (if) I have enough money.

Don’t worry, there is a quiz at the end of the article where you can practice when to use Als and Wenn.

The future

The future uses wenn and it works in the same way.

Example:

Wir werden nach Frankreich ziehen, wenn wir alt sind.
We will move to France when we are old.

the past using wenn

Use Wenn in the past for repeated events, NOT one-time events.

Example (BUT…):
Wenn ich im Park saß, hörte ich immer Musik.
Whenever I was sitting in the park, I always listened to music.

What Germans actually say:
Immer wenn ich im Park saß, hörte ich Musik.
Whenever I was sitting in the park, I always listened to music.

So to use the wenn in the past, we use Immer or Jedes Mal in front of Wenn. That just sounds more natural for us.

Exercise

Are you ready to practice? This little excise will help you to figure out if I am a good teacher or not. So the pressure is on me not you.

Your first steps to learn German 

with this workbook

This 10-page step by step Guide will teach you how to:

  • Learn the basics of the German language
  • Get comfortable with the numbers in German
  • Learn how to use some simple grammar
  • Foundational vocabulary
  • Exercises to practice what you have learned

It may take up to 5 minutes until you receive your ebook via email. Take the time to meditate 🙏

tom@expertlygerman.com

Berlin, Germany

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