Word of the Day – WitD – “das vs. dass”

dass vs dasHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day and this time we have another:

“What is the Difference”-Special.

Legions of journalists have been investigating for months, scientists have conducted expensive series of experiments, philosophers have been pondering their brains out… hell, even linguists were involved in this… in the catering. The only people who  didn’t contribute – yet again I have to say – were those greedy investment bankers – shame on you guys, shame on you.
Anyway, thanks to the hard work and the zeal of everyone involved, we managed to find the answer to one of the most confusing questions about German language:

What is the difference between das and dass?

The answer is so simple and beautiful, that it doesn’t need any more introductory babble to shine… so without any further ado, the answer is:

One s.

Crazy how simple things can be huh? We’ve come up with a good way to memorize that:
One of ‘em has double s, the other one has one s less.

And as any show does it these days, we will now have a quick look at what people are writing on Twitter:
well #duh lost his edge for realso not #funny#shit postdifference my #asswhat an idiot… … …
Hmm, … kind mixed feeling there…. I don’t see why this is called social web by the way, some of these people are so mean … I guess they really want to know.

So… the difference between the 2 dass’ss”s’ is a written difference only in that you cannot hear it.
But it is important to write it correctly. The functions of the 2 das(s) are entirely different and the readers might have to make a U-turn at full speed as soon as it becomes clear that das has been misspelled. Seriously… a news anchor on television might completely stutter in such a situation. It’s like moving a heavy closet from one side of the room to the other while you are actually busy carrying the piano.

Fortunately the difference is not too hard to comprehend. Source of confusion:
both words, das and dass are possible translations of that. That can have 2 functions – article or pronoun on one side and conjunction on the other.

When it is used as an article or pronoun, the function of that is basically pointing at stuff with stuff being a linguistic term for persons, things or informations of any kind. The next examples show different situations in which that points at stuff.

This is a demonstrative article.

  • I don’t like that bar there.  – pointing to the bar
  • Ich mag die Bar da nicht.

Here you could replace that by the or this, without changing the meaning too much. Next we have the demonstrative pronoun.

  • Maria is dating Thomas now, did you know that? – pointing to the fact that Maria and Thomas are dating
  • Maria ist jetzt mit Thomas zusammen, wusstest du das?

Here you could use this or it instead. The last one is the relative pronoun.

  • I called the car, that I bought last week, “Enginelina Jolie”.
  • Ich habe das Auto, das ich letzte Woche gekauft habe, “Enginelina Jolie” genannt.

Here you could replace that by which.

The first example shows that not ALL pointing thats will translate to das. The correct translation depends on gender and case so it could very well be der, dem, die, dendoh! or damn… 
BUT IT CANNOT BE DASS!
So das with one s is a possible translation for that when that is pointing at stuff.

Dass  on the contrary has nothing to do with things, person or pieces of information. Its purpose is purely grammatical in that it doesn’t really mean anything. If your sentence is a hotel, dass works there and organizes the guests in the west wing. It connects phrases, no more no less. It is ranked 29 on the list of the most frequently used words in written German and in spoken it is likely to be even higher.

  • Er hat gesagt, dass er um 10 anruft.
  • He said that he will call at 10.
  • Es ist klar, dass man Deutsch nicht in 2 Wochen lernen kann.
  • It is obvious, that you can’t learn German in 2 weeks.
  • Ich glaube, dass es morgen regnet.
  • I think, that it is going to rain today.

In all these example there is no way to replace that by any of the words suggested above… you would wind up with absolute nonsense. Let’s try it to demonstrate which the concepts are different… see, there you go. I am sure which this made you think… see, there you go again. Imagine you have to read that out loud… this is how great the confusion is when you mix up das and dass in German.
However, you can replace this kind of that with something: other subordinating junk… uhm… conjunctions like whether, when, if etc. The meaning won’t be the same but at grammatically it works.

  • Ich sage dir, dass/wann/ob ich heute komme.
  • I tell you that/when/if I will come today.

So, if you really have issues to feel the different functions, you will have to train a little. But let me tell you, that even Germans misspell… for example my girlfriend. Smart she is but das she writes at will. Good thing she doesn’t care about this page so I can call her out here this openly.. hah…

Here now the idea in short:

I think that that dress sucks. The first that connects the actions to think and to suck, the second one is a buddy of dress, that is usually around when dress hangs out in the background.

Or even shorter:

  • das – points at S-tuff.
  • dass – joins S-entence-S

So now you should be ready for a …. dassilicious exercises:

  •  Do you really want that bottle opened?
  • Do you really want that I open the bottle?
  • I can’t tell her that I hate opera. She will be so sad.
  • I hate opera but I can’t tell her that.
  • Drinking beer? I like that.
  • I believe that that that in the beer example was the that that would be translated to dass with double s.

Sorry English language for the last example… I had to. We have so many dass das in German.

  • Thomas denkt, dass das Mädchen, das das  Eis isst, später Bauchschmerzen hat.
  • Thomas thinks that the girl who is eating the ice cream is in for a tummy ache later.

So this was our WotD -WitD Special. I hope the explanations made sense and if not… just leave me a comment. Hope you liked it and see you next time.

31 responses to “Word of the Day – WitD – “das vs. dass”

  1. Love this post. so funny and very helpful.thank you

    Like

  2. Thanks! Entertaining, clear and very useful!

    Like

  3. Just a heads up, in English, commas aren’t used before “that” like they are before “dass.” That’s one of the most common English mistakes I see from native German speakers. They use commas where they shouldn’t.

    Like

  4. Dankbar verstand ich diesen Unterschied im erstem Versuch. Aber die kurze Regeln darüber scheinen einfach, wenn die Wörter jemand verwirren.

    Like

    • I am not sure if I understand what you are trying to say :)…. it is correct by all means and it sounds very very educated and poetic (due to putting dankbar first, using the written past of verstehen and using the word scheinen instead of kommen vor or wirken einfach) but I don’t get the sense… translation please so I can tell you what the problem is :)

      Like

      • Haha! This is what happens when you are speaking it with yourself. As a wannabe linguist, I can claim to have a pidgin of my own. :D But more seriously, my exact traslation would be:
        “Thankfully I understood this difference on my first attempt. But the short rules above seem simple, if the words confuse anyone.”
        And by short rules I am pointing to your mnemonic: das = ‘Stuff’ and dass = ‘SentenceS’. Where did I get it wrong? :/

        Like

        • Hmmm your translation was pretty accurate for the most part… here is what I would change:

          “Dankbar” means grateful(ly) and only very rarely “thankfully”… no idea why

          Ich bin dir dankbar, dass du meine Wäsche gewaschen hast.

          Thankfully in that context could be translated as “Gott sei dank”, “Zum Glück”, “Glücklicherweise” or more colloquial “coolerweise”

          Then what throws me of is the “but”. To me it sets up a contradiction to what has been said before, but the contradiction never comes… at least I don’t see it.
          Then, the darüber is unclear in that I perceived it to be a location rather than “Regeln über”… über is the correct preposition there. Just here in the blog context with scrolling and without ever having explicitly states which difference you are talking about, it has not enough referential power in comparison to its pure locational connotation (if that made any sense).
          And then finally the “wenn” is sounding a little too likely given that you understood the words on your first attempt. There should be a stronger emphasis on the “just in case”-ness of someone not understanding the words.
          And then finally finally, I have picked up somewhere that “Wörter” is the plural for word for an unrelated bunch of words. If the words form a sentence or a message the plural is “Worte”… in either case, Worte is a little unspecific since I am not sure which words you refer to… it is not immediately obvious that it is the body of text.

          So here is how I would say it based on what I assume you mean:

          Coolerweise hab’ ich den Unterschied beim ertsen Versuch verstanden. Und sollte einer den Text/die Erklärung doch nicht gleich/sofort/auf Anhieb verstehen.(oder: , falls jemand den Text doch nicht sofort versteht.): die kurzen Regeln dazu sehen auch hilfreich aus/ sind auf jeden Fall hilfreich.

          I know this is pretty different to what you did… I hope you’re not discouraged now. Yours was fine and the only real mistake was dankbar. The but just confuses me also in English and I wasn’t aware at first what short rules you are referring to :)

          Like

        • @German-is-easy: Zur Zeit bin ich eigentlich dir dankbar. Ich freue sich auf den weitere Artikeln!

          ‘Beim Versuch’ is a really stupid mistake on my part. And I was feeling apprehensive about darüber too. Every post gives me something new to chew on. And I keep saying it again and again, but I can’t thank you enough! ^^

          Like

  5. Ich bin froh, dass ich das verstehen!
    Ich denke, dass das einfach ist!
    Danke!
    I couldn’t resist the temptation to indulge myself in your’s and Conanon’s discussion here. To be honest, I think that his second sentence in English is pretty weird, or vague to say the least. I’m referring to: “But the short words seem simple, if the rules confuse anyone.” If that is translating as anything like it sounds in English, I understand why it’s confusing. I’d almost consider it incomplete.
    I really just don’t think ‘if’ pairs well with ‘but’, and especially so here. It appears to want to convey that the words seem simple because the rules confuse people. That is my blatant understanding of this sentence, which is nonsense. What I think is trying to be said here is something along the lines of: “The short words seem simple, which is good news for anyone confused by them.”

    Like

    • When I read your comment I did actually stumble at the sentence in question because I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. From a strictly logical point of view the sentence does mean exactly what you say… (the short words seem simple under the condition that the rules confuse anyone”… anyway, what needs to be done is basically to disconnect the 2 parts… in spoken that could be done by a filler word and a pause, also I think “in case” would be slightly less ambiguous… in writing I’d go for something like this:

      “The short words seem simple… I mean… just in case the rules are confusing anyone…”

      Ein klitzekleiner Fehler bei deinen beiden ersten Sätzen: es ist “vestehe”, nicht “verstehen”… aber sonst perfekt! :)

      Like

      • Es tut mir leid! Danke!
        lol Ja! Also ich verstehe die Worte dass und das, aber ich habe über das Wort verstehen nicht verstanden!! :( Did I say that correctly?
        But yes I agree. That sentence makes sense when split apart.

        Like

  6. May I try the dassilicious exercises? Here goes…
    (1) Möchtest du wirklich, dass die Flasche geöffnet wird?
    (2) Willst du wirklich, dass ich die Flaschege öffne?
    (3) Ich kann ihr nicht erzählen, dass ich Opern hasse!
    (4) Ich hasse Opern, aber ich kann ihr das nicht erzählen.
    (5) Bier trinken? Das mag ich.
    (6) Ich glaube, dass das das in das Bier Biespiel war das das dass ins Englische mit dem doppel s übersetzt.

    Like

    • Sehr gut :)… fast alles richtig..

      1) well… the sense is fine but grammatically this ‘that’ is a demonstrative pronoun. It pointS at the bottle. You can replace it by “the” or “a”…. but it would be “diese” in German so no “das”… my mistake :)

      “Willst du diese Flasche wirklich geöffnet haben?”

      2) you wrote “Flaschege öffne”… if you meant “Flasche geöffne” then this would be a mistake. Öffnen is the “normal” verb here and there is no reason for a ge-form
      3) Ich kann ihr nicht sagen… would be better. Something like “I don’t like opera” is not really something you can “erzählen”. Erzählen always takes a while
      4) same as in 3)
      5) perfekt

      6) This is the only one with a few real mistakes… although the das-s were all correct :)… here’s the correct sentence with [comments].

      “Ich glaube, dass das das in dem [dative case] Bierbeispiel das das war [verb at the end of the minor sentence], dass als dass mit doppel-s übersetzt wird [it is a passive construction].”

      By the way… I just realized that the last example is total nonsense… the beer-example before clearly uses “das” :D

      Like

  7. Servus from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!

    Firstly, vielen Dank for your corrections! So in fact, (2) is correct or not? If it is not or not quite, would replacing “Flaschege” with “Flasche” do the job? I had help from a native speaker with (1)-(5), but was unable to check back with him (pen-friend) re “Flaschege”. I did think that he actually meant to write it the way you thought it could have been, i.e., Flasche geöffne, but after some thinking I thought it sounded incorrect (me, on my own, thinking this, so yayyy!!!). I did (6) entirely on my own (my friend must have been confused by all those thats that he offered no translation :-P) so thanks for the correction! I’m still on shaky grounds with die Endungen von Adjektiven (is that even remotely correct? haha, do excusez-moi!), hence, das “das Bier Biespiel”! Had not even thought of compound nouns!

    Like

    • Yes, writing “Flasche” does it :) … and as for 6)… it would be much easier had I marked the non-structural das-s like this “that” … but I wanted it to be super hard. And then I was confused myself when I read it again the other day.
      And “Endungen von Adjektiven” is perfect. And with a “den” instead of “die” it would be even perfecter :) Gruss nach Malaysia

      Like

  8. Can you please explain when to use dass and when to ignore it entirely? I frequently see sentences with it ignored, and heard from a German friend of mine that writing dass in many circumstances can actually make you sound less fluent.

    I think she said she’d rather say “Ich denke, das Essen ist gut”. Rather than “Ich denke, dass das Essen gut ist”

    Like

    • Or “Ich denke du bist gut” rather than ich denke, dass du gut bist. Something like that.

      Like

      • That is totally correct. It is mainly used for short statements like your example and it is often done in context of indirect speech (including “indirect though”)

        Ich denke, du kommst.
        Er hat gesagt, er hat keine Zeit.
        Sie meinte, sie fragt mal nach.

        Those sentences mostly occur in spoken German and it is indeed more idiomatic to do it this way. The other one would be too long and a bit boring because there isn’t really an arc to be built as there is for more complex statements, in which the verb final structure creates this tension.

        Ich hoffe, das hilft. :)

        Like

  9. Benny Milligram

    Can you say 4 das(s)’s in a row, like “Ich weiss, dass das, das das kind sagte wahr war” for example? :)

    Like

    • Nice idea but no :)… the thing is that “das, das” would be “das, was”

      – Ich weiss, dass das, was das Kind gesagt hat wahr war.

      But this has nothing to do with the fact that there would be 4 das(s)es… “das, das” just sounds really bad. “Der, der” is no problem though :)

      Like

  10. Nice simple explanation of the difference between das and dass. Pity you have to spoil it by misspelling the word ‘information’. Information never has an ‘s’. Never. It is both singular and plural.

    Like

    • Are you serious? Or is this just trolling? Give me a break. There’s a nice way to correct someone and then there’s this. His English is as perfect as any native speaker in North America.

      And by the way, nice omission of a comma between ‘Nice’ and ‘simple’.

      Jerk.

      Like

  11. Hi there. I have a quick question about the “pointing” das when one is not “pointing” to a particular thing.

    zB: War das die richtige Antwort?

    Is “das” correct here, or do I have to consider “that” as “the answer”, making it “War die die richtige Antwort”, or as something like “the sentence”, making it “War der…”, or something else?

    I feel I use “das” and “es” far too much as I don’t know when the article should be gender/case-specific.

    Vielen Dank für die Antwort!

    Like

    • That is a very good question. You’d definitely use “das”, and if we turn that into a statement we can see why.

      – Das ist die richtige Antwort.

      A “die” in the beginning would only make sense if we have “die Antwort” well established as a “cahracter before. So..not only some answer but we’ve established one particular answer and we’ve called it “this one answer” or something. Then, the “die” would work because everyone would know what it is referring to. Still, there’d have to be a good reason why we point to it with such intensity. Maybe to distinguish that one answer from other answers that were also established in dialog.

      – Die ist die richtige Antwort.

      That sounds like

      – THAT ONE is the right answer.

      So when you’re looking at a construction with “sein”, you’ll often see

      – Es/Das ist A.

      regardless of the gender of A. It is even the case for people.

      – Das ist der Mann, der mich angerufen hat.
      – That/this is the guy who called me.

      You’d only use “(d)er” if this man was already an established character to refer to

      “Das ist der Mann, der mich angerufen hat.”
      “Aha, der war das.”
      “Ja, und er ist auch der, der mir eine Brief geschrieben hat. ”
      “Ach so”

      Hoffe das hilft :)

      Like

      • Thanks so much. Das war eine hilfreiche Antwort :) You explained it really clearly, and it is how I have been using “das”, so that’s all good!

        I think it also pertains to another recent point of confusion: I’ve noticed a few instances where the article is used instead of the pronoun, like “Die Frau blah blah blah. Die … “, where I thought it should be either “Die Frau, die blah blah blah” or “Die Frau blah blah blah. Sie …”. Is this like emphasizing “this woman” rather than just saying “she”? Can this be used wherever one wants that emphasis, or are there some no-nos I should be aware of?

        Like

  12. very interesting thank you from Austria. I have one subtle, very subtle but pervasive and profound point/question to add…. “Dass on the contrary has nothing to do with things, person or pieces of information.” I understand where you are going, but it works only on a grosser level of language. On a subtle level, in our hearts, when we think of the non-verbal feelings that we are trying to express, I think that “dass” really does represent or take the place of an idea, very much like a pronoun. From my perspective, “dass” is just more subtle and abstract than “das”.

    “Er hat gesagt, dass er um 10 anruft.”
    here “dass” refers to the contents/meaning/purpose of the phone call. For example, you would write “Er hat gesagt, er um 10 anruft.” So adding “dass” really becomes a place holder for the independent clause “Er hat gesagt”. So I agree, it is a “conjunction” but on the heart level, the meaning of language, it also functions very much like a pronoun.

    “Es ist klar, dass man Deutsch nicht in 2 Wochen lernen kann.”
    here again “dass” represents all of the meaning in the independent clause.

    “Ich glaube, dass es morgen regnet.”
    again our buddy “dass” is helping our minds to add “belief” to the idea of “morning rain” — yes, very much like a conjunction )))

    Like

    • Nice thinking. I totally agree that it probably evolved from a pronoun. It looks like a relative pronoun in many Germanic and Romance languages after all and the German spelling difference is just convention, I would say.
      However, if I understand correctly, your theory is that the “dass” sort of contains the main sentence.

      – Ich glaube, [dass] er kommt.

      [Dass] ~ ich glaube.

      I think that it’s the other way around. The “dass” started out as a part of the main sentence as a sort of dummy object. Much like the da-words.

      – Er kommt. Ich glaube [das].
      – Ich glaube [das] er kommt.

      The “das” contains “er kommt” here. And only over time did it grow to be part of the subordinate clause. In German it looks very detached from the main sentence because the comma before it but in English (and in the Romance languages too , I believe) this comma is not there.
      Anyway, it’s also just a theory :)

      Like

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s