How and when to use "als" in German
German students often get confused by the diverse meanings of the word “als”. Find out in this article everything you need to know to finally master the usage of “als” in German.
"als" in the sense of "as"
The German “als” as is doing the same job the English “as” does and with its help, you can easily express sentences like:
I work as a waiter. – Ich arbeite als Kellner.
I start a job as a teacher – Ich beginne eine Stelle als Lehrer.
"als" for past tense
The meaning of “als” in German as a conjunction is very similar to the English “when”. The main difference is that you can only use it in the past tense (Präteritum, Perfekt, and Plusquamperfekt) but NOT in the present or any of the two German future tenses.
In the function as a conjunction, it describes a particular moment in the past. It might be the easiest way to remember it by learning the sentence:
“Als ich ein Kind war …” (When I was a child…).
So whenever you talk in the past tense about a specific one-time event, you can use “als”.
As this you can connect two sentences with “als”. The part that includes “als” is always a subordinate clause.
In German grammar, this typically means that something happens with the position of the verb in the sentence. In the case of “als”, we need to move the verb to the end of the subordinate sentence.
- Als ich in den Supermarkt ging, klingelte mein Telefon. (When I went to the supermarket, my phone rang.)
- Als ich gestern mit meinen Freunden Pizza gegessen habe, hatte ich eigentlich gar keinen Hunger. (When I ate pizza with my friends yesterday, I wasn’t actually hungry at all.)
"als" for comparison
Another possibility to meet the word “als” is in a German comparison. To be precise, we use it in “Komperativ” which – as you might already be able to guess – is when we compare two things with each other:
Ich bin größer als sie. – I am taller than her.
Dieses Auto ist billiger als das blaue Auto. – This car is cheaper than the blue car.