For many German students, it is confusing whether to use “dass” or “das” when forming a sentence. This article explains to you when and how to use it correctly.
There might be two reasons for the constant confusion of “dass” and “das”: Firstly, it is easy to confuse both of them because their only difference is an additional “s.” Secondly, students are not confident about their grammatical roles and therefore mix them up.
“das” in German
In German, “das” has two different roles. Its first function is that it is a definite article. This means we use it for neuter nouns: das Kind, das Haus, das Auto, das Kino, etc. Usually, this does not cause so many problems for students.
However, the second role that “das” has is a relative pronoun for neuter nouns in the Nominative and Accusative case. A relative pronoun is a word that one uses in languages to refer to nouns mentioned before. In English, for example, this can be “which” or “that.” An example for a relative clause is:
Ein Kind, das ich gestern gesehen habe, war fröhlich. – A child that I saw yesterday was happy.
Now, there are two ways to find out if your sentence really is a relative clause:
- You can make it two sentences.
- You can replace “das” with “welches” (which).
As for the example above:
- Ich habe gestern ein Kind gesehen. Das Kind war fröhlich. – I saw a child yesterday. The child was happy.
- Ein Kind, welches ich gestern gesehen habe, war fröhlich. – A child which I saw yesterday was happy.
“dass” in German
Before there German spelling reform in 1996, the conjunction “dass” was written “daß,” and you can sometimes still find that in older books or articles. However, you can use “dass” if you want to introduce a subordinate clause with “that.”
- Ich weiß, dass du Maik bist. – I know that you are Maik.
As you can see in this example, the “dass” here is no article, and it also does not refer to any noun as the above “das” would do in a relative clause. Besides, it would be best if you kept in mind that “dass” introduces a subordinate clause (Nebensatz), and therefore, you need to change the sentence structure. For “dass,” it means that the conjugated verb always goes to the end of the sentence.
- Ich weiß, dass du Maik bist.
In addition to that, you can also start your sentence with “dass.” However, this is mostly a stylistic tool for a longer text to make its structure sound more diverse. Another reason to use it this way is to emphasize the “that”-part. However, this does not always work out, and therefore, you should only use it if you are really sure about what you are doing.
- Dass du Maik bist, weiß ich.
“dass” or “das”
I hope that after reading this article, you now know when and how to use “dass” and “das.” If you want to know more about conjunctions, don’t miss out on the article “Denn, da, and weil – giving a reason in German.”
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