When to use the conjunction "ob" in German
Many little words come with language learning, and “ob” is one of them. If you find it confusing to understand when to use “ob,” don’t miss out on this article because it explains all you need to know!
The meaning of "ob"
In German, “ob” has several meanings, but it is mainly used as a handy conjunction these days, which is what this article focuses on. A conjunction is a small word that connects words, phrases, or clauses. As such, it comes after expressions of a question, uncertainty, or doubt and when you can ask a closed-ended question (Ja-Nein-Frage). With the help of “ob”, you can express the English “whether”.
Though you might also find it translated with “if” in the dictionary, it will be wise to choose “whether” as a translation because “if” can also be “wenn” and that might cause you a vast confusion, while “whether” is relatively straightforward.
Recommended study materials on the topic:
- A-Grammar: Practice German grammar German (incl. answers)
- German self-study book for A1-B1 (incl. answers)
What is a closed-ended question?
Before you start to use “ob”, you first need to understand what is a closed-ended question (Ja-Nein-Frage). As the name might already suggest, it only offers the asked one to answer with a “yes” or “no”. You usually learn how to form such questions at the beginning of your German studies. They do not contain any question words and always begin with the verb, which is vital to remember when you want to identify them.
Question: Kommst du aus Berlin?
Answer: Ja, ich komme aus Berlin. / Nein, ich komme nicht aus Berlin.
Question: Fährt der Bus pünktlich?
Answer: Ja, der Bus fährt pünktlich. / Nein, der Bus fährt nicht pünktlich.
Integrating "ob" in your sentence
Now that you understand a closed-ended question, you can finally start forming sentences with ob. A sentence that includes “ob” is a subordinate clause. This means four things:
- verb kicker: the first verb is always at the end
- the “ob” part can never stand alone as a sentence
- you can often also start with “ob” or use it in the second part
- a need for a comma between both sentences
Ich bin nicht sicher, ob du aus Berlin kommst. (I’m not sure whether you’re from Berlin.)
Ich weiß nicht, ob der Bus pünktlich fährt. = Ob der Bus pünktlich fährt, weiß ich nicht. (I don’t know whether the bus is on time.)
Mastering German questions
After reading this article, I hope you finally understand when and how to form sentences with the conjunction “ob”. If you wish to learn more about asking questions, check out “how to ask a question in German.“
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