Difference between "weil" and "denn"

  • Both mean because.

    I know that denn does not change the sentence structure of the subordinate clause, but weil does, i.e. pushing the verb to the end.

    Other than that, is there a difference between the two? Are there situations where weil is preferred to denn and vice-versa?

    I think the main difference is, that *denn* isn't used to give an answer.

  • elena

    elena Correct answer

    8 years ago

    The differences between "denn" and "weil" are syntactic only.

    • "Denn" introduces a main clause, which is why, as you say, it "doesn't change the sentence structure". The finite verb remains in second position.
    • "Weil" introduces a subordinate clause, so the finite verb is moved to the end of the clause.

    Another notable syntactic difference is that you cannot begin a sentence with a main clause introduced by "denn", while the equivalent with "weil" is well possible. Compare:

    Er nahm einen Schirm mit, weil es stark regnete.

    Weil es stark regnete, nahm er einen Schirm mit.

    Both these sentences are grammatical. However:

    Er nahm einen Schirm mit, denn es regnete stark.

    *Denn es regnete stark, nahm er einen Schirm mit.

    Here, the first sentence is fine, but the second is not.


    Semantically, there is no difference between "denn" and "weil". You will find that "weil" is much more commonly used in spoken German.

    At least in and around Berlin you will hear very often “weil” in cases, where in standard German “denn” would be used – in other words, “weil” starts a **main** clause!

    I agree... this will increase... I can think of situations in which I would actually prefer the weil-main-clause version over the "correct" one... in spoken German that is, it is a question of rhythm and focus to me

    @Speravir: To make it clearer: The problem arising currently is that *weil* and *denn* are being used synonymously when they are grammatically not. For example, some people say *Er nahm einen Schirm mit, weil es regnete stark*, which is **not correct**, as *denn* must be used if the second sentence could stand alone as a main clause. *denn* starts a main clause, *weil* does not.

    @THorsten: I think Speravir knew that and I don't think it's a problem... German will change there eventually

    @Emanuel: I know that Speravir knows that, and I do think it is a huge problem, **because** German will change there eventually.

    @ThorstenDittmar: As already outlined elsewhere: After a long fight against the construct "weil + main clause" I was defeated by Duden itself - for informal speech, this is no longer considered wrong.

    @mthomas: Sorry, that's not what I'm reading there. It clearly states that *... it can be heard ...*, not that it is not considered wrong. And they even say: *Standardsprachlich gelten diese Satzkonstruktionen allerdings als nicht korrekt*.

    @ThorstenDittmar: Absolutely agreed on formal speech; however the explicit mentioning of it appears to me like acceptance for informal speech. Anyway, I do not like the construct and will continue avoid it, spoken or written.

    “I do think it is a huge problem, because German will change” -- it's a pity we don't speak Althochdeutsch any more ;)

    *Denn es regnete stark, als er den Schirm mitnahm* — *denn* **can** be the first word of a sentence.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM