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… 
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.