Word of the Day – “ausser”

Hey there everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a look at the meaning of:



Außer is the third of the infamous three but-lings, the three German translations for the word but.
Or actually, we should probably say “options”. The thing is that the English word but is for three concepts that German sees as different things. Of course… we all know how painfully precise German likes to be sometimes.
So yeah, German uses a different word for each of those three concepts and if you pick the wrong one, it actually sounds REALLY confusing to a German speaker, even though it’s all but in English.
The first two But-lings are aber and sondern and mixing up those is a really common mistake.
We’ve talked about sondern and how to tell it apart from aber in a separate article, so if you want to check that out, here’s the link:

Word of the Day – “sondern”

Today, we’ll look at the third But-ling, außer and see how it’s different to aber and sondern. and we’ll also learn a few nice alternatives and cool related words.
So are you ready to jump in?
Then let’s go.

And in contrast to sondern, außer is actually pretty easy to understand. You’ve probably that it has aus in it, so it probably has something to with that area, where many of us couldn’t go as often this year: outside.

And while ausser is not about location, it is about the idea of figuratively putting something outside of a group. Or in one word, excluding.
The main word to express that (as a preposition) in English is except, but it’s also one of the concepts of but.

  • I’ll eat anything but spinach.

Brussel spouts are okay. Fermented salmon is okay.  Even one of the most disgusting and controversial foods on the planet – vanilla ice cream – is okay. But spinach is excluded.
And in German, that’s what außer is for.

  • Maria isst alles außer Spinat.
  • Maria eats everything but spinach.
  • Dieser Film war alles außer lustig.
  • This movie was all but funny.
  •  Ich lese nie Bücher, außer wenn ich muss.
  • I never read books, except when I have to.

And just to make sure, aber and sondern would sound completely confusing to a German native speaker here. Like… to a German brain there is NO connection between aber and ausser whatever.
So maybe don’t think of ausser as but. Ausser is except, and except just happens to be an idea that can be expressed with but.
Now, there’s actually a second option for except in German, and that one might be extremely confusing for someone who is learning German if they just happen to see it someone …

  • Ich kaufe alles bis auf den Tisch.

If you go word by word, you’ll get someting about buying “up until the table”. But the real meaning is of course except the table. Which kind of makes sense… you buy and buy and buy, until you reach the table, which is when you stop.

  • I buy everything except for the table.

Both options, ausser and bis auf, are pretty much the same. interchangeable. I think I came across an example some last week, in which ausser was not ok, but I can’t remember.
I will add it if it comes back to me.
But for the most part, they are interchangeable and people use them based what flows better to them in a certain context. I would say that ausser is slightly higher German than bis auf, but bis auf is by no means poor style or slang.

All right. So now we know what ausser means and I think you’ll agree that it’s not really that hard.
What we haven’t touched on yet, is the grammatical side of it, though. And the grammatical side of German is kind of like a 20 year old chad at spring break… it ge… actually, I’ll let your mind complete that one.
So let’s look at the question which case to use.

Which case to use after “ausser”?

And the surprising answer is… it depends.
And no, ausser is not one of those two-way-prepositions. Außer itself has no preferences at all.
We’re like “Hey außser, which case do you want.”
And außer be like “Whatever bro, I don’t mind.”
But before you go like “Hooray.” and start using your favorite case (if there is such a thing)… that’s not how it works. We don’t get to choose. The case we need actually depends on the role the außer-element has in the sentence.

  • Ich kenne alle Leute hier außer die Frau im schwarzen Kleid.
  • I know all people here except for the woman in the black dress.
  • Maria hat alle außer mich zu ihrer Party eingeladen.
  • Maria has invited everyone but me to her party.

Here, we use Accusative because the verbs, einladen and kennen, work Accusative.
The following examples, however, are in Dative.

  • Auf der Party rede ich mit allen außer (mit) der Frau mit dem schwarzen Kleid.
  • At the party, I chat with everyone except for the woman with the black dress.
  • Maria schickt allen außer mir eine Einladung zu ihrer Party.
  • Maria sends an invitation to her party to everyone but me.

And in daily life, people also use the Nominative after ausser. I don’t really know, whether this is “correct” German or not but honestly, I don’t care. Correct is what sounds right. There are examples where Nominative sounds right, and people talk that way all the freakin’ time… so… language to the people, we speak it we make it :)

  • Alle außer ich/mir sind zu Marias Party eingeladen.
  • All except me are invited to Marias party.
  • Alle außer der/dem kleine/n Thomas gehen ins Kino.
  • All except little Thomas are going to the movies.

So bottom line… ausser doesn’t really inform the case. Just use the case, that is used for the whole group from which you exclude someone using ausser.

Now before we can wrap this up, there is one more thing, that I absolutely need to clarify.
You see… the thing is:
I don’t actually care about Maria’s stupid party at all, you know. I’m glad I am not ivited, and I wouldn’t have gone, had I been. So joke’s on you Maria. Have fun with your beta male orbiters.

Well, okay, maybe that didn’t really need to be clarified.
There are a couple of things I do want to mention about außer, though.

A couple of other uses

The first thing, we need to mention is that außer has another meaning… the idea of actually being outside. It’s only used in a couple of fixed expression, but those are fairly standard. The first one is außer Haus. It literally means out of the house, but it is mostly used as take-away or simply not there.

  • Sorry but the manager is not here/is on site at the moment.
  • Es tut mir leid aber der Manager ist gerade außer Haus.

And the other expression is the figurative phrasing: außer sich sein, which does exist in English, too. Only there it would be beside oneself with… thanks to Trevor who mentioned that in a comment.

  • Ich bin außer mir vor Freude.
  • I am beside myself with /delirious of joy
    I am out of myself  in/from joy. (lit.)
  • Thomas ist ganz außer sich, weil sein Auto dreckig ist.
  • Thomas is beside himself / just short of a frenzy, because his car is dirty.
    Thomas is totally out of himself, because his car is dirty. (lit.)

And then, last but definitely not least, we have to mention the word außerdem.
Literally, it means something like “except that”, but the idea is actually inclusion this time, so it’s more like “besides that” or “in addition to that”.
For example, when you are at a bakery and you order something they might ask you

  •  Und außerdem?

Dictionaries list a whole bunch of translations like furthermore, besides and also but the common core of all of these is something like “and else” or the most literal version “other than that”.

  • “Willst du mit ins Kino kommen?”
    “Nein, ich muss noch Hausaufgaben machen, außerdem habe ich kein Geld.”
  • “Wanne come to the movies?”
    “No, I still have homework to do and also, I don’t have any money.”

And that’s it for today. Hooray :).
This was our look at außer, which is the German word for except. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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