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:


Maaaan… this word has been sitting in my To Do cupboard for almost six months now. I bought it back in January as a bundle with the words aber and sondern… all three for the price of one at that supermarket… too good a deal to not do it, so it seemed.
And yet, once again, it turned out just too much at a time and I ended up using only sondern so far, while  ausser and aber slowly ripened on the shelf. Then, after a while, they ripened some more just to continue ripening even further and they would even go as far as to ripen a bit too much. So much so that for aber it was too late. I had to toss it in the trash this morning.  I mean, it was all moldy  and had like flies orbiting it… but aber is something you really get to … r-eat … every day, so you know how it transtastes… or something, so…
Anyway, ausser still seems edible so I’ll use it today.

Ausser is the third of the 3 but-lings, the 3 words the English but can translate to. As you probably already know by now, the other 2 but-lings are aber and sondern (read up on sondern vs. aber here) and those 2 are also the ones that people have issues with to tell what the difference is.
Ausser does not cause that many problems. This is partly because it is a bit less frequently needed but also because there is another possible translation in English but but … what? Double but doesn’t sound very nice? Except would have been the better choice of words here?  Ooooh what coincidence… except is exceptl… uh exactly the word I am talking about :).

So yeah… ausser is one of the 2 possible translation for except (or but in sense of except).

  • 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.

Being related to the word aus, it kind of makes sense that ausser would mean except. So far so good. The other possible translation for except is a bit less obvious… bis auf. I imagine it being EXTREMELY confusing for someone who is learning German to read something like this:

  • Ich kaufe alles bis auf den Tisch.

If you try to make sense of that with a dictionary I are sure to fail… Google Translate does, too.

  • I buy everything up on the table. (Nonsense)

But here bis auf  means exceptand with a little fantasy it does actually make sense. Try to look at it this way: you’re buying buying buying UNTIL you have reached the table and that is where you stop your shopping spree.

  • I buy everything except for the table.

Both possibilities, ausser and bis auf, are pretty much the same. I think I knew an example 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 used in equal amounts and based on personal preference. If anything, I would say that ausser is slightly higher German than bis auf, but bis auf is by no means slang.

By the way… you might have seen the word ausserdem. For example, when you are at a bakery and you order something they might ask you

  •  Und ausserdem?

Leo.org lists a number 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 if we take a close look at ausserdem this is actually quite obvious as it consists of ausser and dem, which is pretty much das in case 3 suit (dative). And this brings us to the question, which preposition to use after ausser.
Is it always case 3 – the m-case?
No. Ausser can be followed by either case … the n-one and the m-one depending on the action 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 case 4 (accusative) is used because the verbs, einladen and kennen, work with case 4. Now case 3.

  • 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 everyonebutme.

Here we have to use case 3, because reden, schicken and also mit want it so.
And now something a little of the record… in daily life, people can also use case 1 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 case 1 sounds right, and people talk that way all the freakin’ time… so… language to the people, we speak it we make it :)… here are the examples.

  • 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 care about 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 needs clarification… see… the thing is:
I don’t actually care about Maria’s stupid party at all, you know, … I mean it is not like I would have gone there anyway had she invited me along with all those other invited people … party shmarty, I say.
OK, I guess the REALLY important thing  is the fact that ausser has another meaning… it is hard to translate into a single word and it is only used for a few fixed expressions pretty much, but the core would be something like outside of. The most important expression is: 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 out of myself  in/from joy. (lit.)
  • I am beside myself with /delirious of joy.
  • Thomas ist ganz ausser sich, weil sein Auto dreckig ist.
  • Thomas is totally out of himself, because his car is dirty. (lit.)
  • Thomas is beside himself / just short of a frenzy, because his car is dirty.

The other occasion when you can see this ausser – the outside ausser – is even more obvious… 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.

However, it is nothing to opt for if you want to tell that you are not at home… that would sound overly stiff.

So… this was our Word of  the Day, ausser. It is the translation for but when but is used in sense of except. Another possible translation for this is the phrasing bis auf. There is almost no difference between ausser and bis auf, so you can decide what you like better.
The other 2 possible translations for but are aber and sondern.
I’ll try to whip up an exercise to train your butt with.
Only five minutes a day, and you can crack every but-nut…. sorry… I just can’t resist those jokes, even if they are not funny. It’s like eating at McDonalds. It’s not tasty and still.. anyway. I’ll add the exercise as soon as I have it.
If you have questions or suggestions, leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.