“dass and das” – What’s the difference

dass vs das

(sorry for my voice in the audio, I have a little cold :)

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day and this time we have another:

“What is the Difference”-Special.

It’s been the biggest project so far. Hordes of interns have investigated around the clock (without pay), our scientists have conducted expensive series of experiments, our philosophers have been pondering like crazy. Heck, we even brought in some linguists to help… with the catering.
And 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 any further introduction would insult it. So are you ready? Here it is…

One s.

Breathtaking! It’s so beautifully simple, you just know it’s got to be right.
And we’ve come up with a good way to memorize that:

One of ’em has double s, the other one has one s less.

“Emanuel, can you stop the BS and get to the actual difference?!?!”
Okay, okay… geez, you guys. So goal oriented. No more time for some fun in 2020, I guess. Well fine then. Let’s get into it.

The difference between the two das(s)-s is a written difference only. So you can’t hear it, and you don’t need to think about it while speaking. That’s great!
But still, it is important to write it correctly because the functions of the two words are entirely different. And if you mix up the two, the readers has to make a mental U-turn at full reading speed as soon as it becomes clear that the das they just read was actually a dass.
Seriously… many people have overstretched their Brainus Maximus muscle because of this.

Fortunately, the difference is not too hard to comprehend.
The root of the problem is that both words translate to that. Or 2.5 to be precise.

That is used for a lot of things, but they fall into two groups: article or pronoun on one side and conjunction on the other.
When that is used as an article or pronoun, its function is to verbally point at stuff. And with the highly linguistic term “stuff” I mean persons, things or informations of any kind. Let’s look at some examples.

Note that all thats have a distinct functions here but in all three sentences, we can replace it with something the, this or which. The meaning might change slightly, but the general idea stays, and the sentence is still correct, because all these words have the same function.
And in German, it is the function of das with one s.
Now, not every such that will translate to das. It can also be der, dem, die, dendoh! or damn… 
The one thing it  CANNOT be is dass.

Because dass  has nothing to do with entities. It refers to nothing and stands for nothing.
Actually, it doesn’t really mean anything. Its pure grammatical function. It’s the most basic conjunction there is and all it does is connecting a phrase to another. That doesn’t mean that it’s not important, though. Dass 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.

Now, remember the words I mentioned to replace that? The, this or which? Neither of them works here. We would wind up with absolute nonsense.
Let’s try it with the last one:

  • I think the/ that/ which is going to rain.

This is gibberish and it’s really confusing. And that’s about how confusing it is to mix up das and dass.

Now, is there something we can replace this “function”-that with, to check whether we need dass?
Well, in terms of meaning, not really. But we can replace it with other subordinating junk… uhm I mean.. conjunctions; like whether, when or if . The meaning won’t be the same but we still have a grammatically correct statement, because all the words have the same grammatical function.

Now, these replacement tests are great if you have time, but it’s best if you try to develop a feeling for the different functions. It’s quite an important thing in language in general, and really understanding these concepts will help you get the gains you are looking for.
That said, let me tell you that even Germans misspell… for example my ex-girlfriend. She’s smart and pretty, but she uses das and dass randomly. And she also breaks hearts. But I digress.

So, let’s recap.
We’ve learned that the difference between das and dass is function.
Das used to refer or point to stuff, dass is used to connect actions.

“I tell you that that dress sucks.”

The first that connects the actions to think and to suck. We can replace it with why and still have a functioning sentence (with a different meaning, though). The second that refers to dress, and we can replace it with this or the.
So how would it be in German?
Exactly! The first one will be dass, the second one is das.
And here’s the ultimate mnemonic:

  • das – points at S-tuff.
  • dass – joins S-entence-S

And that’s it. Now you should be ready for a …. dassilicious exercises. Viel Erfolg :)

Sorry English language for the last example in the quiz :).
I couldn’t resist. We just have so many dass das in German.

And that’s it for today. This was our look at the difference between das and dass and I hope the explanations made sense. Functuon is the key, remember. And getting a feeling for this function is helpful in many ways, throughout your language learning journey.
If you have any questions about the difference or the quiz,  just leave me a comment and we’ll clear it up.
Hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

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azntitanikEllie

Love this post. so funny and very helpful.thank you

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thanks! Entertaining, clear and very useful!

razorbeamz

Just a heads up, in English, commas aren’t used before “that” like they are before “dass.” That’s one of the most common English mistakes I see from native German speakers. They use commas where they shouldn’t.

conanon

Really? News to me! But I don’t want to go back to comma-days of learning English! :(

conanon

Dankbar verstand ich diesen Unterschied im erstem Versuch. Aber die kurze Regeln darüber scheinen einfach, wenn die Wörter jemand verwirren.

Nathan
Nathan

Ich bin froh, dass ich das verstehen!
Ich denke, dass das einfach ist!
Danke!
I couldn’t resist the temptation to indulge myself in your’s and Conanon’s discussion here. To be honest, I think that his second sentence in English is pretty weird, or vague to say the least. I’m referring to: “But the short words seem simple, if the rules confuse anyone.” If that is translating as anything like it sounds in English, I understand why it’s confusing. I’d almost consider it incomplete.
I really just don’t think ‘if’ pairs well with ‘but’, and especially so here. It appears to want to convey that the words seem simple because the rules confuse people. That is my blatant understanding of this sentence, which is nonsense. What I think is trying to be said here is something along the lines of: “The short words seem simple, which is good news for anyone confused by them.”

Wirani
Wirani

May I try the dassilicious exercises? Here goes…
(1) Möchtest du wirklich, dass die Flasche geöffnet wird?
(2) Willst du wirklich, dass ich die Flaschege öffne?
(3) Ich kann ihr nicht erzählen, dass ich Opern hasse!
(4) Ich hasse Opern, aber ich kann ihr das nicht erzählen.
(5) Bier trinken? Das mag ich.
(6) Ich glaube, dass das das in das Bier Biespiel war das das dass ins Englische mit dem doppel s übersetzt.

Wirani
Wirani

Servus from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!

Firstly, vielen Dank for your corrections! So in fact, (2) is correct or not? If it is not or not quite, would replacing “Flaschege” with “Flasche” do the job? I had help from a native speaker with (1)-(5), but was unable to check back with him (pen-friend) re “Flaschege”. I did think that he actually meant to write it the way you thought it could have been, i.e., Flasche geöffne, but after some thinking I thought it sounded incorrect (me, on my own, thinking this, so yayyy!!!). I did (6) entirely on my own (my friend must have been confused by all those thats that he offered no translation :-P) so thanks for the correction! I’m still on shaky grounds with die Endungen von Adjektiven (is that even remotely correct? haha, do excusez-moi!), hence, das “das Bier Biespiel”! Had not even thought of compound nouns!

Andy
Andy

Can you please explain when to use dass and when to ignore it entirely? I frequently see sentences with it ignored, and heard from a German friend of mine that writing dass in many circumstances can actually make you sound less fluent.

I think she said she’d rather say “Ich denke, das Essen ist gut”. Rather than “Ich denke, dass das Essen gut ist”

Andy
Andy

Or “Ich denke du bist gut” rather than ich denke, dass du gut bist. Something like that.

Benny Milligram
Benny Milligram

Can you say 4 das(s)’s in a row, like “Ich weiss, dass das, das das kind sagte wahr war” for example? :)

Fred Blogger
Fred Blogger

Nice simple explanation of the difference between das and dass. Pity you have to spoil it by misspelling the word ‘information’. Information never has an ‘s’. Never. It is both singular and plural.

Andy
Andy

Are you serious? Or is this just trolling? Give me a break. There’s a nice way to correct someone and then there’s this. His English is as perfect as any native speaker in North America.

And by the way, nice omission of a comma between ‘Nice’ and ‘simple’.

Jerk.

lin314159

The comma is almost optional, and “Jerk” is not a sentence. As you said, “There’s a nice way to correct someone and then there’s this.”

keinekatze
keinekatze

Hi there. I have a quick question about the “pointing” das when one is not “pointing” to a particular thing.

zB: War das die richtige Antwort?

Is “das” correct here, or do I have to consider “that” as “the answer”, making it “War die die richtige Antwort”, or as something like “the sentence”, making it “War der…”, or something else?

I feel I use “das” and “es” far too much as I don’t know when the article should be gender/case-specific.

Vielen Dank für die Antwort!

Thomas
Thomas

very interesting thank you from Austria. I have one subtle, very subtle but pervasive and profound point/question to add…. “Dass on the contrary has nothing to do with things, person or pieces of information.” I understand where you are going, but it works only on a grosser level of language. On a subtle level, in our hearts, when we think of the non-verbal feelings that we are trying to express, I think that “dass” really does represent or take the place of an idea, very much like a pronoun. From my perspective, “dass” is just more subtle and abstract than “das”.

“Er hat gesagt, dass er um 10 anruft.”
here “dass” refers to the contents/meaning/purpose of the phone call. For example, you would write “Er hat gesagt, er um 10 anruft.” So adding “dass” really becomes a place holder for the independent clause “Er hat gesagt”. So I agree, it is a “conjunction” but on the heart level, the meaning of language, it also functions very much like a pronoun.

“Es ist klar, dass man Deutsch nicht in 2 Wochen lernen kann.”
here again “dass” represents all of the meaning in the independent clause.

“Ich glaube, dass es morgen regnet.”
again our buddy “dass” is helping our minds to add “belief” to the idea of “morning rain” — yes, very much like a conjunction )))

rami
rami

Can you help me to find “das” meaning in the following sentence ,please? :

Sind das Tränen in ihren Augen?

Matt
Matt

Call me sulky but I didn’t care too much for the first 5 paragraphs of attempts of being witty.
The explanation could have been done in one small paragraph and three examples

Klement
Klement

I really love the way you explain things and the site has helped me a lot, but as an A1.2 student, too often I feel like I am way in over my head. What I would like to know is this : in the example from the article “Ich habe das Auto, das ich letzte Woche gekauft habe, “Enginelina Jolie” genannt.” Would we do the same thing if the noun were a “der/die/den/dem”? As in:” Ich habe den Wagen, den ich letzte Woche gekauft habe, “Enginelina Jolie” genannt.” or… Would it be better to use “welche/welches/welcher in that case?

Thanks from Albania,
Klement

Alan
Alan

Nice post.
das – points at S-tuff. dass – joins S-entence-S (This is helpful)
Question: Is the ‘das’ (one ‘s’), in the following example of yours, working as a “pointing” subord. conjunction? (since the verb is at the very end of the sentence)

“Ich habe das Auto, ‘das’ ich letzte Woche gekauft habe, “Enginelina Jolie” genannt.”

If this was a test I’d get it wrong as I would think ‘dass’ fits correctly in this case.

To get acquainted with das/dass, one should be a smart as, and I try to be ass smart ass I can. ;p
Vielen dank!

PhilosoFree
PhilosoFree

I was reading ‘Der kleine Prinz’ and I came across the following sentence:

“Du wirst begreifen, dass die deine einzig ist in der Welt.”

After dass, the verb isn’t at the end.
Is there any exception whatsoever or should we avoid writing like this unless we are Goethe?
The place- (in der Welt) is at the end just to sound poetic?
Grammatisch Künstlerische Freiheit..?!?

Thanks in advance. Great blog!

PhilosoFree
PhilosoFree

I suppose I’ll be without an answer on that one.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thank you so much! This concept is so much clearer now.

Author's girlfriend
Author's girlfriend

I read this blog you cheating bastard! And my friend told me you’ve been flirting with her!
I’m leaving you!!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Should also point out if word order changes when you take out the “dass” in a sentence. I’ve heard around that it happens, but I’m not sure if it’s true.
Something like “Ich wusste, dass es richtig war” becomes “Ich wusste, es war (or “war es”) richtig”.