What is the Difference – “das vs. dass”

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.

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.

I’m sure learner must be jumping with joy about this. Let’s check Twitter:

...@Emanuel lost his edge for real… #GIE so not #funny…#GIE #shit post… difference my #ass… @Emanuel unfunniest joke ever… .#ydg was better back then.. … #yourdailygerman sucks

Oh… kind of mixed feelings there. Hmm. Mabye I should stop with the BS and get to some facts then. Yeah, let’s try some good old facts.

The difference between the two dass’ss”s’ is a written difference only . So you you cannot 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. The functions of the 2 das(s) are entirely different, and if you mix up the two, the readers has to make a U-turn at full reading speed as soon as it becomes clear that the das they just read was actually a dass.  Seriously… a news anchor on television might completely stutter in such a situation and less trained readers might actually sprain their brain.

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 verbally pointing at stuff. And with the highly linguistic term “stuff” I mean persons, things or informations of any kind. Let’s look at some examples.
Here, it’s a demonstrative article.

We could replace that with the or this, without changing the meaning too much.
Next we have the demonstrative pronoun that.

Here, you could use this or it instead.
Last but not least, here it is as a relative pronoun.

Here, you could replace that by which.

As you can see, 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… 
The one thing it  CANNOT be is dass.

Because dass  has nothing to do with things, person or pieces of information. In fact, it doesn’t really mean anything. Its pure grammatical function. Like… if a sentence is a hotel, dass works there and organizes the guests in the west wing. What it does is connecting 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.

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. In fact, let’s try it to demonstrate which the concepts are super different.
And if that sentence confused you… there you go :). I replaced that with which, but it was the functional that, not the pointer.
An dnow imagine you have to read the sentence out loud… this is how great the confusion is when you mix up das and dass in written German.

Now, can you replace the functional that with something? Yes, with other subordinating junk… uhm I mean.. conjunctions; like whether, when, if etc. The meaning won’t be the same but at least grammatically it works.

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 random. Good thing she doesn’t care about my blog so I can call her out here this openly.. haha… and while we’re at it… I flirted with her friend the other day. Haha… she’d be furious, if she knew.
Uhm… anyway, so the difference between das and dass is function. 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 that 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. If you want, you can listen to them in German :)

Sorry English language for the last example… I had to. We have so many dass das in German.

So this was our WotD -WitD Special. I hope the explanations made sense and if not… just leave me a comment and we’ll clear it up.
Hope you liked it and see you next time.