“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.

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.

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”.