“dass and das” – What’s the difference

dass vs das

(sorry for my voice in the audio, I have a little .. ahem… virus :)

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.

  • I don’t like that bar there. – pointing to the bar
  • Ich mag diese Bar da nicht.
  • Maria is dating Thomas now, did you know that? – pointing to the fact that Maria and Thomas are dating
  • Maria ist jetzt mit Thomas zusammen, wusstest du das?
  • I called the car, that I bought last week, “Enginelina Jolie”.
  • Ich habe das Auto, das ich letzte Woche gekauft habe, “Enginelina Jolie” genannt.

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, den, doh! 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.

  • Er hat gesagt, dass er um 10 anruft.
  • He said that he will call at 10.
  • Es ist klar, dass man Deutsch nicht in 2 Wochen lernen kann.
  • It is obvious, that you can’t learn German in 2 weeks.
  • Ich glaube, dass es morgen regnet.
  • I think, that it is going to rain today.

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.

  • Ich sage dir, dass/wann/ob ich heute komme.
  • I tell you that/when/if I will come today.

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.

  • Ich denke, dass das Mädchen, das das Eis isst, später Bauchschmerzen hat.
  • I think that the girl who is eating the ice cream is in for a tummy ache later.

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.

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