The meaning of “entweder … oder … “

Written By: Emanuel Updated: July 24, 2023

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Week.
And this time, we’re in for some tag team action. Ohhh yeah, baby! Double trouble, ya’ll.
Because today, we’ll look at the how to say either or in German. And the for that we need:

entweder … oder…


Overall, the usage of either or and entweder oder is pretty similar, but there are a few small differences with regards word order.
Nothing big.
Just a couple of cute little quirks. You’ll be like “Awwwww, look at that tiny difference. Sooooooo cute.”
But let’s start with some “normal” examples.

  • We don’t really have Lager here, so either Pils or dark beer.
  • Wir haben hier kein Lager, also entweder Pils oder Schwarzbier.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Quarantine Journals, day 151:
    Dear diary, how are you today? I don’t know what to do tonight. I could either watch Netflix or learn German.
  • Quarantäne Tagebuch, Tag 151:
    Liebes Tagebuch, ich weiß nicht was ich heute Abend machen soll. Ich könnte entweder Netflix gucken oder Deutsch lernen.

Just like in English, the parts entweder and oder are put right before the options A and B.
Still, the sentence might look different than in English.

  • I can either read or sell the book.
  • Ich kann das Buch entweder lesen oder verkaufen.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Here, the noun Buch is coming before the whole entweder oder section while in English, it comes after it.
The reason for that is that is this German specialty, where the second part of the verb goes to the end.
Which isn’t just a random quirk, by the way.
This “verb at the end”-stuff is actually a pretty fundamental feature that we can find in various aspects of the language. But that’s too much for today. If you’re interested in that, I recommend my series on word order and my series on the position of nicht.
They’re pretty eye-opening. Like… seriously… you’ll be like “Bruh?! What’d I just read?”.
I’ll add the links below.

So yeah, if we take both options of the book example separately, they look like this:

  • Ich kann das Buch lesen.
    (I can read the book.)
  • Ich kann das Buch verkaufen.
    (I can sell the book.)

And now all we’re doing is basically adding entweder and oder and skipping all the stuff that would be repetitive.

  • Ich kann das Buch entweder lesen oder [ich kann das Buch] verkaufen.
  • I can either read [the book] or [I can] sell the book.

If you’re a beginner and this is giving you some mild anxiety, don’t worry. You don’t have to nail this right away. Just try using entweder oder in general, even with wrong structure. You’ll be understood.

Now, there is one little quirk that entweder has that doesn’t matter in English and that comes into play when the two options that we connect are two fully fledged sentences.
Here’s an example:

  • Either you do your homework or I’ll post your baby pictures on your Instagram.

And in these cases, entweder can actually be position zero, like oder. But it can also be position one, with the verb coming right after it.

  • Entweder [0] du [1] machst [2] deine Hausaufgaben, oder ich poste deine Baby-Fotos auf Instagram.
  • Entweder [1] machst [2] du [3] deine Hausaufgaben, oder...

And just in case you’re wondering why I’m starting to count at zero in one version and at “1” in the other… the reference point is the verb in German, not the start of the sentence. The verb is position “2” no matter what. The element right before it is position 1.

And if there’s another element before that, that’s position zero.
Actually, only a few words can be put into position zero, aber and oder among them. So entweder is actually pretty special, because oder, for instance can NOT be moved like that.

  • … Hausaufgaben, oder [0] ich [1] poste [2]…
  • … Hausaufgaben, oder [1] poste [2] ich… NOPE!!

But anyway, in the example above, the first one sounds more idiomatic to me here, because the two parts are somewhat lengthy, but for shorter parts it’s the other way around.

  • “What are you doing after work?”
    Well, either I go home or I go have beer. “
  • “Was machst du nach der Arbeit?”
    “Hmm, entweder gehe ich heim oder ich trinke ein Bier.”
    “Hmm, entweder ich gehe heim oder ich trinke… “
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

It’s really up to you, to be honest, so maybe it’s easier to have it be position zero because that’s closer to English.
Now, we’re almost done, but there is one big fat potential trap door we need to address.

“either” as a Standalone Word

Since entweder… oder means either.. or , and oder by itself means or, it’s natural to file entweder as either.
But entweder is ONLY used in the combination entweder… oder; never by itself.
A standalone either is NOT gonna be entweder, and that would actually be really confusing.

In phrasings like  “I don’t either” it is expressed as auch nicht. Which literally means  ‘as well not’.

  • “Ich rauche nicht.”
    “Ich rauche auch nicht.”
  • “I don’t smoke.”
    “I don’t either.”
    Lit: “I do not, as well.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And in the sense of  both or either one, the most common translation is beide(s/n/m/…). Though in some contexts you might see another option.

  • “Willst du Pasta oder Reis zu deinen Kartoffeln?”
    Beide sind okay für mich.”
  • “Do you want pasta or rice with your potatoes?”
    Either one is okay for me.”

And that’s it for today :).
This was our look at how to say either or in German.
As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

further reading:


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