The meaning of “entweder … oder … “

Hello everyone,
and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And this time, it’s tag team action. Ohhh yeah, double trouble in da house, ya’ll.
Because today, we’ll look at the meaning of

entweder … oder…


And these two are what you need whenever you have to express an exclusive “or” in language.
Or in simpler terms that we can actually understand: entweder… oder is the German version of either… or.

The two are overall pretty similar, but there are a few small cutsy-wootsy differences with regards word order.
Don’t worry, they’re really just small differences.
But let’s first look at some “regular” examples.

  • We don’t really have Lager here, so either Pils or dark beer.
  • Wir haben hier kein Lager, also entweder Pils oder Schwarzbier.
  • Quarantine Journals, day 15:
    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 15: 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.

The reason here is simply that in German, the second part of the verb goes to the end. That’s not a weird quirk, by the way. It’s 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 intrested 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?”

Anyway, 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… “

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.
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.”

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:

neither… nor in German

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3 years ago

Huh. My small A1 attempt to speak German.
-Am liebsten schlafe ich, wenn ich mit dem Flugzeug fliege. Etweder lese ich Zeitungen, oder schlafe ich. Und machmal fuhle ich mich nicht wohl.
-Und warum isst du nicht?
-Naja.. Entweder schmeckt die Essen nicht gut, oder habe ich kein Hunger.

(sorry for the absense of one small umlaut :)

6 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Hi Manuel ..i have a half-knowledge back in my mind that says… conjunctions like und and aber keep the structure of the previous sentence for example: Es tut mir leid, dass ich dich belogen HABE und dein Herz gebrochen HABE ( hope it makes sense in German) …does not fall your sentence with entweder in this category when it’s placed in position 1? enweder + verb….oder+ Verb

Simon Petri
Simon Petri
4 years ago

What about this sentence:

– I can either give my wife a kiss or a beating.

Would that become:

– Ich kann meiner Frau einen Kuss oder einen Prugel geben.

I am asking because what if you wanted the sentence to appear innocent at first, and then become not so innocent:

– Ich kann meiner Frau eninen Kuss geben….. oder einen Prugel!

Simon Petri
Simon Petri
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Vielen dank für deine Antwort.

Ich werde meiner Frau diesen Kuss geben und dann lasst uns hoffen, dass sie niemals diese Unterhaltung sehen wird.
Wenn du nichts schwatzt, werde ich auch nichts.


5 years ago

Thank you so much!!

5 years ago

I just read this sentence. “Jedes deutsche Nomen hat ein Geschlecht, das entweder maskulin, feminin oder neutral ist.” Does that mean that entweder/oder and weder/noch can correctly be used with more than two things (unlike in English)?? Thank you.

Hany Basha
Hany Basha
6 years ago

das ist ja eine super Erklaerung. danke Ihnen schoen.

7 years ago

This helped a lot!

8 years ago

I am just a beginner but I learnt that the syntax in “Entweder du machst deine Hausaufgaben, oder ich stelle Babyfotos auf deine Facebookseite.” would rather be “Entweder machst du deine Hausaufgaben, oder ich stelle …”. Please note Entweder O S rather than Entweder S O. Is this correct?

9 years ago

In response to:
“-I can either read the book or sell the book.
-Ich kann das Buch entweder lesen oder verkaufen.

So due to the flexible word order the book only has to be said once in the German sentence whilst the English constraint to have the verb before the object forces you to say book again or replace it by the pronoun ‘it’.”

In English, it is common to read/say: “I can either buy or read the book.” = [subject] [verb] [either] [verb] [or] [verb] [direct object].
In this structure, one does not have to replace ‘the book’ with ‘it’. The configuration only differs from the German configuration by the placement of the direct object.

Hope this helps!

10 years ago

Very interesting