Using “Je… desto” in German

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day and today we’ll take a look at the meaning and the grammar of the awesome combo

je … desto …

Suppose you want to express how some ‘quantity’ depends on some other ‘quantity’. In English, there is one word that will do the job for you…  the .

  • The more I study, the wiser I become.
  • The longer I think about it, the less I want to see this movie.
  • The bigger the better.

In German, one word is not enough to do this. You need a team:  je… desto … .

Je is kind of a weird, hard to define word. It’s part of words like jemand (somebody),  jeder (everybody) or Jesus (good hearted dude) and it can also stand alone. Then, it can mean ‘a‘ in sense of ‘per’  or ever, in the context of at one point.

  • Die Äpfel kosten 10 Euro je Kilo. (saying “pro” is more common in daily life)
  • The apples are 12 Dollars a kilo.
  • Has grammar ever been fun?
  • Hat Grammatik je/jemals Spaß gemacht?

Think of it as just a general pointer. Don’t think about it at all. It doesn’t really matter all that much :).
Now, desto by itself does not have a meaning, so that one, you will only see it in combination with je to express the the-the-relation. I just bit my tongue, by the way :)
And now it’s time for examples

  • The more I study, the wiser I become.
  • Je mehr ich studiere, desto weiser werde ich.
  • The more I sleep the more tired I am.
  • Je mehr ich schlafe, desto müder bin ich.

Both words, je and desto can actually be replaced by the word umso.

  • Je früher ich aufstehe, umso länger ist mein Tag.
  • The earlier I get up, the longer my day is.
  • Umso mehr ich nachdenke umso weniger gefällt mir die Idee.
  • The more I think about it, the less I like the idea.

What doesn’t really work is the combination  umso… desto. Don’t ask me why but it just sounds wrong to me.
I would recommend staying away from umso anyway. First of all, it’s not all that common to begin with, and second of all, you will very likely pronounce it quite similar to um zu, which means ‘in order to’. That’ll make it really hard for a native speaker to understand what you’re trying to say. So stick with our tag-team je… desto. It’s what people use the most anyway.

Now, originally, the article ended right here. But in the comments, two questions have been coming up that are kind of sort of important. So I decided to address them here.
Still, you should read the comments. They’re awesome!
Anyway, so the first thing I want to add is about structure.

“Je … desto…” and word order

Je is like dass or weil in that it kicks the verb from its comfy position two and makes it go all the way to the end.

  • Ich denke viel über den Film nach.
  • I think a lot about the movie.

This is a normal statement, and with je it turns into this:

  • Je mehr ich über den Film nachdenke, desto
  • The more I think about the movie, the

And what about desto? Well, it’s better to look at the entire je… desto...-structure as one block. So the verb has to come right after it.

  • Der Film macht wenig Sinn für mich.
  • The movie makes little sense to me.

This is a normal sentence. And now we add our je desto and it becomes this

  • [Je mehr ich über den Film nachdenke, desto weniger Sinn] macht er für mich.
    (Wenig Sinn macht der Film für mich.)
  • The more I think about the movie,        the less sense it makes to me.

Basically, we moved wenig Sinn into position one and then added a comparison to it. The crucial point is that after the entire je…desto-phrase comes the verb.
So, that’s what we need to know about word order.
And now for the other big question that came up in the comments – the cases.

Which case to use after “je … desto …”

If you’ve got a few months of German under your belt, you probably know that sometimes the case you need to use depends on a preposition. So it’s no wonder that people asked which case comes after je… desto. 
The answer is… every case :). Not at the same time, of course. That would be case-ception.
What I mean is that je and desto don’t care about cases because they’re not prepositions. The case entirely depends on the function of the element in the sentence.

  • Je mehr guten Wein (acc) ich trinke, desto mehr billiger Wein (nom) wird mir angeboten.
  • The more good wine I drink, the more cheap wine is offered to me.

    (this example doesn’t make all that much sense… I just wanted to show the cases, don’t think to hard about it :)

  • Je mehr Geld (nom.) in meiner Tasche ist, desto mehr schönen Frauen (dat.) kaufe ich Blumen.
  • The more money there is in my pocket, the more beautiful women I buy flowers.

Not sure, if that second one is proper English, but I hope you can see that je desto really have no influence on the case.
Cool.
So that’s it for today. This was our look at the very very hyper useful combination je… desto... and you definitely should learn and use it.
If you want to see if you remember the main takeaways, just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And if you have any questions about any of this just leave me a comment.
Hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

further reading:

weder noch in German

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Anonymous
Anonymous
6 months ago

Let’s point out the fact that “study=lernen” not “studieren”.

TheBestLanguageEver
TheBestLanguageEver
1 year ago

Tolle Lektion.. Ich finde deine Lehrmethode sehr hilfreich, vor allem die Korrektur unserer Fehler in den Kommentaren…Danke Emanuel.

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

Can we use same komarative at bothe the side
Je mehr desto mehr

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 months ago
Reply to  Anonymous

yeah.we can

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

Sorry i got a bit of a detour question about ”ja” as opposed to ”je” . Ive got the following sentence ”Also ,wir uberlegen ja schon ziemlich lange und sollten versuchen etwas endlich zu entscheiden”
What exactly is the nuance that ”ja” adds here?

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

is it a ”doch” type deal with 5 meanings :D

Mack
Mack
2 years ago

Please keep doing your thing. Your Daily German is a great site and I hope you keep coming out with great articles like this.

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

schön

billyd
billyd
2 years ago

This is really a great explanation. i was playing around in Duolingo when this was thrown at me. I was totally thrown off about the je. From the examples it gave I was able to to piece together somewhat about how word order worked at least after je. Desto was throwing me off. Your explanation regarding word order and cases was excellent. By the way I really only use Duolingo to exercise my German when I am riding home on the train

Eve
Eve
3 years ago

What happens when you have a conjunction before the phrase eg weil

SirElfmo
SirElfmo
28 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

What about:
“I have to quit now because the sooner I do (quit), the easier it will be.”
?

SirElfmo
SirElfmo
26 days ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Do you mean that grammatically, the “because” behaves like “and”, so although in meaning the two sentences are causally linked, grammatically it’s more like “I must quit now. The sooner I quit, the easier it will be”?

Julian
Julian
3 years ago

What if there is an “und” in the middle. For example: “Die Artbeitswelt wurde im Laufe des 20. Jahrhunderts gesetzlich geregelt. Die Arbeitsbedingungen wurden gut und die Loehne hoch.” Could you do this example out using je…desto?

Julian
Julian
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thank you! Right in time for my German exam tomorrow!!!

rmackenz
rmackenz
3 years ago

If anyone sees this – the last post was 6 years ago – BUT I am grappling with the odd words I find in German sentences, some seem to be just fillers, but others seem repetitious. For example: in the above Je mehr guten Wein (acc) ich trinke, desto mehr billiger Wein (nom) wird mir teuer verkauft – billiger is cheap, teur is cheap. Can you not just use billiger. What is teuer adding to the meaning of this sentence?

rmackenz
rmackenz
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks. Teuer means expensive – I think I knew that. I’ll get there someday! I find the vocabulary and explanations of usage extremely useful. Thanks again.

Tatiana
Tatiana
3 years ago

OMG so i was about to save the material by simply coping it, but you have a PDF prepared ? – you are gold!! Thank you,( the manner of your writing is very fresh )

Megan Holloran
Megan Holloran
4 years ago

Vielen Dank, Emanuel. Deine Erklärungen sind wie immer hilfreich und eindeutig! :)

Carlos Paz
Carlos Paz
4 years ago

Vielen Dank liebe/er German is easy,

ich war sehr verwirrt darüber, wie man diese paar Wörter benutzen könnte,
aber alles ist schon klar.
Dieses Weblog hilft uns zu viel, um unser Deutsch zu verbessern.

Vielen Dank wieder und bis zum nächsten Mal.

Carlos Paz.
Puebla, México.

Anne
Anne
5 years ago

Thank you so much for your clear explanations. Good teaching!

Lance
Lance
5 years ago

Je mehr man schläft, desto schneller ist der Winter vorbei.

:-)

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

Just wondering, is there any logic at all behind je…desto? Or is it equally logical to say
The earlier, the better
Je früher, desto besser
Schlagen Sie das früher Schnabeltier, desto besser.

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

Nice post! Just to clarify, so after “desto” comes the adjective, then the verb and then finally the pronoun?

jacbop
jacbop
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ich finde diese Wortstellung verwirrend. Sie ist ähnlich wie “wenn/dann”, nicht wahr?

Ich erwarte das Verb in der zweiten Position, zu stehen. Ich werde noch einmal die Beiträge über Wortstellung lesen, die Wortstellung dieser folgenden Sätze mich wirklich verwirrt.

Je mehr ich lerne, desto mehr Ausnahmen finde ich.
Wenn ich das wüsste, dann wäre ich zufrieden.
Ich denke, dieses Satz ist blöd.
Ich glaube, diese Satz ist ohne ‘dass’ ein bisschen verwirrend.

Keine von dieser Sätze haben das Verb im zweiten Position. Kannst du mir mir helfen, es besser zu verstehen?

Danke sehr!

jacbop
jacbop
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Danke sehr für die Erklärung!
Kurz gesagt:
– ‘je.., desto’: als eine große wie-Box
– ‘wenn…, dann’: ‘dann’ ist eine Dopplung wie ‘da’ und verbraucht keine Position
– ‘denken’, ‘glauben’, ‘meinen’: wie direkt Rede mit dem Doppelpunkt
Sehr hilfreich!
Sehr geschätzt!

jacbop
jacbop
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ein paar Tippfehler
Ich meinte:
“aber die Wortstellung dieser folgenden Sätze lässt mich wirklich verwirrt.”
Und ich habe “mir mir” falsch geschrieben.

jacbop
jacbop
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ich versuche es zu übersetzen, um mein Verständnis zu kontrolieren.
One would simply say “it confuses me” or “has confused me”, depending upon whether or not you wanted to stress that you continue to be confused.
Also man kann nicht ‘verwirrt sein’, oder?

Nochmals vielen Dank.

Fin Famos
Fin Famos
7 years ago

Hey, I just came across your blog and I really enjoy it. I have to support Anonymus’ comment though. Umso – umso is grammatically wrong. Many people say it that way but umso is really a synonym for desto only.
I also feel like desto is a little (very little) more elegant than umso, but it’s certainly used in everyday speech. I don’t see a difference in using either desto or umso in the written or spoken language.

Fin Famos
Fin Famos
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

ha. that’s right. you can’t say “desto besser”.. or at least nobody does. well… umso besser ;)

Bitso
Bitso
8 years ago

Thank you!!! I missed a day of German class, but now I feel like I didn’t miss anything! Meow meow may more happiness come your way. :3

chrisbma
chrisbma
9 years ago

Also, I would advise NOT avoiding a common phrase in spoken language just because it is hard to pronounce or easily conflated with other words. If you are learning a language, you might as well learn it right.