“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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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 have any questions just leave me a comment.
Hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

for members :)

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Ron Magnuson
Ron Magnuson

“The longer I think about the less I want to see this movie.”
should be:
The longer I think about [it], the less I want to see this movie.

datvi
datvi

But…you don’t seem to have covered the declension (?) of articles when used with nouns. Ie: the richer the man, the prettier the wife. Would both of these nouns take he nominative? Je reicher der Mann, desto schoener die Ehefrau. ?

james charles

ur gey

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thanks , it`s easy the way you explain – Dilan aus CMB

Yogesh Saini

Very good examples. Thanks for sharing it..

Anonymous
Anonymous

You have done a really good job here! The tipp with umso sound good and wise to me (a German native speaker), as pronunciation is not so easy for you English native speakers. Here is a little comment, though:
The use of »Umso … umso« is daily language (or slang); it’s not right in written German (and should not be used if you want to speak good German). The possibilities are »Je … desto«, »Je ‌… umso« and (in archaic German) »Je … je«. (cf. http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/zwiebelfisch/zwiebelfisch-abc-je-je-desto-umso-a-435248.html – in German)

Have fun with learning German! :)

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thanks dude. It was really helpful (y)

chrisbma
chrisbma

From my experience, “Je…umso” is preferred in everyday speech as “Je…desto” sounds stuffy, elitist, and old-fashioned. At the same time, “Je…desto” should always be used in serious written works as “Je…umso” sounds to informal.

chrisbma
chrisbma

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.

Bitso
Bitso

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

Fin Famos
Fin Famos

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.

Anonymous
Anonymous

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

Anonymous
Anonymous

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.

Lance
Lance

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

:-)

Anne
Anne

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

Carlos Paz
Carlos Paz

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.

Megan Holloran
Megan Holloran

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

Tatiana
Tatiana

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 )

rmackenz
rmackenz

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?

Julian
Julian

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?

Eve
Eve

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