The meaning and use of “ob”

Ariel wonders ob he loves herHello everyone,

and welcome you to our Word of the Day. This time, we will take a closer look at the meaning of

ob

 

A lot German learners think of ob as if. But it’s not that simple.
If has three possible translations in German: wenn, falls and ob and ob is totally different from the first two.
Now you might be like “But people will still be able to understand me, when I make a mistake there, right?”
Well, no.
“Oh you just say that to sound really serious. It can’t be that different.”
Well, it is. If you say ob instead of wenn, you are saying something entirely different and it might sound really, really strange.
How strange?
Well… like this:

“I’d be really happy whether you come to my party.”

And this example doesn’t only show us how strange it is to mix up wenn and ob, it also shows us the solution :)
“So… you’re saying, ob means whether?
Yup…

That’s it. Ob is if ONLY if if can be replaced by whether.
And if your mother tongue is not English and you’re not sure about whether, you can try this “hack” instead:

Add “or not” to your sentence. If it makes sense, it is ob, if not, it’s not.

Let’s try it.
Here are some pro-ob examples.

And here are some no-ob examples.

Here, you cannot replace if with whether and you cannot add “or not”.  I mean… you can. It’s a free country. But it wouldn’t make sense.

The reason is that ob and whether are basically yes or no questions phrased in an indirect way.

  • Do I have time, yes or no?”
    I don’t know, if/whether I have time.

If does have that function, as well, but if ALSO can express the idea of in case or as soon as. Which is completely different.

Cool, so if is only translated to ob if it can be replaced by whet… oooooh noooo, not now… my red exception phone is ringing again. Just a second….
“Hey John, man I am REALLY trying to make a point here, what’s it this time… oh… oh god… that is soooo an exception… man sometimes this language really sucks balls… yeah… thanks a lot man. Good job on spottin’ this one… yeah later man. Bye.”
Soooo… uhm… turns out that there is an example where if translates to ob despite not being replaceable by whether. And this example is: as if.

In the first example, you could also use wenn but the second one is als ob only.
Now let me try to summarize everything we’ve learned so far in the most confusing way possible:

If you want to translate as if, if translates to ob, if you want to translate any other if, it will only be ob if if can be replaced by whether. #german#sucks.

Hell yeah, that’s how teaching works in 2019 :).
Seriously though, I hope you got an idea of how to make the decision. Either try whether or try adding “or not” at the end.
Now, ob has a couple of other uses but before we look them, there’s one last thing  I want to mention real quick, because it can boost your idiomatic-level.  German ob is a little more independent than the English whether in that it can stand alone… sort of.

  • Ob er mich liebt?”

This is proper German, it even sounds a bit poetic and means something like “I wonder whether he loves me.”. In German you can skip the “I wonder”-part  because the ob makes it clear that this is a yes or no-question you have.

other uses of ob

The first “side-job” of ob is something you probably won’t ever need actively. But you might see it in a newspaper or a novel and if you don’t know about it, you’re bound to spend a days trying to figure out what the hell that sentence means.

This ob here is not whether, although there is some weather in the sentence… nothing? Not even a giggle. Tough audience today… Anyway, this ob means due to or because of.

  • Due to strong rain the soccer match was canceled.

If you want to actively use this ob, you need to have your Genitive case down because here you need it… it is des Regens and not dem Regen or den Regen.
If you don’t feel secure about your Genitive, then stick with wegen because you can use Dative. Yup, I just said that, dear textbooks :).
Wegen can be used with either case, at least in spoken language. The soccer-example would be:

Cool.
Now, the other usage of ob isn’t really a meaning in itself. It is a fixed expression that doesn’t really tie in with what we’ve learned about ob

Technically, this means the same as of course but depending on the situation and the intonation it can mean anything from “Hell yeah, you bet.” to “But you did, stop bs-ing.'”.

And that’s it. This was our look at the meaning and usage of ob.
And if (no-ob)  someone asks you now if (pro-ob) you can explain the meaning of ob, you proudly answer.

Und ob! :)

Leave me a comment if you have questions. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

By the way, this is a general problem with the possible translations of the words when and if – German offers you wenn, falls, ob, als and wann and you really need to understand what they all mean that’s why there’s an article for each of them. And after reading all the articles, you will be really really tired. Awesome, right?

for members :)

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Alex
Alex

thanks for taking the time to write this… very helpful :)

Laura
Laura

Hi, really nice, i always read your post. I still have a question though. What happens when thos “ob” is not a whether or not…. but a whether this or that? is it then… “ob dies oder das”? Thanks!

Nacho
Nacho

Thanks a lot!

That was really helpful. I am spanish and we have the same problem: we have the same word to say ob and wenn (si). Although this article is for english speakers, it’s also 100% suitable for spanish speakers :D

I work in Germany and asked this question to a workmate, slowly I gathered my whole IT department trying explain the difference between ob and wenn but they weren’t able to give me any rule! Hahaha! I will write this one down to my: “Questions to confuse a german” book ;)

Anusch
Anusch

Wow, it makes a sense the way you explain ) Thanks a lot

Just a cat
Just a cat

Oh god I love you dude,you are my hero

Bruno
Bruno

Best explanation I have read so far!

David Mullins
David Mullins

This is so useful! Your blog helps me so much!

,,gh
,,gh

14

Irina
Irina

Hi,
Thank you for the great explanation! I had a really big problem with “ob” because I could see that some other colleagues are using it, but i could’t understand how and why. The only thing that i knew about ob (and i thought that is the only meaning of the “ob”… therefor the confusion) is that it is used to say something in the indirect speach that was stated in the direct speach as a Ja/Nein Frage… for example:
Direct speach:
Ist Südafrika größer als Schweden? (Is Sudafrica bigger than Sweeden?)

Indirect speach:
Er hat gefragt, ob Südafrika größer als Schweden ist. (He asked if Sudafrica is bigger than Sweeden)

But the examples when to use “ob” when it can be replaced by wheter and not used if it can be replaced by wenn/falls are great!!

Thank you,
Irina

Rik
Rik

Thanks for the explanation – really helped!

Bram Osterhout
Bram Osterhout

Is “ob” a direct loanword from Latin? While reading a while ago this I found I somehow already knew that “ob” could mean “on account of”, even though I had never seen it in German before, but I then realized that the word means the same thing in Latin. What’s the relation between the German and Latin “ob”?

Anonymous
Anonymous

This is very nice of you. You begin like a comedian but when one gathers enough patience and follows through, the understanding of the word OB becomes very good. Thank you for this great work.
LEO
leoodongorose@gmail.com

Anonymous
Anonymous

I think the typist has drunk the beer (or has a stutter):
I did not drink your last your last beer.

Katie
Katie

This is wonderful!! A great resource for my German homework:) Danke schön für deine Hilfe!!

LauraD
LauraD

I have ONLY just found your blog and your writing totally suits how my brain works… I’m learning so much! Finally someone taking the time to really explain all these crazy German words! About to devote the rest of my time to reading your other blogs now and probably wont sleep, eat or leave the house for the next week… Thanks! =)

James
James

Thanks for the great blog – it has clarified a lot of concepts for me!

I looked up this article because of a sentence I found in the (Swiss) newspaper today: “So schön war es am Samstag auf dem Dietschiberg ob Luzern.”

I’m not sure how ‘whether’ or ‘because of’ fits in here. Is this the same ‘ob’, or is this something specific to Switzerland? It sure looks like the word ‘of’ in English to me…

languageninja

can you please turn off the snow? this is super annoying when reading :)

Sergiu
Sergiu

Regarding falls and ob

I have the following example:

“Teilen Sie mir mit, ob die obengenannte Unterlangen notwendig sind.”

Would “falls” also be suitable instead of “ob” in this example or not?

Thank you

Nadeem
Nadeem

thank you so much, such a fantastic well detailed explanation. It`s more than enough. :)
Man, You explained to me what my teacher toke 3 days to explain -_-

Ronald
Ronald

Hi, as usual, this is a great post, but I came across this sentence from a poem,
“Gefrorne Tropfen fallen
Von meinen Wangen ab:
Ob es mir denn entgangen,
Daß ich geweinet hab’ ?”

I was wondering what the function of ‘ob’ is in there.

Ronald
Ronald

If you wanted more context, here’s the rest of the poem:
Gefrorne Tropfen fallen
Von meinen Wangen ab:
Ob es mir denn entgangen,
Daß ich geweinet hab’ ?

Ei Tränen, meine Tränen,
Und seid ihr gar so lau,
Daß ihr erstarrt zu Eise
Wie kühler Morgentau ?

Und dringt doch aus der Quelle
Der Brust so glühend heiß,
Als wolltet ihr zerschmelzen
Des ganzen Winters Eis !

Shubhangi Sharma
Shubhangi Sharma

I am reading your blog for the first time. It is really helpful and interesting. Please keep writing. Could you please provide practice questions once in a while?