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



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?

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:

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 :)