German Word of the Day – “ob”

Ariel wonders ob he loves herHello everyone,

and welcome and let me say one thing right away:

!!!!!!!!!!!! Ob is not a straightforward if !!!!!!!!!! 

Phew! I just HAD to get that out. It is just soooo important…. wew. Anyway, now I feel more relaxed. So again hello everyone and welcome you to our Word of the Day. This time we will look at the meaning of


Wait, no, that’s what I did last night. Today we’ll have a look at the meaning of



A lot people learning German know the word ob and many of them think it means if. But if has 3 possible translations in German: wenn, falls and ob and ob is totally different from the other 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 when you are saying something entirely different and it might sound so strange that  people just can’t make any sense of it.
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?
So let’s jump right in and find out about ob.

So what does ob exactly mean? Two and a half distinct things… yeah.. don’t you love German :).
The main meaning, I guess it accounts for like 90% of all o(b)ccurrences,  is the already mentioned if in sense of – and this is the important part – whether.
“So… you’re saying, ob means whether?
Yeah, that’s it. The thing is that if is used much more than whether and ob is just as common as if. And if someone reading this is not sure about the use of whether, just try this:

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

Here are some pro-ob examples.

And here are some no-ob examples.

Here you cannot add “or not”. Instead you could replace if by either in case or as soon as. If this is the case it is NOT gonna be  ob in German but either wenn or falls.
Now it’s time for an experiement. I gotta put on my safety glasses and I need to ask you to step back 2 meters because now, we are going to intentionally misuse ob. Careful there, ey. So… here is the English sentence.

  • Call me if you have time.

I could say in case instead of if here, so this is not a job for ob. Now I am going to mis-translate this… carefully… hey don’t try this at home by the way…

  • Ruf mich an, ob du Zeit hast.

Phew.. no explosion. This sentence is grammatically wrong though and the brain of a German native will now try to figure out what meaning was intended…. and the result will be this:

  • Do you mean I should call you and tell you whether I have time or not?

Not so bad? Easy to clarify? Might be nice to break the ice? Well then…

  • If you have time, can you tell me, how to do this?

Please step back again… I am inserting the wrong ob now.

  • Ob du Zeit hast, kannst du mir sagen, wie man das macht.

That does not make any sense to a German. The notion of whether  is so strong that it will take a while till the person understands that you meant wenn or falls. A person who doesn’t speak English will have even more problems as for him or her ob and wenn have NOTHING to do with one another.
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… 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 as complicated and confusing as 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.

Before we look at the other meanings real quick I want mention that the German ob is a little more independent than the English whether in that it can stand alone… sort of. The phrase “Ob er mich liebt?” 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 second concept or meaning of ob is something you probably won’t ever need actively. However, you might see it in a newspaper or a novel and it will make you spend a significant amount of time 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. “Is there like a way to say due to without this Genitive stuff?”. Yes, there is. The alternative is wegen . This used to be formed with Genitive too, but the German speaking language community was using Dative so much that it is “officially” ok for spoken language. The soccer-example would be:

And what about the half concept? Well, that isn’t really a meaning. It is just an expression in which neither of the 2 meanings of ob really fits…

Technically this means the same as of course but depending on the situation and the intonation it can mean anything from “You bet.” to “Stop the bullshit, will ya'”.

So this was our Word of the Day 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.

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