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. Wenn and falls share common ground but ob is totally different.
Now you might be like “But people will still be able to understand me, when I make a mistake there, right?”
The answer is no.
If you say ob instead of wenn, you are saying something entirely different and it might sound really, really strange.
Like… this strange:

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

Feels quite bad right?
And this example doesn’t only show us how strange it is to mix up wenn and ob, it also shows us the key. Beacuse the proper translation for ob is whether.

It’s that simple.
And if your mother tongue is not English and you’re not sure about the difference between if and 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.

  • I don’t know, if/whether I have time (or not).
  • Ich weiß nicht, ob ich Zeit habe.
  • Thomas is not quite sure if/whether he should drink any more beer (or not).
  • Thomas ist sich echt nicht sicher, ob er wirklich noch Bier trinken sollte.

And here are some no-ob examples.

  • I’ll call you if I have time.
  • Ich rufe dich an, wenn/falls ich Zeit habe.
  • If it’s raining, I will stay at home.
  • Falls/wenn es regnet, bleibe ich zuhause.

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 behind all this 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, which is why it sometimes translates to ob. 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 whether. That’s the rule. And now ladies and gentlemen… give it up for our next guest: the exceptioooooooooon.
Because of course there is one. The is one use of if that DOES ranslates to ob despite not being replaceable by whether. And this use is: as if.

  • You look as if you could use some sleep.
  • Du siehst aus als ob du etwas Schlaf gebrauchen könntest.
  • “Christine said, that SHE is going to be prom queen.”
    “Hah, as if… that stupid horse face”
  • “Christine hat gesagt, dass SIE Ballkönigin wird.”
    “Hah, als ob… das dumme Pferdegesicht.”

But that’s pretty much it for exceptions.
So now you know when to use ob – either try whether or try adding “or not” at the end.
But of course, like everyone should have in 2020 capitalism, ob does have a side hustle. A few actually.
So before we wrap up, let’s go over other uses of ob real quick.

other uses of ob

The first one isn’t really different in meaning, it’s just a phrasing that wouldn’t work in English.

  • Ob er mich liebt?”

This is proper German, it even sounds a bit poetic and means something like “I wonder whether he loves me.”. Generally, the ob-sentence can stand by itself, which is different in English, I believe.

  • “Was hast du gefragt?”
    Ob du kommst.”
  • “What were you asking?”
    Whether you are coming or not.”

I feel like you have to have this or not in the English sentence, otherwise it would sound odd. But the German version is fine like that.

Anyway, the first real “side-job” of ob is something you probably won’t ever need actively. You might see it in a newspaper or a novel, though, 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.

  • Ob des starken Regens wurde das Fußballspiel abgesagt.

This ob here is not whether, although there is some weather in the sentence. haha… get it? Because they sound the sa… anyway, so the ob in this example actually 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:

  • Wegen dem starken Regen wurde das Fussballspiel abgesagt.

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

  • Und 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.'”.

  • ” Kann ich zu deiner Geburtstagsparty kommen?”
    Und ob!”
  • “Can I come to your birthday party?”
    Of course!”
  • “Ich habe dein letztes Bier nicht getrunken.”
    Und ob du das hast. Ich habe Beweise.”
  • “I did not drink your last beer.”
    “Oh, You so did! I have evidence.”

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! :)

If you want to check if you understood everything about ob, you can take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions about any of this, just leave me a comment.
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?

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Anonymous
Anonymous
8 months ago

Was mit der Verwendung des Wortes ob im Bereich Toponomastik? Wie z.B. im Fall des Stadtnamens Rothenburg ob der Tauber, wo der Begriff etwas wie “auf der Tauber” bezeichnet. Einfach eine Eigenheit des Mittelhochdeutschen?
Das Wort auf gab es schon im Mittelalter; wie denn unterschieden sich im Mittelalter ob und auf?.

Mukesh
Mukesh
8 months ago

I don’t understand difference Between saying ..und ob !..what it’s sound like… offcourse is any difference between saying offcourse from und ob and any other words

Dr.Rami
Dr.Rami
10 months ago

how does obwohl with its despite-ness connect with the whether-ness of ob?

Dr.Rami
Dr.Rami
10 months ago
Reply to  Dr.Rami

ob-sentence covers an object box .. it is kind of “dass” and answers a was-question …
am i right?

Psypsikat9
Psypsikat9
1 year ago

Good lesson. I don’t have it ‘down’ but it’s much better. I’ve accepted that it’s going to take me a long time to learn German. Du bist ein guter Lehrer.

PeterB
PeterB
2 years ago

Are you sure you can replace “als ob” with „wenn“ in
“Du siehst aus, als ob du etwas Schlaf gebrauchen könntest.“

It seems that
“Du siehst müde aus, wenn du etwas Schlaf brauchst.“
would work. Correct?

and I added a comma, which is required, I believe.

Lucas Ribas
Lucas Ribas
1 year ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

In first place, thank you for your marvelous work here.

Second, I would like to know what are the “mark” and “get csv” functions only available just for subscribers.

Sarahswids
Sarahswids
3 years ago

“And after reading all the articles, you will be really really tired. Awesome, right?”

I am reading them all at once, and this is true. I imagine you must have been super tired writing them too O___o

QUESTION!: “Du siehst aus als ob du etwas Schlaf gebrauchen könntest.”
Why is gebrauchen in the strong past tense here? The need is in the present, no? I know it is with konnen so I would have otherwise assumed that this required the infinitive brauchen?

Anonymous
Anonymous
3 years ago

VIELEN DANK!!! I think I found my website :)

Ken
Ken
4 years ago

Wow – I have to understand “ob” for my German exam tonight. All the notes my course tutor gave out could have been summarised with your “or not” explanation. Every example he’s given just fits now in my head. Thank you so much for this!

Pooja pillai
Pooja pillai
4 years ago

This was the beat ever explanations….i would like to learn more with other words too…

Alina
Alina
4 years ago

great job you did here. thank you!
it is the only explanation that clarified for me the difference between “ob” and “wenn”.

I would have liked to find also a post about when to use “müssen” and “sollen”.
I look forward to that, wenn du Zeit hast :)

Nvd
Nvd
4 years ago

I love your website and writing style :)

mdm
mdm
4 years ago

Thanks you for the great article!
I really like your funny explanations lol

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Really good post!

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

THANK YOU

Miguel
Miguel
4 years ago

It’s funny that you wrote “german sucks” when the website is called “german is easy”. LOL
Thank you for the article, I really like how you explain things.

Vidya P S
5 years ago

Danke schön. Hat wirklich viel geholfen

Asma
Asma
5 years ago

It could not be clearer, Danke schon for this easy and funny style of writing.

Dhimas Hanan
Dhimas Hanan
5 years ago

Ich weiß noch nicht, ob sie mich verloben.

alanmarsee
alanmarsee
5 years ago

Ich weiß es nicht, ob ich zu deine Party kann kommen.

Brightstar
Brightstar
5 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

By the way Emanuel, I am very confused with the use of ‘es’ pls. refer to the statement above that you corrected. I’ve been corrected few times by natives. For example,
Original. Ich liebe Brillen getragen
Corrected. Ich liebe es Brillen zu tragen.

What is the function of ‘es’? What I love is ‘Brillen’

Regards

Brightstar

Anupam Krishnamurthy
Anupam Krishnamurthy
5 years ago

Das war sehr Hilfreich! Dankeschön!