“Wenn” and “Falls” (Conditional Clauses)

What are Conditional Clauses?

A conditional clause gives a condition or circumstance that must be fulfilled in order for an action to take place. It always starts with "wenn," "falls," or "sofern."

The question words are: "Wann?" "Unter welcher Bedingung?"

Examples:

  • Wann kommst du nach Hause?“

„Ich komme nach Hause, wenn ich mit der Arbeit fertig bin.“

The subordinate clause states the conditions that are necessary for the main clause to occur ⇒ First I have to finish work, then I come home.


  • Wenn das Wetter schön ist, gehe ich morgen spazieren.“

If the condition is fulfilled, then I will go for a walk.

Difference between "wenn," "falls," and "sofern"

Whether we use "wenn," "falls," or "sofern" depends on the likelihood of the condition being fulfilled.

"Falls" and "sofern" can only be used when the probability is relatively small.

  • Falls/Sofern ich keine Zeit habe, gebe ich dir Bescheid!“
    ⇒ I probably will have time.
  • Wenn ich keine Zeit habe,…“ (= Neutral)

"Sofern" can only used with negative sentences. "Falls" can be used whenever.

  • Sofern ich keine Zeit habe,...“
  • Sofern du nicht zum Treffen kommst,...“

In the past

When talking about the past, something either happened or it didn't. Therefore we can only talk about things in a hypothetical way.

To do this, we use subjunctive 2 and "wenn."

  • Wenn ich mehr gelernt hätte, hätte ich die Prüfung bestanden.“

I actually failed the exam, but I want to say what would have happened under different circumstances ⇒ subjunctive 2.

Here's an entire lesson about the subjunctive 2 and how to use it: subjunctive 2.

Word Order

Main clause first: when the main clause comes first, everything stays the same.

  • „Ich helfe dir, wenn du für mich das Geschirr abwäschst.“
    (In the main clause the verb goes in position 2, in subordinate clause the verb goes at the end)

Subordinate clause first: this is more common, because the conditions are the most important information in the sentence.

  • Wenn du für mich das Geschirr abwäschst, helfe ich dir.“
    (In the subordinate clause the verb goes at the end. The entire subordinate clause is then position 1 of the main clause, and the verb of the main clause comes next).

When the subordinate clause comes first, it is possible to leave "wenn" out. The conjugated verb then moves to position 1 (this is one of the exceptions to the rule about the conjugated verb going in position 2!).

  • Wenn du zu spät kommst, gibt es Ärger.“ 
    = Kommst du zu spät, gibt es Ärger.“
  • Wenn du mich anlügst, bekommst du 1 Woche Hausarrest!“  
    = „Lügst du mich an, bekommst du 1 Woche Hausarrest!“
Achtung Hinweis

Warning!

If you leave out "wenn," it sounds more like a warning or a threat.

Summary

  • Conditional clauses are a type of subordinate clause that tells you what condition must be fulfilled for something to take place.
  • When talking about the past, you have to use the subjunctive 2.
  • Normally the subordinate clause comes before the main clause. In this case, it is possible to leave out "wenn" and put the verb in position 1.

Related Topics:

An overview of subordinate clauses.

Subordinate conjunctions and how to use them: "dass," "weil/da," "obwohl," "wenn/falls," "so dass," "indem"and "als/wenn."

Infinitive clauses (infinitive + zu) and infinitive constructions (um/anstatt/ohne … zu) are also subordinate clauses.

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