weil vs. denn

Discussion in 'Deutsch (German)' started by Leri, Feb 22, 2012.

  1. Leri Senior Member

    Siena - Italia
    Good afternoon,
    as a highschool student, I had been told that the answer to a "warum"-question is introduced by "weil".

    For example:

    Warum gehst du in die Apotheke?
    Ich gehe in die Apotheke, weil ich Halstabletten brauche.

    Yesterday I was helping my young niece to do her homeworks, and she told me that the right answer is introduced by "denn".
    I was a little disappointed. I know "denn" can be used to explain a cause, but I had always thought it couldn't be used in an answer to a "warum-question".

    Could someone help me solving this dilemma?
    I searched for a related thread but wasn't able to find it.

    Thank you
  2. Gernot Back

    Gernot Back Senior Member

    Cologne, Germany
    German - Germany
    Both weil and denn are conjunctions expressing a cause/reason. So it doesn't really make a difference in meaning whether you use weil or denn. The only difference is a syntactic one: With weil you form a sub-clause with the finite verb in the end position and with denn you form a main clause with denn in zero-position and the finite verb in the second position:

    Ich gehe in die Apotheke, weil ich Halstabletten brauche. = Ich gehe in die Apotheke, denn ich brauche Halstabletten.
  3. Leri Senior Member

    Siena - Italia
    Thank you Gernot.

    Then, if I ask "Warum gehst du in die Apotheke?", I do not have to correct my niece's answer "Denn ich brauche Halstabletten." Is that right?
  4. Bahiano

    Bahiano Senior Member

    No, Leri!
    The answer to "Warum..?" is always "Weil..." --> "Weil ich Halstabletten brauche."
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2012
  5. Leri Senior Member

    Siena - Italia
    Ok, now it's clear to me! What I learned at school is correct then.
    Thank you, Bahiano!
  6. Resa Reader Senior Member

    I think that Bahiano has already answered your question satisfactorily. This is just to confirm: If you answer a "warum-question" with a "half-phrase" (that is using a subordinate clause on its on) then the only possibility you have is to use "weil".

    Warum gehst du in die Apotheke? > Weil ich Halstabletten brauche.:tick: / Denn ich brauche Halstabletten.:cross:

    Warum gehst du in die Apotheke? > Ich gehe in die Apotheke, weil ich Halstabletten brauche.:tick:/ Ich gehe in die Apotheke, denn ich brauche Halstabletten.:tick:
  7. Leica Senior Member

    Note that the version with "denn" is rarely used in colloquial speech. "Weil" is much more common. Or just "Ich war in der Apotheke." You don't need the "weil" to answer a "Warum"-question.

    "Warum warst du so früh wach?"
    "Ich konnte schlecht einschlafen."

    "Warum hast du denn die große packung gekauft, das kriegen wir nie alles auf?"
    "Ich dachte halt die ist günstiger."

    An there is, unfortunatly, a pretty common wrong usage of "weil" without inverting the word order and putting the verb at the end.

    "Ich bin erst um 1 ins Bett gegangen, weil Papa kam ja auch erst so spät nach Hause." is widely spread in many regions.
  8. Resa Reader Senior Member

    Do you want to say that this mistake is widespread in some German regions? I've never heard it so far (I think :)).
  9. Leica Senior Member

    I hear it a lot, not matter where the speaker is from. So I assume it's not a dialect thing but more some kind of sloppiness. Like using dative instead of genitive.
  10. Leri Senior Member

    Siena - Italia
    Thanks to all for the useful information you are giving me :)
    Reading the explanation in my niece's book, and considering that the class is learning to answer with a "half-phrase", I will try to make her improve the use of "weil", so hopefully she won't make any mistake...
  11. Demiurg

    Demiurg Senior Member


    My German teacher always told us: "Antworte im ganzen Satz!". ;)
  12. Leri Senior Member

    Siena - Italia
    Yes, I understand what you mean, Demiurg this is what I learned many, many years ago...actually I don't like that book at all, yet I don't feel comfortable in explaing German grammar to my niece without following her book. To take an example from that book:

    Warum hat Vati Husten?
    Weil er zu viele Zigaretten raucht.

    Warum gehst du zu Doktor Winkler?
    Weil ich Grippe habe.

    I must say the truth, this way of teaching German disturbs me, yet I prefer my niece to follow the book. Maybe I do wrong, I don't know...

  13. Leica Senior Member

    I don't see your problem with those anwers. They are perfectly idiomatic.

    I guess more than 90% would answer the question Warum hat Vati Husten? with "Weil er zuviel raucht." or with "Er raucht zuviel."

    Usually we don't repeat parts of the question in normal conversation.
  14. Resa Reader Senior Member

    That's not too bad after all as it's normal spoken German. In a natural situation nobody would answer "Ich gehe zu Doktor Winkler, weil ich Grippe habe" when asked "Warum gehst du zu Doktor Winkler?" It would just sound strange to repeat the words of the question again. I guess you would do the same in Italian, wouldn't you?

    There is, however, another possibitity to answer that kind of questions without using "weil". As Leica mentioned you might simply give the reason by using a main clause: Warum hat Papa Husten? > Er raucht zu viele Zigaretten. // Warum gehst du zu Doktor Winkler? > Ich habe die Grippe.
    [You may have noticed that I replaced "Vati" with "Papa" which sounds much more natural too me. "Vati" is falling out of use, I think, but that's off topic. It has never been used all over Germany anyway. If you are interested I think I remember having seen an old thread on that.]

    EDIT: I've just seen that Leica has posted her answer at the same time. We practically say the same, don't we?

  15. Leri Senior Member

    Siena - Italia
    It would be normal spoken Italian, too, that's right, and it would be normal written language as well. I would say that what sounds strange to me is to make students learn idiomatic sentences or spoken language, without explaining full answers, if you understand what I mean. As a student of foreign languages, I had to answer using a full sentence (in the words of Demiurg's teacher, so to say :) ), regardless of written or spoken usage. That's why my niece's book sounds "komisch" to me.
  16. Demiurg

    Demiurg Senior Member

    I hope you didn't overlook the ;) at the end of my answer.

    There's actually a joke on this subject:
  17. Leri Senior Member

    Siena - Italia
    I'm afraid I really overlooked the ;)!!! :eek:
    Thanks to all for this thread: you are really helping me thinking over several things about learning foreign languages, I guess my way of doing it has been a little too stiff...
  18. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    Just one addition:

    Often you can hear sentences where "weil" is used similar to the word order of "denn" in the sentence structure. This is colloquial and not standard language but it spreads fast, and I suppose it will come into the standard sooner or later:

    This form is

    Ich gehe in die Apotheke, weil: ich brauche Halstabletten. (should be accepted in standard)
    Ich gehe in die Apotheke, weil, ich brauche Halstabletten. (frequently used)
    Ich gehe in die Apotheke, weil ich brauche Halstabletten. ((I am not sure about the status, to me it appears wrong)

    Some say it is part of Sprachverfall (decline of language) while others say it is part of the language development.
    As it is, it is already part of the German language.
  19. pinay_in_deutschland New Member

    Filipino, English
    Wow, thank you for this thread and for all the very useful information. I've had this confusion about using "weil" and "denn" for a while but i just brushed it aside. Today, I encountered this confusion again in a sample test and i finally asked my teacher. Unfortunately, she was not able to explain to me the difference and when to use each word, so I resorted to researching online and stumbled upon this thread. This thread has helped me clarify my confusion....and thanks as well for the additional information on what is commonly used in the spoken language. I am not getting this information at all from my teacher....shade :-(

    Have a good weekend everyone!

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