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My understanding is that "oder" means "or," and "sonst" means "otherwise," or "or else."

The context is another verse of the poem I presented a couple days ago. Both the English and German text are mine.

Wo ist sie, die eine? Auf die wart' ich, diese jahrlang. Eine zum anbeten, nach sehen, SONST/ODER wenn ich ihre Stimme hoere.

Where is she, the someone? Whom I've been waiting for these long years. Whom I'll adore, when I see her. Or hear her voice (ring in my ears).

(The English words in parentheses are only to "take up" the extra syllables; I don't want them translated into German.)

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

The most common usage of the conjuction "oder" is in the sense of the direct English translation "or".

Sometimes "oder" can also be used synonymous to "sonst" in the meaning of "otherwise":

Du musst um 14 Uhr abfahren, oder du kommst zu spät.

This meaning would not be appropriate in the lyrics given, where "oder" is the best possible translation, but unfortunately adding a syllable.

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I can live with ONE extra syllable. I originally used "oder," realized that "sonst" had one syllable less, and "tried it on for size." –  Tom Au Jul 21 '11 at 12:47
    
@gigli: I guess it depends on what I mean by the "sense" of the poem. "Whom I'll adore, when I see her, OTHERWISE when I hear her voice," perhaps. –  Tom Au Jul 21 '11 at 15:17
    
@Tom Au: I think you got the difference right. "Sonst" in the meaning of else/otherwise (like the logical operator XOR). –  Takkat Jul 21 '11 at 18:45
    
OK, so "oder" means "OR," and "sonst" means "XOR." Meaning I probably won't use "sonst" here. –  Tom Au Jul 23 '11 at 18:27
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Ich möchte die Ansicht verteidigen, dass Deine Frage sowohl die deutsche Sprache betrifft als auch die Logik.

"Oder" verbindet zwei Wahlen aber schließt andere nicht aus: Möchtest Du Tee oder Kaffee zum Frühstück? (Aber vielleicht auch ein Stück Torte, ein gekochtes Ei, ...)

Im Gegensatz dazu stellt "sonst" einer oder mehreren Möglichkeiten eine einzige Alternative entgegen.
Beispiel in einem Reisebüro : Möchten Sie zu diesem günstigen Preis eine Reise nach Hamburg oder Berlin buchen? Sonst müssen Sie den vollen Preis bezahlen.
Oder einfach (!): Ist diese Primzahl gleich zwei ? Sonst ist sie ungerade.

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