I’m trying to study and understand how to use aber und sondern (as “Konnektoren”). In my language (Italian) there is no difference in translation; both mean something like but.

I can say for example:

Ich muss in die Schule gehen, aber ich bin ein bisschen krank.

Ich spiele nicht Tennis, sondern ich spiele Fußball.

In these two examples (taken from my book), I don’t see any difference. Could I also use sondern in the first sentence and aber in the second one? Would that make a difference?

  • Note that "Ich spiele nicht Tennis, aber ich spiele Fussball" is grammatically correct and makes sense, too. Just a different sense.
    – Emanuel
    Dec 12, 2014 at 12:49
  • A parallel would be the words "pero" and "sino" in Spanish.
    – xji
    Aug 29, 2017 at 4:52

6 Answers 6

  • Aber has the same meaning as however and the contradicted clause can either be positive or negative.

  • Sondern is used only when the contradicted clause is negative, in other words contains nicht or kein, and it can be translated as but rather or instead – but not instead of.


In your first example, aber is used as an explanation why you can’t go to school: You’re ill.

On the other hand, sondern always indicates some sort of contradiction or replacement, e.g. if you correct a wrong statement (the assumption, that you play tennis).

By the way, if the same verb (in this case: spielen) is used for both actions, it is more idiomatic to avoid mentioning it again. Thus, instead of:

Ich spiele nicht Tennis, sondern ich spiele Fußball

you should say:

Ich spiele nicht Tennis, sondern Fußball

Read more about it on this article on Your Daily German.


While aber is pretty close to the English but, the word sondern has a special meaning and cannot be replaced by aber (and vice versa).

You are supposed to use sondern after a negated phrase to express, that you are now talking about something true.

Ich mag keine Süßigkeiten, sondern Salziges.

In English you would use "rather than" in an inverse order.

I prefer salty stuff rather than candies.

Some other possibilities to express this are:

Ich mag keine Süßigkeiten, aber dafür / vielmehr / aber stattdessen Salziges.

Worth noting is, that all the proposals above are somewhat special and are not able to replace sondern in an elegant and universal way.

  • +1 for the link to 'rather-than'. Properly handling 'sondern' in such constructions seems to be very hard - even many professional translators from English have trouble inserting it where they should. Dec 13, 2014 at 9:52
  • In the first example compared to its english translation, are you still saying that you like candies?
    – Ed_
    Feb 14, 2017 at 21:28
  • @WeaponX No, I am saying I do not like them
    – Liglo App
    Jun 27, 2017 at 6:23


Aber is used when you want to express the opposite between the statement in the main clause and the one in the subordinate clause.

Sondern is used when the two concepts exclude each other. The two concepts cannot happen at the same time. In the first sentence you have a negation expressed with nicht or kein, which will help you to identify the word sondern as the appropriate one for the sentence.

Check the examples on this link to understand the differences better: http://biglife.sk/index.php/2015/10/22/aber-versus-sondern/


"Sondern" is only used if the two ideas come for the same category. With category I mean eg. a profession (doctor/manager) or a game (tennis/badminton) or a temperature (cold/warm)...


Es ist nicht kalt, sondern sehr warm. (It's not cold but very warm.) Es ist nicht kalt, aber ich ziehe mir eine dicke Jacke an. (It's not cold but I'll wear a big coat.)

In the first example "cold" and "warm" are both adjectives which describe temperature. So, they come from one category. In the second example the two ideas of the two sentences are in contrast, too but one sentence describes a temperature and they other what somebody is going to wear. At last hint which might help you is, that there must be a negation form (nicht or kein) in the first sentence to use "sondern." If there is no "nicht" or "kein" in the first sentence you have to use "aber".

  • Please note that posting the work of others with no indication that it is not your own is frowned on by our community, and may result in your answer being down-voted or deleted. When you find a useful resource that can help answer a question, make sure that give proper credit to the author and site where you found the text, including a direct link to it.
    – user9551
    Aug 21, 2017 at 5:13

Sondern is more like:

Non è un asciugacapelli, è una maschera.

Aber is more like:

Sono alla fermata, ma l'autobus è in ritardo.

  • @userunknown: Naja, es geht hier ja weniger darum, irgendwelche konkreten Sätze zu erläutern, sondern den Unterschied zwischen zwei Wörtern anhand einer Parallele in einer anderen Sprache zu erläutern. Das machen wir relativ häufig mit dem Englischen, aber ich habe das auch schon mit anderen Sprachen gesehen. Zugegebenermaßen ist diese Antwort ausbaufähig, aber sie stellt einen Versuch dar, die Frage zu beantworten, und kann für andere Nutzer von Nutzen sein.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Mar 10, 2018 at 7:56
  • @Wrzlprmft:Schlimmer. Ich habe in der Reviewqueue extra geschaut, ob der Frager nach einer Sprache fragt, es aber trotzdem übersehen. Jetzt sehe ich, dass meine Aussage falsch ist, dass da kein Hinweis in der Frage wäre und lösche meinen misslungenen Kommentar. Mar 10, 2018 at 8:14

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