Studying on Duolingo, I am trying to translate this sentence here:

Die ersten Kakaobohnen brachte Christoph Kolumbus aus Amerika mit, ohne dass man zu dieser Zeit etwas damit anfangen konnte.

I get the first part, but I am struggling with the bold part. How does ohne influence the sentence meaning? I thought ohne dass could be taken as a but, however "but at that time they could do something with that" doesn't make much sense when you read everything.

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Literally ohne is without, and that is the negation you missed.

Therefore

but at that time they could do something with that (!)

should really be

but at that time they could not do something with that.

or

without them being able to do something with it.

If the subject matches the complement after ohne, the dass particle could be dropped. But that needs a zu particle:

Er fuhr ab, ohne tschüss zu sagen.

  • 3
    It is worth noting, that you also can use "ohne" with an Infinitiv+zu construction, if the subjects match: Er raste über die Autobahn, ohne sich Gedanken über die Sicherheit zu machen. – Barth Zalewski Jun 24 '15 at 8:24
  • 1
    Po polsku, @c.p.? Nie ma za co! – Barth Zalewski Jun 24 '15 at 16:09

You could see it as a kind of but. ohne means without.

Die ersten Kakaobohnen brachte Christoph Kolumbus aus Amerika mit, aber zu dieser Zeit konnte man damit nichts anfangen.

  • So ohne dass can act as a but and negate the meaning of the remaining sentence? – rockleegustavo Jun 23 '15 at 15:15
  • @rockleegustavo Yes – wernersbacher Jun 23 '15 at 21:42

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