I understand that a coordinating conjunction does not require a comma before it.

For example:

Hänsel ist arm und Gretel ist reich.

Hänsel ist arm denn Gretel ist reich.

The question is on what happens when two inter-coordinated clauses are indirectly reported whether by becoming (a) subordinated to a sagen-clause with a dass or (b) coordinated with it with a comma.

Forgetting one of the inter-coordinates for the moment, we get:

(1) Sie sagen, Hänsel sei arm.

(2) Sie sagen, dass Hänsel arm sei.

Can you please tell me how to add the idea of “Gretel ist reich” to (1) and (2) using und and denn? (That would mean a total of four sentences: und with dass, und without dass, denn with dass, and denn without dass).

For example, I am wondering which of the following (or still others I haven’t thought of) is the correct form:

Sie sagen, dass Hänsel arm sei denn Gretel sei reich.

Sie sagen, dass Hänsel arm sei denn Gretel reich sei.

Sie sagen, dass Hänsel arm sei denn dass Gretel reich sei.

Sie sagen, dass Hänsel arm sei, denn dass Gretel reich sei.

If using the indicative (ist) rather than Konjunctive I (sei) in the reported clauses changes the answer, please also tell me how (I suppose then possibly a total of eight sentences). Thanks!

  • I fail to see the logic in "H. is poor because G. is rich". Anyway, your sentence (1) does not contain any subordinates. You can immediately tell this from the word order, for subordinate clauses have their verb in final position.
    – chirlu
    Oct 1, 2015 at 16:06
  • @chirlu I hope I fixed at least one of the issues you raise.
    – Catomic
    Oct 1, 2015 at 16:38

1 Answer 1


The relevant orthographic rules are §§ 71 to 74.

§ 71: Gleichrangige (nebengeordnete) Teilsätze, Wortgruppen oder Wörter grenzt man mit Komma voneinander ab.

§ 72: Sind die gleichrangigen Teilsätze, Wortgruppen oder Wörter durch und, oder, beziehungsweise/bzw., sowie (= und), wie (= und), entweder … oder, nicht … noch, sowohl … als (auch), sowohl … wie (auch) oder durch weder … noch verbunden, so setzt man kein Komma.

§ 73: Bei der Reihung von selbständigen Sätzen, die durch und, oder, beziehungsweise/ bzw., entweder – oder, nicht – noch oder durch weder – noch verbunden sind, kann man ein Komma setzen, um die Gliederung des Ganzsatzes deutlich zu machen.

§ 74: Nebensätze grenzt man mit Komma ab; sind sie eingeschoben, so schließt man sie mit paarigem Komma ein.

Since you dug your nose into German literature such as Kafka and frequently ask about German translations of other works, I assume that you can understand the rules as presented.

For starters, § 71 says that all coordinating conjunctions require a comma and § 72 lists an exhaustive list of those where a comma is not permitted. Finally, § 73 lists another exhaustive list of those where you may place a comma to clarify the clauses. Denn is not part of the list, so a comma before denn is mandatory.

Hänsel ist arm, denn Gretel ist reich.

§ 74 requires you to put commas around general subordinate clauses such as those that originate from indirect speech. But you got that part right.

Combining both fragments into indirect speech using dass, we have two new coordinated subordinate clauses, so in sentence level terms, you would have the new main clause (0) and two subordinate ones, both level 1. This means that you must use a comma before the entire subordinate clause lump. Not using dass would mean that we continue to have main clauses, which are added together. § 71 still requires a comma for those.

Because denn always requires a comma, there is no debate as to the following sentences being the only correctly punctuated ones:

Sie sagen, Hänsel sei arm, denn Gretel sei reich.
Sie sagen, dass Hänsel arm sei, denn Gretel sei reich.
Sie sagen, dass Hänsel arm sei, weil Gretel reich sei.

(As chirlu pointed out in the comments, the main clause word order denn induces means that it cannot lead a subordinate clause. Rather, a clause following denn must be a main clause.)

Finally, we have the versions with und. § 74 requires commas at the beginning of the subordinate clauses. Because the two following subordinate clauses are of the same level and connected by und, §§ 72 and 73 make the comma optional. When using the main clause construction, § 71 requires a comma after the first main clause. § 72 forbids the comma between Hänsel’s and Gretel’s sentence and § 73 does not reallow it. Correct versions are thus:

Sie sagen, Hänsel sei reich und Gretel sei arm.
Sie sagen, Hänsel sei reich, und Gretel sei arm.
Sie sagen, dass Hänsel reich sei und Gretel arm sei.

It is not required to repeat the dass like you suggested in the question, but possible when using und.

Sie sagen, dass Hänsel reich sei und dass Gretel arm sei.

The modus of the verb does not change the answer.

  • Issues: 1. Subordinate/main clause confusion as mentioned in my other comments. 2. The rule from § 72 does not make the comma optional, it forbids putting a comma. It's § 73 that as an exception to the exception optionally allows commas in some cases.
    – chirlu
    Oct 1, 2015 at 16:26
  • Thanks! (a) If the second subordinate clause (the one after denn or und) got its own dass, that would be wrong? (b) The denn clause retaining its "main clause" word order even when it is inside a dass clause. That was actually what got me started thinking; I suspected something like your intuition. So there is no answer to that? I hope I don't have to write a whole new question for that.
    – Catomic
    Oct 1, 2015 at 16:27
  • 1
    @Catomic: Denn always starts a main clause. You can't use it in a subordinate clause, ever. You need to exchange it with, e.g., weil.
    – chirlu
    Oct 1, 2015 at 16:36
  • @chirlu denn not allowed in any subordinated context. That's an extremely elegant solution to my puzzle. I like it!
    – Catomic
    Oct 1, 2015 at 16:41
  • 1
    Essentially, the dass ... denn example switches between the two forms of reported speech. That's always possible (though not necessarily advisable stylistically), not only with denn.
    – chirlu
    Oct 1, 2015 at 17:14

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