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I’m confused with obwohl and trotzdem usage practice. I do know their meaning (although and despite of, respectively) but what I don’t understand is when exactly I should use obwohl, when trotzdem and when I can exchange them?

The problem is that English is not my native language either, thus the simple rule: “if you would use although in English put obwohl in German” doesn’t really help me, I don’t feel which of them should I use.

For instance:

  1. Clarissa bleibt nicht im Bett, obwohl sie krank ist.

versus

  1. Clarissa bleibt nicht im Bett, trotzdem ist sie krank.

Are both these sentences OK both from the grammatical and style points of view?
Or should I use only one of them?

Could you, please, clarify how I can understand which of these two connection words I should use?

P.S. I read the question and this explanation but still feel that I’m guessing and don’t really know for sure the correct answer.

5

This is a somewhat uneasy subject to digest. I try my best to explain based on the Duden.

Taking your example the first is fine and obwohl can be replaced by trotzdem; though obwohl is more often used and considered high-level language. In this case obwohl and trotzdem are conjunctions. The usage of trotzdem in this case is considered colloquial language (umgangssprachlich).

Clarissa bleibt nicht im Bett, obwohl sie krank ist.
Clarissa bleibt nicht im Bett, trotzdem sie krank ist.

The second sentence is correct. Though many German speakers would say that it sounds weird to them.
I suggest you use obwohl when not sure and because it is not colloquial.


There is another meaning of obwohl, which is colloquial, and cannot be replaced by trotzdem.

Ich rufe Dich heute Abend an. Obwohl, wir sehen uns ja morgen ohnehin.
I call you this evening. Though, we'll see each other tomorrow anyway.

Here it is used to say that Maybe I call, maybe I don't; knowing that we see each other tomorrow anyway.


The word trotzdem can also be used as an adverb. That can be confusing for speakers. This is how you used the word trotzdem in the second example and in this case it is wrong by meaning; you are not saying what you want to say.

Clarissa bleibt nicht im Bett, trotzdem ist sie krank.
Clarissa doesn't want to stay in bed, nevertheless she is sick.

When trotzdem is used as an adverb it does not have the same meaning as obwohl. In this case trotzdem could be translated to even so, anyhow, nevertheless, ...

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    I wouldn’t call the use of trotzdem as a conjunction “colloquial”. Thomas Mann is infamous for it, and his writings are far from colloquial language. It is a mannerism, and one many native speakers react strongly negatively to. – chirlu Jan 3 '16 at 9:56
  • Apart from that, I don’t think this answer will be particularly useful to the OP because it essentially only explains the meaning of trotzdem by giving English equivalents, and the OP already said he doesn’t have a firm grasp of those either. – chirlu Jan 3 '16 at 10:00
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    And I think I gave a fairly good answer to his questions: grammar, style point of view, which one to use preferably and background with reference to the Duden. – Ely Jan 3 '16 at 10:13
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    @Mike B.: If trotzdem is used as a conjunction, it introduces a subordinate clause, so the verb comes last. In the normal use (as an adverb), the usual rules for the sentence containing it apply. Examples: Ich verreise trotzdem. (main clause) Wir können für nichts garantieren, falls er trotzdem verreist. (subordinate clause) – chirlu Jan 3 '16 at 12:16
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    @Dan: Stilted. I never hear it in everyday talk (but can’t rule out that it may be used in some region). – chirlu Oct 8 at 10:11
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First, your grammar, in particular your word order is correct. But I think that the meaning of the second sentence is not what you thought. The first is ok.

A, obwohl B

means that both A and B are true, and it points out that in particular B did not prevent A from being true, even though it should in general, or one might think that it does, or it usually does, or something.

Your first sentence thus means: Clarissa is ill. She did not stay in bed. It also conveys that Clarissa should have stayed in bed, because she is ill, or maybe, that it is commendable that she did not let her illness prevent her from getting up.

The same is expressed by:

B. Trotzdem A.

So the above meaning could also have been expressed by:

Clarissa ist krank. Trotzdem ist sie nicht im Bett geblieben.

(Clarissa trotzte also ihrer Krankheit, indem sie nicht im Bett blieb.)

Your second sentence, on the other hand, says that Clarissa is ill and did not stay in bed, and that that is surprising, since usually getting up prevents you from getting ill. Or, more reasonably as chirlu pointed out, it emphasises that she is really ill, even though her not staying in bed might indicate that she is not.

  • The parenthesized sentence seems somewhat out of place to me. It is an explanation, so shouldn’t it be in English? – chirlu Jan 1 '16 at 22:34
  • @chirlu, the parenthesised sentenced was meant as an invitation to look up the related verb trotzen. – Carsten S Jan 1 '16 at 22:36
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    @CarstenS what would you say about the "conjunctional" usage of "trotzdem"? german.stackexchange.com/a/27435/9739 – Dan Oct 8 at 9:40
2

In case of trotzdem, the conjugated verb stays at 2nd position as it's mostly used adverbially, but in case of obwohl, the conjugated verb goes in the end.

For example:

Obwohl ich krank bin, bin ich in die Schule gekommen. / Ich bin in die Schule gekommen, obwohl ich krank bin.

Ich bin in die Schule gekommen, trotzdem bin ich krank.

(Note that in case of trotzdem, the position of conjugated verb is at 2nd position. Additionally, it cannot be written the other way around.)

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    Uh! Please, notice that in der Schule kommen means something totally different than in die Schule kommen. – Björn Friedrich Oct 8 at 8:54
  • Was Bjönrn sagt. In der Schule kann man ankommen (en. arrive at), aber nicht kommen. – Dan Oct 8 at 9:40
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    @Dan: Man kann auch in der Schule kommen, aber es bedeutet dann in der Schule einen Orgasmus haben (Bedeutung 17). – chirlu Oct 8 at 10:15
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    Note that the logic in the obwohl example sentences here is inverted. Krank, obwohl Schule implies that going to school should somehow have protected from the (later) illness. – chirlu Oct 8 at 10:24
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    @Dan: Nein, geht sehr gut. Sie ist krank. Trotzdem ist sie in die Schule gekommen. – chirlu Oct 8 at 10:49

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