• By adversative result I mean a real result that is adversative to the inference from foregoing contextual information.
  • By adversative ground I mean a ground which induces an real result that is adversative to the inference from foregoing contextual information.

I read in Duden the following example for allein:

Ich hoffte auf ihn, allein ich wurde bitter enttäuscht.

In this example, allein introduces an adversative result.

However, as I read from an old grammar book (‘Second German Book’ by Thomas Kerchever Arnold & J.W. Frädersdorff, published in 1854), allein serves to introduce a “real ground” or, equivalently, an “actual cause”, which accounts for WHY the inference from the foregoing contextual information fails to hold, i.e. it should introduce an adversative ground instead of an adversative result.

The point made in the grammar work seems to contradict the Duden example. I am wondering which one I should follow and which not:
Is the point made by that grammar book so out of date that it no longer applies or is the example from Duden not good in style?

  • I'm not sure what you (or author of the book) mean by "Real Ground" - could you elaborate or provide an example?
    – Hulk
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 8:01
  • @Hulk : thanks for your attention, by 'real ground' the author of that book means an actual cause ; for example, as in ,,ich hatte gehofft, ihn nach der Sitzung zu sprechen, allein er war nicht zugegen '' , the 2nd clause furnishes a real ground for why I failed to meet and speak to him;
    – Eunice
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 8:11
  • 3
    I never heard of such a limitation in meaning. I always perceived it as widely synonymous to "nur" or sometimes "doch" (both of which would be more common in modern German).
    – Hulk
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 8:38

2 Answers 2


Allein is a difficult one for various reasons. First, it's usage (in adverbial rather that adjective form) is kind of aging (and has always been a bit on the posh end of things), and no longer commonly used. You will not find many good examples of usage in everyday German.

Apart from being high-level language, allein can be and is today used interchangeably with the sense of jedoch - It was used, about hundred years ago, more in a sense of how "Alas" is still used today in English (that is at least my impression from old books, and it could well be the two words have common roots)


The most famous sentence using this construct is:

Die Botschaft hör ich wohl, allein mir fehlt der Glaube

from Goethe's Faust. Many people will think of this sentence if you use "allein" in this way, because it's a rare and somewhat archaic usage. Here it's analogous to English "it's just that..." or "alas...". So judging by this sentence, you grammar book is more correct than Duden here.

Using it as a synonym for "but" feels wrong to me, but Duden says it's fine.

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