I was wondering if there is a (slight) difference in saying "... ich kann aber" and "... aber ich kann", for example, if I say:

a) Ich kann nicht singen, ich kann aber tanzen
b) Ich kann nicht singen, aber ich kann tanzen

Does it have the exact same meaning? Which one would be used more frequently? Is it always the same to put the "aber" directly after the comma, or after the verb?

2 Answers 2


Both sentences have exactly the same meaning.

For my understanding the different word order does even not carry a different undertone of whatever.

However, the decision where to put the aber makes a difference in terms of rhythm, and so depending on the context you may prefer the one or the other version.

More examples, for testing:

a) Er ist zwar alt, aber er ist noch ganz gut beieinander.

b) Er ist zwar alt, er ist aber noch ganz gut beieinander.

a) Der Frosch ist grün, aber er hat kein Chlorophyll.

b) Der Frosch ist grün, er hat aber kein Chlorophyll.

a) Der Urlaub war schön, aber er war ein bisschen verregnet.

b) Der Urlaub war schön, er war aber ein bisschen verregnet.

I do not see a difference in meaning.

Now, one may argue that the above examples are different from the example in the original question as the original uses kann. So let's test it especially for sentences with kann:

a) Ich kann den Felgabschwung, aber ich kann keinen Felgaufschwung.

b) Ich kann den Felgabschwung, ich kann aber keinen Felgaufschwung.

a) Ich kann dir jeden Tag einen Brief schreiben, aber ich kann dich nicht jeden Tag besuchen kommen.

b) Ich kann dir jeden Tag einen Brief schreiben, ich kann dich aber nicht jeden Tag besuchen kommen.

a) Ich kann dir keine Torte backen, aber ich kann dir eine Schokolade kaufen.

b) Ich kann dir keine Torte backen, ich kann dir aber eine Schokolade kaufen.

I still do not see a difference in meaning.


Well, there is a huge difference from a grammatical point of view. In your first example the "aber" is a particle, in the second it is a conjunction, meaning your first example are two main clauses while your second example is a main clause and a subordinate clause (the position of the predicate is telling here).

Now this might not seem too important because they indeed seem to express a rather similar notion (not an identical one though!) but when you look at the function of the "aber" as particle and conjunction, you see that they are basically worlds apart.

As a particle "aber" actually is a reinforcement or strengthening of a notion while in its incarnation as a conjunction it expresses an opposition, an objection or even a restriction. And there then lies the difference in meaning.

Your first example stresses that you can dance (well), while your second example stresses that instead of singing you can dance.

You could probably illustrate the subtle difference this way:

a) Ich kann nicht singen, ich kann aber tanzen

I can't sing but I really can dance.

b) Ich kann nicht singen, aber ich kann tanzen

I can't sing but I actually can dance.

So, depending on what people want to express they order the "aber" differently (and there is a fourth denotation to "aber" as a conjunction, which is that of a continuation, but that was not of importance in this instance).

  • 1
    I do not aggree with your opinion regarding different meaning of the two sentences. In my German-speaking environment at least, such different meaning would by no way be seen or felt by anybody. If you feel a difference there, I suppose this is your very personal interpretation. It should not be used as a recommendation for those who try to learn German. May 17, 2017 at 18:47
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    well, in my german speaking enviroment (which would be Berlin, as I'm a native speaker born and bred there) there very much is a difference, especially in writing. May 17, 2017 at 18:58
  • My German speaking environment includes the South and the North of the country, and it was also for a couple of years in the East. Of course, there may be strata of society with special sensitivity to such word order variations. Please, would you have a look at the other examples I posted in my actual answer on this page and check if you see a difference there as well? I would suppose you cannot hold up your argument with other examples, but let's see. May 18, 2017 at 7:52
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    I entirely disagree with your assessment of the grammatical situation. You have got main clauses in both examples. In the first case, "aber" is used as conjunction between main clauses, and in the second case as adverbial conjunction between main clauses.
    – shuhalo
    May 18, 2017 at 12:19
  • To complete it, in the West I would not recognize such a difference either. It's certainly not a universal nuance.
    – shuhalo
    May 18, 2017 at 12:24

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