I'm having a hard time finding out when to use "denn" and when "dann". This happens when I want to say the word as the equivalent of the English "then". For instance,

A: I bet Germany wins the match.
B: But it's 1-1
A: No idea then!

Should I say "Keine Ahnung denn" or "Keine Ahnung dann"? I know "Dann keine Ahnung" is one of the correct forms.

Not this case, specifically. I want to know how to use those two in general.

  • 2
    Both words do have a lot of meanings. The link for "denn" is already provided; here the link for "dann". In your example you fit point 2 "unter diesen Umständen, unter dieser Voraussetzung, in diesem Falle". ... First I missed your last sentence, but when I noticed that I need to downvote that question. Takkat did already a good job, but he left out about 80%. Those words cannot be compared "in general". It's sheer impossible, at least if you don't want to write a dissertation about it ;)
    – Em1
    Jun 19, 2012 at 8:53
  • 1
    I would also point out that "denn" in this case is bordering on being more a flavoring particle or afterthought. If you want to specifically emphasize "then", then use "dann" or even "da". That might be another way to think of it.
    – Kevin
    Jun 20, 2012 at 21:52

6 Answers 6


Easy rule of thumb

To make the distinction between "denn" and "dann" a bit clearer we should learn the most common translations for both:

denn: than, for, because
dann: then, afterwards

Of course - as always - there is an overlap in usage and sometimes a distinction is not clear. See also the various usages of "denn" as a intensifying particle in the usually not translated meaning of "then" as listed in the Pons Dictionary.

"Hast Du das denn nicht gesehen?" - Didn't you see this [then]?

Why is the distinction between "denn" and "dann" so difficult?

The reason why the distinction between "denn" and "dann" is diffcult even for Germans lies in their common etymology:

dann Adv. und denn Adv. und Konj. sind ursprünglich umlautlose und umgelautete Form eines Wortes und daher in älterer Zeit bedeutungsgleich. Ahd. thanne, thenni (8. Jh.), mhd. dan(ne), den(ne), frühnhd. dann, denn Adv. und Konj.
Im Dt. erfolgt im 18. Jh. die heute geltende semantische Differenzierung von dann und denn. Von den zunächst beiden Varianten gemeinsamen Verwendungen bewahrt dann den adverbiellen Gebrauch (dafür nur in nordd. und md. Umgangssprache noch denn);
Der Gebrauch als Konjunktion, durch den in älterer Zeit neben- und unterordnend verschiedenartige, namentlich temporale und kausale Zusammenhänge hergestellt werden, verengt sich und geht ganz auf denn über; [...] Als Adverb wird denn jetzt lediglich zur Intensivierung einer Frage oder Aussage verwendet. DWDS

By this we can see that the distinction between "dann" and "denn" occured as late as in the 18th Century. This was approximately the same in English (than vs. then).

The common meaning of denn or dann which is different than today may be preserved in some idiomatic expressions, and can also still be found in regional dialects.

  • 3
    Ich finde die Unterscheidung denn und dann überhaupt nicht schwierig, und kenne auch niemanden persönlich, der damit Schwierigkeiten hätte. Nicht eine Sekunde habe ich in den letzten Jahrzehnten damit verbracht, darüber zu grübeln, was passend sei. Es gibt allerdings eine gewisse Nähe, die auch in post hoc ergo propter hoc zum Asudruck kommt - nach dem Ereignis, nicht durch das Ereignis. Jun 20, 2012 at 3:17

A: Ich wette, dass Deutschland das Spiel gewinnt.
B: Aber es steht eins zu eins.
A: DANN weiß ich es auch nicht.

In a normal conversation you say neither "keine Ahnung dann" nor "keine Ahnung denn" (second is definitely wrong). You say one of those:

DANN weiß ich's (auch) nicht
DANN habe ich keine Ahnung
keine Ahnung

In this situation everything containing "denn" is wrong because here you have a logical conclusion: The fact, that you have no idea results from an other fact (it is 1:1). And in such a case you use "dann". (if-then = wenn-dann)

But this is different:

Tom hat keine Ahnung, DENN es steht 1:1.

Here "es steht 1:1" is an explanation. (because = denn)

  • 1
    +1, erste Antwort die die im Kontext genannte Handlung vollständig richtig behandelt
    – Em1
    Jun 20, 2012 at 13:28

As already answered you can use all of the forms you mentioned.

None of them sound well though (which may be a regional thing, but then German language usage is regionally quite different, so there :)).

I'd much rather say:

Dann weiß ich es auch nicht.

Or more colloquial:

Na dann weiß ich auch nicht.

Or extremely colloquial (don't use this in more official circumstances):

Hm, dann ... keinen Plan.

  • Well, thanks for your answer. But the question is about "denn" and "dann" rather than that special case. You might want to add that part to your answer.
    – Gigili
    Jun 19, 2012 at 6:04
  • Ich denke der erste Satz ist falsch, weil die "denn"-Form ist höchstens regional und dann sollte das auch so gesagt werden. Das würdest du selbst doch auch nicht sagen, oder?
    – Em1
    Jun 19, 2012 at 8:46
  • +1 für keinen Plan
    – fifaltra
    Jan 2, 2014 at 11:28

Simple: Dann is always used in a temporal context. (Denn has no temporal context.)

  • Ah nice, no one pointed that out. Thanks.
    – Gigili
    Jun 20, 2012 at 12:34
  • 1
    It's no temporal context in the given context.
    – Em1
    Jun 20, 2012 at 13:25

Here's the logic if you Englishify it (sense in brackets):

  • Dann-Then(action)
  • Denn-Then(?)-because...

In your example, you should use Dann, not Denn.

  • Dann, keine ahnung.

In this case you're simply replying with a logical then, which is what the German logic operator Dann does. If you were to reply with Denn, then you should state the reason immediately or offload it as a question to the other participant.

German also has Wann and Wenn. Which can cause the same confusion amongst learners of German (sense in brackets):

  • Wann-When(?)
  • Wenn-When(if)

Usage (German in Brackets):

Kid: When (Wann) can we go for a walk?

Father: When (Wenn) it stops raining, then (dann) we will go, then (denn) we won't get wet.


According to Duden Online "dann" is an alternative meaning of "denn". I'm sure that "dann" works here. Consequently you can also use "denn".

So, in my eyes both

Keine Ahnung dann.


Keine Ahnung denn.

work well. Furthermore, at least in my own dialect (Bavarian Swabian), those words are mutually interchangable.

  • 1
    I have noticed this "Keine Ahnung" recently. It sounds ugly and I recommend to avoid this. Thanks to this question I realized tha it is an 'Amerikanimus' where a phrase is taken literally. But this is no translation but only some words taken from dictionary. Next time I would here "Sie sind willkommen" instead of "Gerne" orde "Bitte sehr". Grrr.
    – harper
    Jun 19, 2012 at 5:42
  • @Kage: I have no real idea about the interchanging "denn" and "dann", but I think that a real person rather would use some of the sentences that nem75 proposed.
    – 0x6d64
    Jun 19, 2012 at 5:59
  • 1
    @harper: That phrase is not something that became popular in the last years. I'm positive that I hear (and use it myself) for more than 10 years. You can even sift through this and find some nice examples: spiegel.de/suche/… Also: I find it a little far fetched to assume an "Amerikanismus" just because two (!) words happen to be arranged in a similar fashion, where they don't even are synonyms.
    – 0x6d64
    Jun 19, 2012 at 6:06
  • Wenn "Keine Ahnung denn" Dialekt sein mag - im Hochdeutschen gibt es das so nicht. Dialekt war auch nicht gefragt. Jun 20, 2012 at 3:14
  • 0x6d64: Formerly I felt this "Was das soll? Keine Ahnung!" like a poor formed word garbage, the speaker was obviuosly unable to build a sentence. Now, Gigilis question suggests a probably origin: "No idea". Therefore I think that this ugly construct is built with influence from the English language that comes to us mostly from amarican sources. This influence is ment with "Amerikanismus".
    – harper
    Jun 21, 2012 at 10:48

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