I have the sentence

Ich fahre gerne, aber nicht dann, wenn viel Verkehr ist.

Translating this seems very simple - I like to drive, but not when there is lots of traffic.

I'm confused though.

I know that "dann" in German normally means then or afterwords but that would make no sense in this context.

What is the purpose of dann in this sentence?

  • 3
    But "dann" does mean then here. Think of the the sentence as something like "I like to drive, but not then when there is lots of traffic", which is bad English, but you get the idea...
    – PiedPiper
    Jan 22, 2019 at 0:38
  • Translate that dann as right then and you get the picture.
    – Janka
    Jan 22, 2019 at 10:14

1 Answer 1


Yes, dann means then here. The purpose of dann is to put an emphasis on the constraint when the speaker does not like to drive.

You also could say the german sentence as

Ich fahre gerne, aber nicht, wenn viel Verkehr ist.

This sentence will work, too. And it is the (literal) equivalent to your translation.

As mentioned in the comments, you also could translate the sentence to "I like to drive, but not then when there is a lot of traffic." Of course, this is bad English, but it shows the principle.

  • The dann may even be further emphasized: genau dann.
    – Janka
    Jan 22, 2019 at 10:13
  • I'd argue it's bad German, too. Not as bad as the English equivalent, but completely redundant.
    – vectory
    Jan 23, 2019 at 20:53
  • @Janka "genau dann" is technically not emphasis, but restriction to the point of exclusion. It's the usual translation of "if and only if" at least in mathematical texts.
    – vectory
    Jan 23, 2019 at 20:56
  • 2
    "I like to drive, but not at times when (...)" would be a better english equivalent. Jan 24, 2019 at 10:36

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