I'd like to know what kind of difference there is between these two synonyms when they are used in the meaning "just now (happened)".

Soeben schlägt es zwölf.

Eben schlägt es zwölf.

And "So eben schlägt es zwölf" is incorrect, right?

And when "soeben" and "eben" are used in the meaning "just now (happened)", is it more normal to use the present tense verb "schlägt" rather than "hat geschlagen"?


4 Answers 4


Eben can be used in different than a time bound context, while soeben always refers to a very recent moment. Here's an example:

Q: Warum ist die Banane krumm?
A: Das ist eben so.1

In the above example replacing eben with soeben wouldn't make any sense.

Same for

Das Gelände ist weitgehend eben.

1)I well know that there are better answers for that particular question, but that's not the subject of the discussion here.

  • "eben" has several very different meanings, you show two of them. It could also mean the opposite of steep, but this is not the question. Jul 14, 2019 at 18:35
  • @rexkogitans Yes, there are many different contexts where eben can be used ,and its not simply replacable with soeben. Isn't that exactly what the question is about? Jul 14, 2019 at 18:53
  • Regarding the foornote, the only culturally acceptable answer must be: Weil keiner in den Urwald zog und die Banane gerade bog. :-) For eben so, the difference to so eben is obviously very small; also note ebenso, "likewise", synonym with gleichfalls, and note that gleich, is also used in the temporal paradigm, with sogleich practically though not always strictly equivalent to soeben; The last example should be ebenmäßig, if only in analogy to gleichmäßig. Due to gleich < ge + likaz (whence also Leiche) cp. eben to bone, though I somewhat doubt *likaz.
    – vectory
    Jul 15, 2019 at 1:34
  • Die Frage stellt deutlich heraus, dass es um "eben" im Sinne von "just now" geht, nicht um die ebene Fläche oder "das ist eben so". Die Antwort hat das Thema verfehlt. Jul 15, 2019 at 7:29

"Soeben schlägt es zwölf." means it is right now happenig (still counting the strokes). "Eben hat es zwölf geschlagen." means it is now 12 o´clock and the bell became silent just a couple of seconds ago.

That's how I would use it.

Of course eben and soeben can be used with both tenses. But I would not use "Eben schlägt es zwölf." - even when grammatically correct, it sounds dated. In this case I would use "Grade schlägt es zwölf."

How much time has passed in the perfect-variant depends on the context.

And as already mentioned in other answers, soeben is only used in the timely manner. Eben can also be used for smooth, even, plain or in context eben derselbe = selfsame, eben weil = precisely because.

  • Eben can be used in very different contexts than soeben also. Maybe it's worth mentioning these. Jul 14, 2019 at 10:18
  • 2
    This is confusing, because you are also using different tenses. You can also say "Soeben hat es zwölf geschlagen". Furthermore, "eben" can be used for a longer time span than just a couple seconds. I'd certainly say minutes, surely up to half an hour. Jul 14, 2019 at 18:33
  • Eben! Eben noch war Obama US-Präsident, herrscht nun ein Rumpeldiplomat. Die Zeitspanne ist sehr abhängig vom Kontext. Fragen zu grundsätzlich anderen Bedeutungen von "eben" hat die Frage ausgeschlossen - mir leuchtet nicht ein, wieso man darauf beharrt das dennoch zu thematisieren. Jul 15, 2019 at 7:32

Zusammenfassend: soeben is only used to refer to events which happened just now or are happening now. Another important difference that goes beyond the temporal meaning, is that eben is often used with the meaning of the modal particle "halt", but with broader semantics and usage than that of "halt".

  • Die Bedeutung ist in der Frage ausdrücklich auf "just now" eingegrenzt. Jul 15, 2019 at 7:35
  • Danke für den Hinweis. Habe die Antwort korrigiert. Finde es schon wichtig, dass das Wort "modal particle" erwähnt wurde, weil eben eben ein sehr wichtiger Bestandteil der deutschen Umgangssprache ist.
    – Dan
    Jul 15, 2019 at 23:59

Both sentences are highly colloquial, with limited distribution [where?], if not incorrect, and mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean.

soeben is probably a conjunction equating two events, "at the same time". Whereas eben' should probably be ebend, in analogy to anschließend, which is adverbial and should not appear in front position, as Es already does that job very well, "Es schlägt Zwölf*. Compare Hier kommt Kurt: Eben schlägt Zwölf--one of these is wrong, but why? ebe-n is mainly an adjective, cp. grü-n, erhabe-n, etc.

Where eben is used you can also use jetzt, for the present, or gerade for the near past and eben gerade. Near past might in some dialects actually even just use present tense with a temporal key word, I'm actually even just not sure.

  • I would not call the example sentences colloquial, on the contrary. But I would call "ebend" highly colloquial, if not plainly wrong. "Ebend" is a malapropism of "eben", "ebenda", "ebendrum", etc.
    – Sir Jane
    Jul 16, 2019 at 12:31
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    @SirJane there is simply little to no use for a situational adverb of time in formal writing, simply because it is imprecise. And it is surely used in conversation as a discurse marker when introducing a new topic. Instances of "kannst du das mal eben[d] halten* are highly informal at that, and no, mal has nothing to do with that, it just goes to prove the point. Whether ebend seems unusual to you has no weight, as I was trying to make a formal argumen
    – vectory
    Jul 16, 2019 at 14:18
  • I do maybe misuse colloquial and confuse it with informal. The example sentences are weird anyhow, I am generalizing.
    – vectory
    Jul 16, 2019 at 14:20

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