When should "falls" be preferred to "wenn" in expressing conditional sentences?

Also, are the cases in which the use of "falls" (or of "wenn") to translate "if" is unidiomatic or a mistake?

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The usage of falls is exclusive to the conditional 1 but wenn isn't. For this reason falls is always translated to if. Well, of course you can use synonyms like in case of as well.

Wenn, however, can be translated to if only in conditional sentences. In case of being used as temporal conjunction you should go with when.

Sag bitte Bescheid, wenn du fertig bist! - Le me know, when you're done.

In case of conditional 1 I can't think of any sentences in which it isn't appropriate to interchange falls and when. If you're unsure whether or not wenn is conditional you can try to replace it with falls. If falls fits wenn is conditional and you translate it with if. This works only for conditional 1 as Emanuel pointed out in his comment. Conditional 2 is only build with wenn.

Last but not least, wenn has a lot of different meanings. You can translate, for example, wenn auch with although, even though. Looking at the numerous definitions of if I'd say that there certainly are some cases in which if is translated to wenn although not being conditional. But this is not part of this question I guess.

  • 1
    In addition to that, "falls" has two possible connotations. Either you're an elementary school teacher, or a git trying to sound intellectual, or you want to point out that you don't believe the condition will actually become true: "Wenn sie rechtzeitig kommt, schaffen wir den Zug noch. Falls sie kommt." -- If she's on time, we'll still catch that train. If she comes (which I don't believe!). – Damon Dec 30 '12 at 17:36

The translations of

falls would be: in case, if
wenn would be: if, when

Die Konjunktionen wenn und falls unterscheiden sich insofern, als wenn auch immer eine temporale Bedeutung hat. Falls/sofern haben ausschließlich konditionale Bedeutung.

Wenn Eltern sehr beschäftigt sind, verbringen Kinder oft unbeaufsichtigt Zeit vor dem Fernseher. Falls/sofern/im Falle, dass sich das Fernsehverhalten ändert, kann sich auch das Lernverhalten ändern. Als PP: Im Falle einer Änderung des Fernsehverhaltens kann sich auch das Lernverhalten ändern.


  • 1
    Wenn eine Zahl durch 6 teilbar ist, dann ist sie auch durch 3 teilbar. Wo ist hier die temporale Bedeutung von wenn. – user unknown Dec 27 '12 at 0:06
  • Immer wenn eine Zahl durch 6 teilbar ist, dann ist sie auch durch 3 teilbar. Falls eine Zahl durch 6 teilbar ist, dann ist sie auch durch 3 teilbar würde ich auch als richtig erachten. – bummi Dec 27 '12 at 0:12
  • Sollte temporal nicht bedeuten, dass erst das eine, dann das andere der Fall ist? Bei der Teilbarkeit durch 3 und 6 ist aber keine Reihenfolge gegeben. – user unknown Dec 27 '12 at 0:15
  • temporal heißt nicht unbedingt erst eins dann das andere... Dinge können auch gleichzeitig passieren. Und dann hat jedes wenn auch einen konditionalen Anteil und falls lässt sich auch temporal lesen. Das einzige pure temporale Wrt in diesem Zusammenhang ist als... und nur in der Vergangenheit lässt sich eine konditionale Kompenente ausschliessen. In der Zukunft geht das nicht – Emanuel Dec 27 '12 at 18:44
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    "Als ich ein Kind war... " hat eine klare temporale Bedeutung. Jedes falls, dass durch wenn ersetzt werden kann, kann man logischerweise auch mit einem temporalen Anteil wahrnehmen... das ist aber vielleicht Ansichtssache. Wann soll ich dir das Buch bringen..." "Egal... einfach wenn du mal Zeit hast" "Egal... einfach falls du Zeit hast..." das zweite klingt zugegebener Maßen schief aber völlig auszuschließen ist es meiner Ansicht nach in gesprochener Sprache nicht. – Emanuel Dec 28 '12 at 22:28

Falls and wenn are interchangeable whenever you're expressing a conditional. Falls also has the connotation of stressing that you're talking about a conditional. Therefore, I think, falls is never unidiomatic.

falls (für den Fall, dass/im Falle/sofern) = if, in the case of
wenn = synonymous for falls
wenn (sobald) = when, as soon as

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    Sorry but this is not correct: Falls du angerufen hättest, hätten wir telefoniert. This sounds wrong with falls and yet it is conditional. Falls does in fact not go well together with conditional aspect. – Emanuel Dec 27 '12 at 18:45
  • That example sounds perfectly fine to me. What meaning does falls have for you if not conditional?? – alexraasch Dec 27 '12 at 19:58
  • I mean that it doesn't sound well with/ is not used that much with conditional forms of the verb. It is correct that it has expresses a condition, but in my opinion this condition has to be somewhat realistic. The condition in my example is entirely unrealistic. It cannot happen. I know that it is not totally wrong but this is not the way people use falls. People would probably say wenn at least in the Berlin area and north Germany in general... maybe I just misunderstood what you mean by conditional... I think of the verb tense /aspect and I think many English speakers would do so too – Emanuel Dec 27 '12 at 22:49
  • Actually @Emanuel is right. When I wrote my answer I did only think of conditional 1 in which these words are indeed interchangeable. But in case of conditional 2 it sounds very odd to use "falls". The sentence he mentioned in his first comment must be "Wenn du angerufen hättest" or simply "Hättest du angerufen". This is valid at least for standard German. Perhaps Austria and Switzerland handle it differently. – Em1 Dec 28 '12 at 8:22
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    I was not referring to the conditional as a modality of the verb because falls obviously has nothing to do with that. We're talking about conditional clauses here, and falls is definitely a conditional conjunction. It also doesn't matter whether the condition is realistic or unrealistic, at least not for the conjunction. I'm from Northern Germany, and I don't have a problem with that sentence above, although it does sound off as a whole because it's like saying "If you talk to me, you talk to me." – alexraasch Dec 28 '12 at 11:42

Even both would be understood, in talks I think it is often used like that:

  • wenn = cases with only one consequence (example: Wenn 2 Menschen sich küssen, dann lieben sie sich.)

  • falls = cases with one or more possible consequences OR expecting some answer / reaction from the other person (example: Falls wir morgen kein Geld haben, dann bleiben wir zuhause oder gehen spazieren.... OR ....Falls wir morgen kein Geld haben, was sollen wir tun?)

The answer of Bummi is the closest correct answer to me.

  • 2
    This answer is misleading.... while at times it may be as suggested, the theory won't hold up when tested against daily convo... Falls es morgen nicht klappt, dann lassen wir es... people say this and many other things with only one outcome and vice versa wenn wir morgen kein Geld haben, was sollen wir tun.... – Emanuel Dec 27 '12 at 18:42
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    Like I said, both would be correct and understood, however regarding your comment, I would say "Wenn es morgen nicht klappt, dann lassen wir es". And "Falls" I would use if I ask "Falls es morgen nicht klappt, was tun wir dann?" – user2238 Dec 28 '12 at 8:52

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