I looked at a similar thread that had attempted to help people understand when one would use "denn" vs. "weil".

I keep reading, the difference is: "Denn" follows a main clause and "weil" introduces a subordinate conjunction, but both words are subordinating conjunctions, yes? Which make them both introduce a subordinate clause, do they not? Zum Beispiel:

  1. Ich kann nicht arbeiten, weil ich krank bin.

  2. Ich kann nicht arbeiten, denn ich bin krank.

So both sentences mean the same thing. However, apparently weil introduces a subordinate clause, while denn is followed by a main clause.

Don't they both introduce a subordinate clause since they both introduce an incomplete sentence? And aren't they both followed by a main clause?

  • 1
    Ich bin krank. is a complete sentence.
    – Olafant
    Mar 17, 2021 at 12:14
  • As is "ich kann nicht arbeiten".
    – Carsten S
    Mar 17, 2021 at 12:41
  • 1
    No, "denn" is a so-called coordinating conjunction, connecting e.g. two main clauses.
    – mic
    Mar 17, 2021 at 14:53
  • Similar: german.stackexchange.com/questions/43819/…
    – RHa
    Mar 17, 2021 at 19:25
  • Bitte schreibe die Satzanfänge groß und nutze die angebotenen Auszeichnungsmöglichkeiten (z.B. kursiv), statt private Syntax einzuführen, wenn möglich. Mar 17, 2021 at 22:24

1 Answer 1


I think the best way to translate the difference into English is to think of weil as "since" or "because", and denn as "for" in it's somewhat dated meaning as a conjunction. The difference in English is that you can start a sentence with a "since" or "because" clause, but you can't start a sentence with a "for" clause. For example:

I'm lonesome because my gal has gone away.
Because my gal has gone away, I'm lonesome.
I'm lonesome, for my gal has gone away.

are all possilbe. But:

For my gal has gone away, I'm lonesome. (?)

is ungrammatical. (I'm trying to use an old-timey register here because "for" isn't used much in this way in modern times.)

In German, the same difference exists between coordinate clauses and subordinate clauses; a clause with a subordinating conjunction (wiel, falls, obwohl, etc.) can come before the main clause, but a clause with a coordinating conjunction (und, oder, denn), must come after the main clause. In German however, there is an additional requirement that the word order for subordinate clauses be changed to put the verb last, while in English the word order stays the same. The difference between a subordinating and coordinating clause has nothing to do with meaning really, which is why you see conjunctions with same meaning in both types; it's more to do with the syntax that's used. (Note, I'm not implying that a sentence can't start with a coordinating conjunction, since they often do in both English and German, but this only happens when the sentence in question is continuing the line of thought from a previous sentence. You can't start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction to join a subclause with the main clause, so "And I went to bed, I was tired," is ungrammatical.)

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