According to Grammar rules: The meaning of “als” in German as a conjunction is very similar to the English “when.” The main difference is that you can ONLY use it in the past tense (Präteritum, Perfekt, and Plusquamperfekt) but NOT in the present or any of the two German future tenses.

Now consider this sentence:

Was ist das für ein Vergnügen mit dem VW 181, als er als „Alter im Test" zu uns kommt!

The second als definitely means as. The first als should only mean when, otherwise the sentence doesn't make sense. (when it as .... comes to us.) However, the sentence is in simple present tense (kommt not kam) and according to the strict rule above, als can only mean when if it is used in the past tense.

So, could the first als mean anything else? Could it mean except here?

  • You would most likely see past tense in the first sentence, talking about the past as if you were in the past is uncommon in my opinion, so I would not stress over it. Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 2:10

1 Answer 1


The rule is not about concrete tense, but about semantics.

"Als" is used for one-time temporal comparisons in the past, and past events are usually described with the imperfect tense. However, it's a perfectly valid (although unusual) choice of style to use the present tense for an entire narrative set in the past, and then 'als' will be used in exactly the same way. In fact, without looking at the context of that sentence, I expect that it is precisely such a past-events-told-in-present-tense text.

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