The way I learned nachdem (the conjunction) is that the action in a Nebensatz with it is happening before the action in the Hauptsatz; through which (and also because of the immediate examples showed where i learned this) i assumed this means the tenses of the verbs in these clauses also differ.

Duolingo example i stumbled upon:

"Nachdem die Leiterin kündigt, werde ich Chef." ("After the department head quits i'll become the boss")

The reason why it was a bit head-scratching is because i saw the verbs in the present tense in both (despite the action in the Hauptsatz happening in the future [because it's clear from the context the future is meant and so german uses the present tense in this case]) and because of my original assumption above.

So I would be really grateful to be confirmed that a clause with nachdem doesn't necessarily require a different verb tense than the one in the Hauptsatz but just the actual time of the actions in the two clauses have to be in sequence. Thanks 😎

  • In general, German uses future tense more sparingly than English, but even in English a translation with the same tense, "After the department head quits I become the boss," is perfectly acceptable.
    – RDBury
    Dec 7, 2023 at 22:46

1 Answer 1


This is a tricky one.

First off: you are right and "nachdem" means what happens in the Nebensatz introduced by it takes place before what happens in the Hauptsatz.

What makes things complicated is: obviously this is not storytelling, because in this case the Hauptsatz would have to be in Präteritum (and, because of that, the Nebensatz would be in Plusquamperfect):

Nachdem die Leiterin gekündigt hatte, wurde ich Chef.

This would relate something that happened, regardless of it being part of a fictional story or one which really took place. You'd find this in a novel as well as in someones telling about his life.

But if it is not storytelling, then it never happened. If it never happened it might be about to happen, but that is in the future. You (will!) become boss, whenever the old boss resigns. But in this case "nachdem" is wrong and should be replaced by "wenn". The Nebensatz can then be in Präsens, because the prerequisite exists now, but a second "werden" would put the main sentence into its correct place: the future. The future is described by the Futur in German. You don't become the boss, but - only after the prerequisite (old boss resigns) is met - you will become the boss. But the old boss's resignation hasn't happened up to now and if she ever will resign we can't be sure about until she does.

Wenn die Leiterin kündigt, werde ich Chef (werden).

It is quite often seen (but still incorrect) that "nachdem" (after) is used instead of "weil" (because), like this:

Nachdem wir uns einig sind, tun wir es. (WRONG)

This is simply a misuse of "nachdem". True, we first needed to agree in order to do it, but we don't do it after we agree upon it. We do it because we agreed. The "after" is just an implication of the agreement being a prerequisite.

A fringe case is storytelling happening in Präsens. It is a device to draw the listener/reader into the story by giving him the feeling that the related story unfolds diectly before him right here and right now:

Nachdem die Leiterin gekündigt hat, werde ich Chef.

This can be used in fictitious writing as a device, it would also befit the relation of something right now: you call your spouse and first you tell that the old boss finally resigned and - tadah! - you become the boss. But even here my gut feeling says the relationship between the two acts is not temporal but causal. The above sentence is more-or-less correct but I'd go with one of:

Da die Leiterin gekündigt hat, werde ich Chef.
Die Leiterin hat gekündigt und ich werde Chef.

Finally, I'd like to point out the translation you provided:

After the department head quits i'll become the boss.

In your english version you yourself use future tense to signify that the action in the main sentence hasn't happened yet. This is exactly what I said above about Futur, therefore either the translation to English silently corrected the errror in German or the german translation of the english sentence was not correct. Take your pick.

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