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Difference between "als" and "wenn" explained easily

Today you will learn the difference between "als" and "wenn" with many examples so that you understand how to use them.

If you have read all the examples thoroughly and done all the "als" and "wenn" exercises, you will understand the difference.

The words "als" and "wenn" are often confused in temporal clauses. A temporal clause is a subordinate clause in which the time is important. You can use a temporal clause to answer the following questions, for example:

How long?


From when?

Since when etc.


Ich werde nervös, wenn ich deutsch spreche. I get nervous when I speak German.

Wann wirst du nervös? - Wenn ich deutsch spreche (Nebensatz).

When do you get nervous? - When I speak German (subordinate clause).

You can also swap the main and subordinate clauses.

Wenn ich deutsch spreche, werde ich nervös. When I speak German, I get nervous.

When do we use "als"?

We use the word als when we talk about a unique event in the past.

It doesn't matter if it's the perfect, past or past perfect tense, as long as it happened in the past.


Als ich in Deutschland war, habe ich viel deutsch gesprochen. When I was in Germany, I spoke a lot of German.

Als ich 18 Jahre alt wurde, habe ich mir ein schnelles Auto gekauft. When I turned 18, I bought a fast car.

Als ich 5 Jahre alt war, hatte ich sehr lange Haare. When I was 5 years old, I had very long hair.

A: Wann hast du viel deutsch gesprochen? When did you speak a lot of German?

B: Als ich in Deutschland war. When I was in Germany.

In all sentences, it is a one-time event that happened in the past and that is why we use the conjunction als. If it happens in the present or the future, we use the conjunction wenn.

When do we use "wenn"?

We use the word "wenn" when we talk about a single event or events that happen several times in the present or future or about multiple events in the past.

Don't worry, I've made a diagram below that will help you understand this quite easily.

Examples of the use of if in the present or future tense

One-time event:

Wenn ich mehr Geld verdiene, kaufe ich mir ein Haus. I'll buy a house if I earn more money.

Ich gönne mir einen Urlaub, wenn das Projekt beendet ist. I'll treat myself to a holiday when the project is finished.

Ruf Bescheid, wenn du Zeit hast. Let me know when you have time.

These example sentences are about the present or the future and that is why we use the conjunction 'wenn'.

Using als and wenn in the past tense

Now you have to pay attention!