As a result of the limitation of words in English language, several German words can mean just a single word in English. This variation which is also found in subordinate conjunction can only be clarified in English by the use of context as described below.

Als and Wenn when used as “when”: als is used as “when” when it involves an occurrence that took place in the past while wenn is used for the present to show that one is sure of something that will happen. Compare the examples below.

  • when I was a child, I played with toys.—— als ich ein Kind war, habe ich mit Spielzeugen gespielt.
  • when you grow up, you will be a doctor.—— wenn du erwächst, wirst du Ärztin sein.
  • meine Eltern haben geschieden, als ich 10 Jahre alt war.—— My parents got divorced when I was 10 years old.

Wenn and Ob when used as “if”: wenn means “if” when it is used to express a wish or desire. This is often in the subjunctive. While “ob” is used to express uncertainty or something that is not guaranteed. Compare the examples below.

  • Wenn ich reich wäre, würde ich einen Volkswagen kaufen.—— if I were rich, I would buy a Volkswagen.
  • Maria weiß nicht, ob sie einen Volkswagen oder einen Ford kaufen soll.—— Mary doesn’t know if she should buy a Volkswagen or Ford.
  • Ich hätte einen Garten mit schönen Rosen, wenn ich eine Prinzessin wäre.—— I would have a German with beautiful roses if I wear a princess.

Wenn and Wann when used as “when”: they are both used with respect to duration and timing but wann is used when then timing is in the form of a question while wenn is used when the timing is with response to a question. Compare the examples.

  • Ich habe nicht vergessen, wann du deinen Geburtstag hast.—— I haven’t forgotten when you have your birthday.
  • Ich habe keine Ahnung, wann genau der Bus kommt.—— I have no idea when the bus is coming exactly.
  • Ich werde den Vertrag unterschreiben, wenn du mir einen Kugelschreiber gibst.—— I will the contract when you give me a pen.

Falls and ob whenused as “if”: while ob is used as “if” to express uncertainty, falls is used to intensify a situation in the form of a condition. In such cases it is best translated as “in case”. Compare examples.

  • Falls du dich entscheidest, Kinder zu haben, musst du verheiratet bist.—— if you decide to have children, you have to be married.
  • Ich möchte fragen, ob du einen Wünsch hast, Kinder zu haben?—— I would like to ask if you have a desire to have children?

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