Have you ever struggled with how these two conjunctions are used? You probably have that’s why you are so eager to find out. Anyway, I’m so excited to help you overcome this struggle with these two conjunctions.
Als and wenn both mean “when” in English. Once again this exposes the limitation of words in English. German language has so many words for everything in English. As a matter of fact, it has more than enough words that you don’t have to use one word to me different things like in English.
Since they are both subordinate conjunctions, they displace the conjugated verb from its standard second position to the end of the sentence.
Als which can have several meanings ranging from as, than and when is only used as “when” in English when it is used in association with past tense. That is, when making expressions of occurrences that took place in the past. See the illustrations below.
- When I was a child, I visited my homeland with my parents.—— als ich ein Kind war, besuchte ich mit meinen Eltern mein Heimatland.
- what did you eat when you arrived/got home last night?—— was hast du gegessen, als du letzte Nacht nach Hause angekommen bist?
- Susan wanted to be a veterinarian when she was younger.—— Susanne wollte Tierärztin werden, als sie junger war.
Wenn on the other hand also has several meanings. It could either mean “if” or “when”. It is used as if only in the subjunctive II. While als is used as “when” in past tense, wenn is used in the present tense to make expressions of situations that you are very certain would occur. See the illustrations below.
- I will be a dentist when I finish studying at the university.—— ich werde Zahnarzt sein, wenn ich an der Universität vorbei studiere.
- You should have a shower when you get home.—— du sollst dich duschen, wenn du nach Hause gehst.
- I want my son to marry the most beautiful woman in the world when he grows up.—— ich möchte, dass mein Sohn die schönste Frau in der Welt heiratet, wenn er groß ist.