DAMIT oder UM…ZU: Their differences and similarities?

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It is true that German has more words than English and while this can be of great advantage, it can equally be confusing and in turn be disadvantageous to non-native speakers. This is because one has to carefully decide when making use of words – most especially those that are closely intertwined or have (almost) the same meaning. This is the case of damit and um…zu but of course, as an English speaker I’ll help you easily differentiate between them. Just walk with me… SLOOoooowwwLLyyy 😅.

Content in this post
1. Similarities and differences between um…zu and damit
2. How to determine when to use either damit or um…zu
3. How they are both used to make standard sentences
4. How to make flexed sentences with um…zu and damit
Table of content for damit oder um…zu

As supposedly known, damit is a subordinate conjunction and it is used to form a “Nebensatz” by placing the conjugated verb at the end of a german sentence. It can also be a prepositional pronoun that is derived from the combination of da + mit which would have one of its English translations as “with it” and rather forms a “Hauptsatz” where the verb is placed at the second position.

As far as this topic is concerned, damit takes the meaning of “in other that” or “so that”. This meaning of damit is similar in German with that of the phrase “um… zu” which is translated as “in other to” in English.

One major similarity between damit and um…zu is that they are both used to finalize a sentence and must be separated from the main sentence with a comma. While damit and um…zu can have different meanings in English, it is not so in German since they are both used to make the same expression but with a difference in sentence structure.

When to use DAMIT or UM…ZU?

As a subordinate conjunction, damit is used to form a subordinate clause while um… zu is not. From the definition of what a sentence is, every sentence needs at least a subject and a conjugated verb for it to be appropriate. This is unfortunately not possible with um… zu but rather with damit and thus their major difference. What this simply means is that a simple sentence with damit and um… zu would both be in the following order;

  • damit + subject + (object, adverb, adjective, infinite verb etc.) + conjugated verb
  • um + (object, adverb, adjective etc.) + zu + infinite verb

If carefully observed, you would see that everything in bracket in the illustration above is optional. That means they must not be present in the sentence. The choice of whether damit or um…zu should be used is dependent on the four circumstances below;

  1. If the sentence is intended to be made with two similar or two different subjects, damit must be used.
  2. If the sentence is intended to have just one subject, then um…zu must be used.
  3. If the sentence must have two conjugated verbs, damit should be used.
  4. If you wish to literally use the English preposition “to” with the verb, use um…zu but if not then use damit.

Note that sentences with um…zu must always have at least two verbs but only one must be conjugated while every other verb must be in the infinitive. This is because sentences with um… zu always refer to the same subject. On the other hand, sentences with damit can have different subjects. These are illustrated below.

One similar subject: Ich kaufe Möhren, um die Möhrensuppe kochen zu können.
(I am buying carrots in other to be able to cook the carrot soup)
Two similar subjects: Ich kaufe Möhren, damit ich die Möhrensuppe kochen kann.
(I am buying carrots so that I can/ in other that I am able to cook the carrot soup)

Two Different subjects: Ich kaufe Möhren, damit du Möhrensuppe kochen kannst.
(I am buying carrots in other that you are able to cook the carrot soup)
Flexed sentence: Um die Möhrensuppe kochen zu können, kaufe ich Möhren.
(In other to be able to cook the carrot soup, I am buying carrot)
Damit ich die Möhrensuppe kochen kann, kaufe ich Möhren.
(In other that I am able to cook the carrot soup, I am buying carrots)
Sentences comparing um…zu to damit

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