Many students have asked me about the difference between wenn and wann in German. I’m going to explain both words in this post.
1. Wann is only used in questions
Example: Wann kommst du? When are you coming?
If the question is indirect, you must put a comma before wann and put the conjugated verb in the last position of the sentence!
Example: Können Sie mir sagen, wann Sie ankommen? Could you tell me when (what time) you arrive?
If the main clause (the first one) is not a question, then the indirect question has no question mark!
Example: Helga möchte wissen, wann du kommst. Helga would like to know when you are coming.
2. Wenn is used in the following cases:
- in sentences starting with ‘when’, meaning ‘when something happens’ (time clauses),
- in sentences starting with ‘if’, like ‘if A, then B’ (conditional clauses).
Since wenn is a subordinating conjunction, the conjugated verb must always be, in either case, in the last position of the sentence.
Example: Ich gebe dir das Buch, wenn wir uns das nächste Mal sehen. I’ll give you the book the next time we meet (“see each other”).
Or with the subordinate clause in the first place: Wenn wir uns das nächste Mal sehen, gebe ich dir das Buch. The next time we meet, I’ll give you the book.
Ich hätte das gemacht, wenn ich an deiner Stelle wäre. I would have done it if I were in your place.
Or with the subordinate clause in the first place: Wenn ich an deiner Stelle wäre, hätte ich das gemacht. If I was in your place, I would have done it.
Note: Pay attention to the subject-verb inversion in the second version. This is due to the whole subordinate clause occupying the first position of the sentence.
Now, if you want to practise this issue you can download the following exercise and send it to me if you want it corrected. 🙂