Difficult Correlative Conjunctions in German

Difficult Correlative Conjunctions in German

The correlative conjunctions are called zweigliedrige Konjunktionen in German, meaning they are conjunctions formed by 2 parts that belong together (one part in each clause).

Difficult correlative conjunctions in German are:

  1. Adversative/concessive: zwar …, aber/doch … (but/[al]though)
  2. Adversative negative: nicht …, sondern … (not …, but …)
  3. Copulative: nicht nur …, sondern auch … (not only … but also …), sowohl …, als auch … (both … and …)

1. zwar …, aber/doch

This one is the most used but also the most difficult one to explain. It expresses that something (positive) is there or has happened (the “concession”) but there is also something negative to it or something that has not (yet) happened.

The aber/doch part may co-occur in the same clause with the adverb trotzdem in order to put more emphasis on the adversative clause.

Doch is somewhat more formal than aber.


  1. Daniel ist zwar Deutscher, aber er ist nicht in Deutschland aufgewachsen. (D. is German but he didn’t grow up in Germany./Although D. is German, he didn’t grow up in Germany.) → Result: He doesn’t speak German like a German does (who grew up in Germany).
  2. Wir haben zwar aufgepasst, doch wir haben es trotzdem noch nicht verstanden. (We did pay attention, but we still haven’t understood it.)

2. nicht …, sondern …

This conjunction is similar to point 1 but the difference is: the first clause is negative, and zwar does never appear in the same sentence as sondern. The second clause expresses the affirmative part.

If the negation refers to a noun it becomes kein.


  1. Ich komme nicht aus Deutschland, sondern aus Österreich. (I am not from Germany but from Austria.)
  2. Sie möchte keinen Tee, sondern Kaffee! (She doesn’t want tea but coffee!)

3. nicht nur …, sondern auch …/sowohl …, als auch

These two conjunctions express the same thing: that both clauses are affirmative. The difference: the first one can be used both for positive and negative sentences (for emphasis, you can add noch in the second clause after sondern auch).

Sowohl …, als auch … is only for positive sentences and it sounds somewhat more formal.


  1. Der Kurs war nicht nur teuer, sondern auch (noch) langweilig! (The course was not only expensive but also boring!)
  2. Ich habe nicht nur meine Hausaufgaben gemacht, sondern auch (noch) die Wohnung aufgeräumt. (Not only I’ve done my homework but I’ve also tidied up the flat.)/Ich habe sowohl meine Hausaufgaben gemacht, als auch die Wohnung aufgeräumt. (I did both my homework and tidy up the flat.)

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