How to use trotzdem and obwohl

In this article I want to show you how to use the two small German words trotzdem and obwohl, and highlight the differences between the two.

Need some tips to learn German at home?

The reason why trotzdem and obwohl are studied together is that their meaning is almost identical.

On the contrary, the use within a sentence is different between the two. Which initially confuses the student.

In both cases, trotzdem and obwohl, we speak of propositions or concessive connectors.

What does it mean?

Suppose we have two unconnected sentences. The two sentences are the primary sentence, which describes an action, and a secondary sentence, which illustrates an unexpected continuation of the action in the first sentence.

In both cases they are two complete sentences, and also two main sentences (Hauptsätze).

Trotzdem

Let’s suppose we have these two sentences.

LanguageSentence 1Sentence 2
EnglishToday rained.I took a walk.
GermanHeute hat es geregnet.Ich habe einen Spaziergang gemacht.

To join the two sentences, in English I would say:

Today it rained, nevertheless I took a walk.

Nevertheless, it is the connector between the two sentences.

There is talk of concessive connector, as the second sentence describes an unexpected continuation of the action in the first sentence.

Bei der konzessiven Satzverbindung werden zwei S√§tze verbunden, bei denen der zweite Satz die “unerwartete Folge” einer “Handlung” (“Aktion”) beschreibt.

Are you interested in trying an online lesson? Go to the page German lessons via Skype you will find all the information

In German for the conjunction of the two sentences the adverb trotzdem is used:

Heute hat es geregnet, trotzdem habe ich einen Spaziergang gemacht.

As seen in the example above, in the sentence introduced by trotzdem it is necessary to invert the verb and the subject.

For the construction of the sentence you can refer to the scheme below.

Sentence 1,trotzdemSentence 2 (with inversion of verb and subject)
Heute hat es geregnet,trotzdemhabe ich einen Spaziergang gemacht.

Another example to reinforce the concept.

These are the two sentences.

LinguaFrase 1Frase 2
EnglishThe book is really beautiful.I find the book costs too much.
GermanDas Buch ist sehr schön.Ich finde, dass das Buch zu viel kostet.

This is the resulting sentence:

Das Buch ist sehr schön, trotzdem finde ich, dass es zu viel kostet.

Obwohl

Obwohl has the same meaning, but the construction of the phrase is different.

This is because Obwohl is a conjunction and introduces a secondary sentence (Nebensatz).

Recall that in the Nebensatz the verb always goes in the last position.

Obwohl das Buch sehr schön ist, ich finde, dass es zu viel kostet.

The reference scheme is as follows:

ObwohlNebensatz (without inversion),Hauptsatz (with inversion)
Obwohles heute geregnet hat,habe ich einen Spaziergang gemacht.

The sentence introduced by obwohl can also go to the end. In this case, the inversion does not go into the main sentence (Hauptsatz).

This is the reference scheme:

Hauptsatz (without inversion),obwohlNebensatz (without inversion)
Ich habe einen Spaziergang gemacht,obwohles heute geregnet hat.

A common mistake among novice students, not to be done because it completely changes the meaning of the sentence, giving it an absurd meaning, is to put obwohl in the wrong sentence.

For example, the following would be wrong, not grammatically but logically:

Obwohl ich einen Spaziergang gemacht habe, hat es heute geregnet.

The equivalent in English is:

Despite taking a walk, it rained.

As if I expected that, as a consequence of taking a walk, it shouldn’t have rained.

But …

In the most correct form of German (Hochdeutsch), the use of trotzdem and obwohl is that described above, but in practice there are also deviations.

In fact, in speech, especially in the southern part of Germany, trotzdem is sometimes used instead of obwohl, using the same construction as for obwohl.

For example,

Trotzdem es heute geregnet hat, habe ich einen Spaziergang gemacht.

The Duden himself cites this use of trotzdem as colloquial form (umgangssprachlich).

Other examples

A classic exercise on the topic is to build joint sentences using trotzdem first and obwohl after.

Let’s not miss this classic.

  
Sentence 1:Ich liebe N√ľsse.
Sentence 2:Ich bin allergisch.
With trotzdem:Ich liebe N√ľsse, trotzdem bin ich allergisch.
With obwohl:Obwohl ich N√ľsse liebe, bin ich allergisch.
..
Sentence 1:Das Kind hat eine Erkältung.
Sentence 2:Die Mutter bringt es in den Kindergarten.
With trotzdem:Das Kind hat eine Erkältung, trotzdem bringt es die Mutter in den Kindergarten
With obwohl:Obwohl das Kind eine Erkältung hat, bringt es die Mutter in den Kindergarten.
..
Sentence 1:Der Chef hat die Geh√§lter der Mitarbeiter gek√ľrzt.
Sentence 2:Niemand hat sich dar√ľber beschwert.
With trotzdem:Der Chef hat die Geh√§lter der Mitarbeiter gek√ľrzt, trotzdem hat sich niemand dar√ľber beschwert.
With obwohl:Obwohl der Chef die Geh√§lter der Mitarbeiter gek√ľrzt hat, hat sich niemand dar√ľber beschwert.
..
Sentence 1:Heute arbeite ich im Garten.
Sentence 2:Ich habe keine Lust.
With trotzdem:Heute arbeite ich im Garten, obwohl ich keine Lust habe.
With obwohl:Obwohl ich keine Lust habe, arbeite ich heute im Garten.

References

  1. Duden: trotzdem
  2. Duden: obwohl
  3. Nebensatz: obwohl