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10 Is there any difference between “aber” und “sondern” (as “Konnektoren”)?

translation differences connotation linking-elements

I’m trying to study and understand how to use aber und sondern (as “Konnektoren”). In my
language (Italian) there is no difference in translation; both mean something like but.
I can say for example:

Ich muss in die Schule gehen, aber ich bin ein bisschen krank.

Ich spiele nicht Tennis, sondern ich spiele Fußball.

In these two examples (taken from my book), I don’t see any difference. Could I also use sondern
in the first sentence and aber in the second one? Would that make a difference?

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E.V. asked
1,935 ● 4 ● 19 ● 49 Dec 12 '14 at 11:58

● ●♦ ● 104
Wrzlprmft edited
18k 4 44 Dec 12 '14 at 13:21

Note that "Ich spiele nicht Tennis, aber ich spiele Fussball" is grammatically correct and makes sense, too. Just a
different sense. – Emanuel Dec 12 '14 at 12:49

A parallel would be the words "pero" and "sino" in Spanish. – JI Xiang Aug 29 at 4:52

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5 Answers order by votes

-"aber" has the same meaning as "however" and the contradicted clause can either be
17 positive or negative

-"sondern" is used only when the contradicted clause is negative, in other words contains
"nicht" or "kein", and it can be translated as "but rather" or "instead" (NOT "instead of")

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Anh Phong answered

● ●
368 2 10 Dec 12 '14 at 12:14

In your first example, aber is used as an explanation why you can’t go to school: You’re ill.
In your first example, aber is used as an explanation why you can’t go to school: You’re ill.
On the other hand, sondern always indicates some sort of contradiction or replacement,
e.g. if you correct a wrong statement (the assumption, that you play tennis).
By the way, if the same verb (in this case: spielen) is used for both actions, it is more
idiomatic to avoid mentioning it again. Thus, instead of:

Ich spiele nicht Tennis, sondern ich spiele Fußball

you should say:

Ich spiele nicht Tennis, sondern Fußball

Read more about it on this article on Your Daily German.

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JonaSc answered

59 1 Dec 12 '14 at 12:21

● ●♦ ● 104
Wrzlprmft edited
18k 4 44 Dec 12 '14 at 13:27

While aber is pretty close to the English but, the word sondern has a special meaning and
3 cannot be replaced by aber (and vice versa).

You are supposed to use sondern after a negated phrase to express, that you are now
talking about something true.

Ich mag keine Süßigkeiten, sondern Salziges.

In English you would use "rather than" in an inverse order.

I prefer salty stuff rather than candies.

Some other possibilities to express this are:

Ich mag keine Süßigkeiten, aber dafür / vielmehr / aber stattdessen Salziges.

Worth noting is, that all the proposals above are somewhat special and are not able to
replace sondern in an elegant and universal way.

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Barth Zalewski answered

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6,766 2 17 ● 45 Dec 12 '14 at 12:17

+1 for the link to 'rather-than'. Properly handling 'sondern' in such constructions seems to be very hard - even many
professional translators from English have trouble inserting it where they should. – Kilian Foth Dec 13 '14 at 9:52

In the first example compared to its english translation, are you still saying that you like candies? – Weapon X Feb 14 at
@WeaponX No, I am saying I do not like them – Barth Zalewski Jun 27 at 6:23

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Aber is used when you want to express the opposite between the statement in the main
clause and the one in the subordinate clause.

Sondern is used when the two concepts exclude each other. The two concepts cannot
happen at the same time. In the first sentence you have a negation expressed with nicht
or kein, which will help you to identify the word sondern as the appropriate one for the

Check the examples on this link to understand the differences better:

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peeter88 answered

21 1 Oct 22 '15 at 21:43

user unknown edited

● ●
15.7k 2 26 ● 76 Aug 21 at 9:51

"Sondern" is only used if the two ideas come for the same category. With category I mean
0 eg. a profession (doctor/manager) or a game (tennis/badminton) or a temperature


Es ist nicht kalt, sondern sehr warm. (It's not cold but very warm.) Es ist nicht kalt, aber
ich ziehe mir eine dicke Jacke an. (It's not cold but I'll wear a big coat.)

In the first example "cold" and "warm" are both adjectives which describe temperature.
So, they come from one category. In the second example the two ideas of the two
sentences are in contrast, too but one sentence describes a temperature and they other
what somebody is going to wear. At last hint which might help you is, that there must be
a negation form (nicht or kein) in the first sentence to use "sondern." If there is no "nicht"
or "kein" in the first sentence you have to use "aber".

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Dagmar Lohnes answered

1 Aug 21 at 3:58

user unknown edited

● ●
15.7k 2 26 ● 76 Aug 21 at 9:55

Please note that posting the work of others with no indication that it is not your own is frowned on by our community,
and may result in your answer being down-voted or deleted. When you find a useful resource that can help answer a
question, make sure that give proper credit to the author and site where you found the text, including a direct link to it. –

Loong Aug 21 at 5:13
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