Obwohl vs trotzdem

I had a really interesting question today from @rybalkin. Are there an rules about when and how to use “obwohl”?
He pointed out that the “obwohl” part of the sentence is stating a fact while the other part is describing an action. Quite right. And it made me think about the difference to “trotzdem” and I researched further…
I came across this link, explaining that “trotzdem” is used to connect Hauptsätze and “obwohl” is used to connect Nebensätze. I get that!
Any other thoughts or insights on that topic?

7 Likes

“obwohl” definitely indicates a Nebensatz (subclause), but it doesn’t connect two subclauses. “obwohl” connects a Hauptsatz with a Nebensatz.

Here is an example:
Ich gehe heute spazieren (Hauptsatz), obwohl ich keine Lust habe (Nebensatz).

2 Likes

@Anke, thank you for the interesting discussion today about abwohl vs trotzdem during our lesson. I faced this topic and tried to figure out if it is always clear if I should use obwohl or trotzdem. Or if sometime we can mix and get the same meaning.

In the link (that you mentioned) in the Falscher (umgangssprachlicher) Gebrauch bei Muttersprachlern section it is said that native speakers are also sometimes using it wrong. As example, it is written:

  • falsch (!): Trotzdem ich kein Geld habe, habe ich mir ein neues Auto gekauft.
  • richtig: Obwohl ich kein Geld habe, habe ich mir ein neues Auto gekauft.

It is said there that Trotzdem should be used for an unexpected result. But let’s imagine we have two sentences:

  • Ich habe ein neues Auto.
  • Ich habe kein Geld.

It is unexpected if they both appear at the same time. But is it not clear what is the “main” sentence because the second one is always unexpected:

  • Ich habe ein neues Auto. -> (unexpected) Ich habe kein Geld.
  • Ich habe kein Geld. -> (unexpected) Ich habe ein neues Auto.

Maybe I have stollen a car or got a credit for it…

So it seems that I can say both:

  • Ich habe ein neues Auto, trotzdem ich kein Geld habe.
  • Ich habe kein Geld, trotzdem ich ein neues Auto habe.

Correct me if I am wrong.

2 Likes

Here, the sentence structure is a bit wrong.
Correct is:
Ich habe kein Geld, trotzdem habe ich ein neues Auto. (verb “haben” at position two, after “trotzdem”)

In the second sentence, you have to use “obwohl”, but at the beginning:
Obwohl ich kein Geld habe, habe ich ein neues Auto. (Although I have no money, I have a new car.)

Or you can switch Hauptsatz and Nebensatz and make it this way:
Ich habe ein neues Auto, obwohl ich kein Geld habe.

2 Likes

Thank for the correction about “haben” at the wrong place. I am still learning it :slight_smile: But your answer is not fully about my question.

@SKrausser, you said that I can switch Hauptsatz and Nebensatz and I think I understand that. As I understand, it can be said formally that these structures are almost equivalent:

  • Obwohl A, B.
  • B, obwohl A. (just switched Hauptsatz and Nebensatz keeping obwohl)
  • A, trotzdem B. (removed obwohl but added trotzdem to the second part)

As I understand, for “I am running” and “it is raining” it is clear:

  • Correct: Ich laufe, obwohl es regnet.
  • Wrong: Es regnet, obwohl ich laufe. (otherwise it would mean that the “rain” should listen to me and make a decision based on if I am running or not)

My question if there are any natural sentences where we can say both:

  • Obwohl A, B.
  • Obwohl B, A.

And it seems that for “Ich habe ein neues Auto” and “Ich habe kein Geld” this is the case. I found the same Usage differences of “obwohl” and “trotzdem” discussion but the final conclusion is not quite clear.

It is similar to the question if we can say:

  • Es ist grün, obwohl es groß ist.
  • Es ist groß, obwohl es grün ist.

Usually grün and groß are incomparable and we cannot say if there is a causality between grün and groß. But if it is a tomato, then “if groß then rot” when a tomato is growing :slight_smile:

  • Die Tomato ist grün, obwohl sie groß ist.
  • Die Tomato ist groß, obwohl sie grün ist.

Can I say naturally these two last sentences? :slight_smile:

1 Like
  • Die Tomate ist grün, obwohl sie groß ist.
  • Die Tomate ist groß, obwohl sie grün ist.

–> Yes, that makes sence, because “grün” and “groß” are (referring to tomatoes :wink:) indeed opposites :clap:t4:

2 Likes

So, with the same idea in mind, can I naturally say:

  • Ich habe ein neues Auto, obwohl ich kein Geld habe.
  • Ich habe kein Geld, obwohl ich ein neues Auto habe.

Does it sound natural? And if no, then what is the difference with “tomatos”? :slight_smile:

1 Like

No, that doesn’t sound natural.
It seems that it’s the same thing with “even though” in English.

You can just say

  • Ich habe ein neues Auto, obwohl ich kein Geld habe.

The reason is that “obwohl” introduces a so-called “Konzessivsatz”, explaining a counter-argument or a restriction. Have a look at this (German) explanation.

1 Like

Thank you for the link! I will try to read and understand it. I am not a native English speaker but it seems that I can say the same with “even though” saying both sentences. Maybe here is the problem in my understanding. Trying to understand that, I will search about “even though” on English linguists forum, like I did when asked about Das Gleis - ohne Artikel? here :slight_smile: Now I have good examples with tomatoes to puzzle :slight_smile:

2 Likes

The most important part of the answer was the part with the “Konzessivsatz”. Was the link helpful?