At first appearance there is no difference between um zu and damit because both constructions belong to the so-called final sentences and express the purpose of an action and are asked with “Wozu” (for that) or “Zu welchem Zweck” (with what purpose ?)

The difference between um zu and damit can be seen well in the next example:

Peter lernt Englisch, um in Kanada arbeiten zu können.

What does Peter learn English for? To be able to work in Canada

The subject is identical and is a so-called construction in Infinitive, belongs to the group of “subjektloser Nebensatz”, “subordinate phrases without subject”

Peter lernt Englisch, damit sein Chef ihn befördert

For what Peter learns English? For his boss to promote him to a better position.

Here the difference between um zu and damit is that the subject is not identical.


More examples to explain it:

Mein Vater braucht jeden Morgen eine Brille, um die Zeitung zu lesen.

My father needs glasses every morning to read the newspaper. Here the subject is identical

Peter muss jeden Tag das Zimmer aufräumen, damit seine Mutter nicht schimpft

Peter has to clean his room every day so that his mother does not scold. Subject is not identical.


Some rules:

* Damit can also be used when the subject is identical

Wir arbeiten sehr viel, damit wir uns ein Haus kaufen können

if we say:

Wir arbeiten sehr viel, um uns ein Haus zu kaufen

we express the same purpose. Stylistically it is better to use um zu instead of damit when the subject is identical.

* The modal verbs möchten, wollen and sollen are used to express a purpose, but can not be used in this type of construction with um zu and damit. Instead können is used as a possibility


Sabine studiert Informatik, damit sie als Informatikerin arbeiten kann.


Small final summary of the difference between um zu and damit:

-The use of damit is obligatory when the subject is not identical

The structure “um … zu” belongs to the so-called infinitive sentences and the subject is omitted again. An example:

Peter studiert viel, um einen guten Job zu bekommen.