Easy Learning German

Word order - Easy Learning Grammar German

  • Here is a ready-reference guide to the key points of German word order.

1 Main clauses

  • In a main clause the subject comes first and is followed by the verb, as in English.
Seine Mutter (subject) trinkt (verb) Whisky.His mother (subject) drinks (verb) whisky.
  • In tenses with more than one verb element, such as the perfect tense and the passive, the part of haben, sein or werden comes after the subject, and the past participle or infinitive goes to the end of the clause.
Sie hat mir nichts gesagt.She told me nothing.
Er ist spät angekommen.He arrived late.
Es wurde für ihn gekauft.It was bought for him.
  • A direct object usually follows an indirect object, except where the direct object is a personal pronoun.
Ich gab dem Mann (indirect object) das Geld (direct object).I gave the man the money.
Ich gab ihm (indirect object) das Geld (direct object).I gave him the money.
BUT
Ich gab es (direct object) ihm (indirect object).I gave it to him.
  • Note that the indirect object can also be placed last for emphasis, providing it is NOT a pronoun.
Er gab das Geld seiner Schwester.He gave the money to his sister. (not his brother)
  • For more information on Direct and Indirect objects, see The Cases.
  • As a general rule, adverbs are placed next to the words to which they refer.
  • Adverbs of time often come first in the clause, but this is not fixed.
Gestern gingen wir ins Theater
OR
Wir gingen gestern ins TheaterWe went to the theatre yesterday.
  • Adverbs of place can also come first in the clause when you want to emphasize something.
Dort haben sie Fußball gespielt.That’s where they played football.
  • Adverbs of manner comment on verbs and so are likely to come immediately after the verb they refer to.
Sie spielen gut Fußball.They play football well.
  • Where there is more than one adverb, a useful rule of thumb is:
    “TIME, MANNER, PLACE”
Wir haben gestern gut hierhin gefunden.We found our way here all right yesterday.
gestern = adverb of time
gut = adverb of manner
hierhin = adverb of place
  • If there is a pronoun object (a word like her, it, me or them) in the clause, it comes before all adverbs.
Sie haben es gestern sehr billig gekauft.They bought it very cheaply yesterday.
  • The normal word order in a main clause is subject followed by verb. The subject can be replaced as the first element by any of the words and phrases below. In such cases, the verb is the second element in the clause.
  • an adverb
Gestern sind wir ins Theater gegangen.We went to the theatre yesterday.
  • a direct or indirect object
Seinen Freunden wollte er es nicht zeigen.He wouldn’t show it to his friends.
  • an infinitive phrase
Ihren Freunden zu helfen, hat sie nicht versucht.She didn’t try to help her friends.
  • another noun or pronoun
Deine Schwester war es.It was your sister.
Sie war es.It was her.
  • a past participle
Geraucht hatte er nie.He had never, ever smoked.
  • a phrase with a preposition
In diesem Haus bin ich auf die Welt gekommen.I was born in this house.
  • a clause which acts as the object of the verb
Was mit ihm los war, haben wir nie herausgefunden.We never found out what was wrong with him.
  • a subordinate clause
Nachdem ich ihn gesehen hatte, ging ich nach Hause.I went home after seeing him.

2 Subordinate clauses

  • A subordinate clause may be introduced by a relative pronoun (a word such as der, die or dessen) or a subordinating conjunction (a word such as da, als or ob).
Die Kinder, die wir gesehen haben …The children whom we saw …
Da sie nicht schwimmen wollte, ist sie nicht mitgekommen.As she didn’t want to swim, she didn’t come.
  • The subject follows the conjunction or relative pronoun.
Ich weiß nicht, ob er kommt.I don’t know if he’s coming.
  • The main verb ALMOST ALWAYS goes to the end of a subordinate clause.
Als ich nach Hause kam, war ich ganz müde.When I came home I was really tired.
Grammar Extra!The exceptions to this are:
  • A clause which normally begins with wenn, but from which it can be left out.
Findest du mein Handy, so ruf mich bitte an.
INSTEAD OF
Wenn du mein Handy findest, ruf mich bitte an.If you find my mobile, please give me a call.
  • Indirect speech without the conjunction dass (meaning that).
Sie meint, sie werde es innerhalb einer Stunde schaffen.
INSTEAD OF
Sie meint, dass sie es innerhalb einer Stunde schaffen wird.She thinks (that) she will manage it inside an hour.
  • The rules applying to the order of articles, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, direct and indirect objects are the same in subordinate clauses as in main clauses, EXCEPT that all these words are placed between the subject of the clause and the relevant verb part.
MAIN CLAUSE:
Sie ist gestern mit ihrer Mutter in die Stadt gefahren.She went into town with her mother yesterday.
SUBORDINATE CLAUSE:
Da sie gestern mit ihrer Mutter in die Stadt gefahren ist.Since she went into town with her mother yesterday.
TipThe rule “time, manner, place” applies equally to subordinate clauses, EXCEPT that the verb goes to the end.
  • Word order in the imperative, in direct and indirect speech and in verbs with separable prefixes is covered in the relevant chapters:

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