Word Order (Wortstellung) (2023)

Word Order (Wortstellung) (1)Word Order (Wortstellung) (2)
Best of all was riding bikes.

Note: The following description of German word order is conceptual in nature.Those who would prefer to follow a more mechanical - but ultimately less complete - set of rules would be better served by linking to theseprescriptive instructions for German word order. Both sites overlap considerably.

English vs. German Sentence Construction. English tends to rely mostly on word order to indicate the grammatical function of a word or phrase. Note the difference between "The village gives the dragon the virgin" and "The village gives the virgin the dragon" (Not to mention: "The virgin gives the dragon the village").

German relies more on inflections to show function. Endings, such as those indicating the nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive cases in three different genders, allow for some greater flexibility in clause construction. Hence "Der Hund beißt den Mann" and "Den Mann beißt der Hund" both mean "The dog bites the man" (as opposed to "The man bites the dog").But this flexibility is far from absolute. Appropriate German word order is important. On the one hand, it plays a major role in how a foreigner's command of the language is evaluated. On the other, and more importantly, each deviation from the "standard" or "expected" order carries significant information of its own.

That said, word order is a complex aspect of language, never wholly mastered by non-native speakers. Very few rules cover all possibilities, and context often trumps other considerations.When Robert Frost writes, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," it's poetic;if someone with a foreign accent says the same thing in conversation, it sounds like Yoda.

Word Order (Wortstellung) (3)Word Order (Wortstellung) (4)
We have been working towards this moment for 12 years.Many patients with Parkinson's disease can now live more normally again.

A. The Declarative Sentence (der Aussagesatz)

I. The Predicate (= Verb Phrase):

The most important concept for determining word order in German is the predicate. Sometimes called the "verb phrase" or "the verbal idea", the predicate can be a complex entity, especially in German. In a declarative sentence, its most basic form contains a finite verb, i.e, the one that changes with the subject: "Der Mann beißt den Hund" (The man bites the dog); "Die Männer beißen den Hund" (The men bite the dog).

    a. The Position of the Finite Verb:
    In a German declarative sentence, the finite verb always stands in the second position, while other elements can be moved around to indicate emphases in meaning:"Der Mann beißt den Hund"; "Den Hund beißt der Mann."

    This rule is so firm that when someone in conversation says, "Weiß ich nicht" or "Tut er nicht," it is clear to everyone that the initial word, "das," has been omitted and that the finite verb is still in the second position.

    b. Verb Complements:
    But the predicate can comprise more than just the finite verb. When it contains other elements, such as past participles, infinitives, or modal auxiliaries, these elements go to the end of the clause, while the finite part stands in the second position:

    Der Mann hat den Hund gebissen (or: Den Hund hat der Mann gebissen.)
    The man bit the dog.
    Der Mann wird den Hund beißen (or: "Den Hund wird der Mann beißen)
    The man will bite the dog.
    Der Mann will den Hund beißen(or: "Den Hund will der Mann beißen)
    The man wants to bite the dog.
    Der Mann wird den Hund beißen wollen.(or: "Den Hund wird der Mann beißen wollen).
    The man will want to bite the dog.
    Sie geht heute einkaufen. (or: Heute geht sie einkaufen).
    She is going shopping today.
    Mein Bruder lernt jetzt fahren.(or: Jetzt lernt mein Bruder fahren).
    My brother is learning to drive now.
    Wann geht Ihr Kind schlafen?
    When does your child go to bed?

    If the finite verb has a separable prefix,that, too, goes to the end:

    Wir holen meine Mutter am Bahnhof ab. We're picking my mother up at the train station.

    c. Verb Complements Made from Other Parts of Speech:
    To some degree in English, but much more so in German, the predicate can contain other parts of speech that combine with the verb conceptually. These "verb complements" are necessary parts of the predicate's meaning, not just augmentations. Here are three common examples:

    Sie spielt gern Tennis. She likes to play tennis.
    Ich spiele fast jeden Tag Schach. I play chess almost every day.
    Ich nehme lieber in der ersten Reihe Platz. I prefer to sit (take a seat) in the first row.

    In each case, the predicate is made up of the verb (in second position) and the object that is necessary to its meaning in this sentence (at the end). The concepts being presented are not simply verbs ("spielen" and "nehmen") that are then modified by their objects, but rather conceptual entities: "Tennis spielen," "Schach spielen," and "Platz nehmen." "Tennis," "Schach," and "Platz" are placed at the end of the clause just as if they were separable prefixes.

    Such complements are not limited to nouns:

    Er liest ein Buch mit seinen Kindern. He reads a book with his children.

    Here, "mit seinen Kindern lesen" is the verbal concept.

    d. Qualifiers (Non-Obligatory Elements):
    Note the contrast between these two sentences:

    Ich fahre gern Auto. I like to drive (a car).
    Ich fahre dieses Auto gern. I like to drive this car.

    In the first sentence, the concept is "Auto fahren." In the second, the concept is "fahren" (modified by "gern"), and "dieses Auto" is the object - what I like to drive - and hence is not positioned at the end as a verbal complement.

    Another example:

    Sie sieht ihn oft im Supermarkt. She often sees him in the supermarket.

    Here the "ihn" is not a necessary part of the predicate; rather, it modifies the act of seeing (as do "oft" and "im Supermarkt").

    Die Kinder sehen fast jeden Abend "Das Sandmännchen". The children watch "The Sandman" almost every evening. [= a children's tv show]

    In this example, the "Sandmännchen" is a defining element of the children's activity: "Sandmännchen sehen".

    Note that it is also possible to say: "Die Kinder sehen 'Das Sandmännchen' fast jeden Abend." This variation creates a different concept. Here 'Das Sandmännchen' is the show that the children watch, the object of their "sehen," and "fast jeden Abend" becomes the more important information.

    Word Order (Wortstellung) (5)Word Order (Wortstellung) (6)
    He has visions every day. ["Visionen haben" is the verbal idea]

    e. The Predicate Nominative and Predicate Adjective:
    English-speakers may feel more comfortable with this way of thinking about the "verb complement" when considering the "predicate nominative":

    Er ist meistens ein guter Freund. He is mostly a good friend.

    and the "predicate adjective":

    In der Nacht sind alle Katzen grau. At night all cats are gray.

    In these examples, German indicates in two ways that "ein guter Freund" and "grau" are part of the predicate: through inflection (in the case of "friend," by putting him in the nominative; in the case of "gray", by giving it no ending) andthrough position (both "friend" and "gray" are placed at the end, indicating that they are part of the "verbal idea": "Freund sein"; "grau sein").

    Other examples:

    "fleißig sein": Sie ist in der Schule sehr fleißig. She's very industrious in school.
    "unhöflich sein": Bist du auch mit deinen Freunden so unhöflich? Are you that impolite with your friends, too?
    "zu Hause sein": Sie ist meistens zu Hause. She's usually home.

    In German the predicate nominative is formed not only with the verb "sein" ("to be"),but also with "werden" ("to become") and "bleiben" ("to remain"). One could, in a way, say that these three verbs take a nominative object:

    "mein vierter Mann werden": Er wurde nach diesem großen Abenteuer mein vierter Mann. He became my fourth husband after this great adventure.
    "mein bester Freund bleiben":Er bleibt trotz allem mein bester Freund. Despite everything he remains my best friend.

    f. Dative nouns:
    The dative object of nouns does not have this complementary function and thus always comes shortly after the finite verb:

    Sie antwortet dem Mann sehr freundlich. She answers the man in a friendly way.
    Wir sind meiner Mutter in der U-Bahn begegnet.We ran into my mother in the subway.
    Ich glaubte meinem Vater alles. I believed everything my father said.
    Du solltest deinen Großeltern für das Geschenk mit einem Brief danken. You ought thank your grandparents for the present with a letter.

    g. Pronouns As Part of the Predicate:
    Except in the reflexive, dative or accusative pronouns cannot serve as a verbal complement, and even reflexive pronouns cannot take the final position:

    Du widersprichst mir jedes Mal. You contradict me every time.
    Ich bestelle das bei meinem Weinhändler. I order that from my wine dealer.
    Mein Vater rasiert sich jeden Morgen. My father shaves every morning.
    Ich fühle mich hier in Berlin sehr zu Hause. I feel very much at home here in Berlin.
    (The predicate here = "sich zu Hause fühlen")

II. The Placement of Dative and Accusative Objects:

    a. Again, when an accusative noun object is an obligatory part of the predicate's meaning, it is positioned at the end:

    Ich gebe dir bei nächster Gelegenheit ein besseres Buch. I'll give you a better book at the next opportunity.
    (The predicate = "ein besseres Buch geben")

    b. When a dative (indirect) noun object and an accusative (direct) object are next to or near each other, the dative noun comes first:

    Sie gibt ihrem Mann einen Kuss auf die Glatze. She gives her husband a kiss on his bald head.
    Er schickt seiner Mutter eine Email. He sends his mother an e-mail.

    c. If the accusative and dative are both pronouns, the accusative precedes:

    Ich zeige es dir. I'll show it to you.
    Sie erzählt sie ihnen. She tells it to them.

    d. If one object is a pronoun and the other a noun, the pronoun always precedes:

    Sie verspricht es ihrem Vater. She promises it to her father.
    Ich schlage dir etwas Besseres vor. I'll suggest something better to you.

    While most verbs distinguish direct and indirect objects through a combination of the accusative and dative, fragen, kosten, and lehren do not follow this pattern; both objects are accusative. However, these two objects have the order you would expect:

    Darf ich dich etwas Persönliches fragen?May I ask you something personal?
    Das hat den Mann eine Menge Geld gekostet. That cost the man a bunch of money.
    Sie lehrt ihren Bruder die deutsche Sprache. She's teaching her brother the German language.

III. The Position of the Nominative Subject.

The subject often precedes the verb, standing in the first position:

Der Laden bietet seinen Kunden ein echtes Schnäppchen. The store offers its customers a real bargain.
Das Hotel serviert seinen Gästen jeden Morgen ein opulentes Frühstück. The hotel serves its guests an opulent breakfast every morning.

But the speaker always has the option of emphasizing some other element of the sentence (except for the verb) by putting it in the first position. In that case, the subject follows the verb (in third position):

Seinen Kunden bietet der Laden ein echtes Schnäppchen.
Ein echtes Schäppchen bietet der Laden seinen Kunden.
Jeden Morgen serviert das Hotel seinen Gästen ein opulentes Frühstück.
Seinen Gästen serviert das Hotel jeden Morgen ein opulentes Frühstück.
Ein opulentes Frühstück serviert das Hotel seinen Gästen jeden Morgen.

In German such inversions are part of ordinary spoken and written discourse.

German ears prefer pronouns to precede nouns wherever possible, even when the noun is the subject in "third position". Thus "Der Mann rasiert sich jeden Tag gründlich." (The man shaves himself thoroughly every day)becomes, when the order is inverted: "Jeden Tag rasiert sich der Mann gründlich."

Similarly: "Gestern ist ihm die Frau zweimal begegnet." (Yesterday the woman met him twice).

In the "inverted word order" some element other than the subject (or the finite verb) occupies the first position.While this first element receives a bit more emphasis, the effect is not especially strong. Contrast this with Yiddishismsin English like, "On the floor you throw the salad?!" "A shot in the head he needs."

Word Order (Wortstellung) (7)Word Order (Wortstellung) (8)
With age, chronic iron, nickel, and copper deficiencies often appear.

Some examples of inverted word order:

Morgen sollten wir schwimmen gehen.Tomorrow we ought to go swimming.
Am Freitag kannst du ihm das Buch geben.On Friday you can give him the book.
(English also permits these inversions.)
Das Buch kannst du ihm am Freitag geben.You can give him the book on Friday..
(Here the inversion is not possible in Englishwithout further elements: The book (is what) you can give him on Friday.)
Mit dem Bus fährt sie am liebsten.She most prefers to go by bus.
(No such inversion does English permit.)
Sehr gut hast du das heute Abend gespielt.You played that very well tonight.
(It would be possible to say in English, "Tonight you played that very well," or even,with added emphasis, "That you played very well tonight," but not: "Very well you played that tonight.")
Gesagt habe ich das nie.I never said that.
Arbeiten will ich erst dem dem Essen.I don't want to work until after dinner.
(Even the past participle or an infinitive can be in the first position.1)
Weil es regnet, bringen wir den Schirm mit.Because it's raining, we're bringing the umbrella along.
(Even a dependent clause can occupy the first position.)
Ohne zu wissen warum, wirft sie es in den Papierkorb.Without knowing why, she throws it into the wastebasket.
(Here the first position contains an infinitive clause.)
Es spielen zwei Mädchen in der Mannschaft.There are two girls playing on the team.
(Here the so-called "introductory es" is a "false subject." This structure is also often found in thepassive voice.Its only purpose is aesthetic.)

Colloquial speech sometimes makes use of word-order expectations to achieve an effect.By leaving the first position empty but putting the subject after the finite verb, the speaker can actually emphasizethe object that should have been been there:

Habe ich schon getan. Did that already (i.e. I already did that.)
Wissen wir schon. We already know that.
Glaube ich nicht. That I don't believe.
Muss sie ja nicht. She doesn't have to (do that).
Word Order (Wortstellung) (9)Word Order (Wortstellung) (10)
At T-Com the prices are falling. T-Com's new Wish-What-You-Want pricesare coming March 1st. Then you can decide yourself how you want to save on telephoning.

IV. The Mid-Field (das Mittelfeld):,

What German grammarians call the Mittelfeld (mid-field)is found between the verb (or the subject or objects immediately following it) and the verb complement. It contains the qualifiers that modify the verb. Most grammar texts describe this part of the declarative sentence as containing the categoriesof "time - manner - place" and require them to appear in that order. While not wholly wrong, that scheme is too simple. Modern German grammarians have developed a more nuanced scheme (which is designated by the Eselsbrücke(mnemonic device), "Tee-Kamel"):

Te (temporal) Ka (kausal) Mo (modal) Lo (lokal)

  • "Te" represents time expressions - when something happens: "heute", "oft", "in einer Stunde", etc. If there is more than one expression in this category, the general precedes the specific: "Montag um 8 Uhr."
  • "Ka" indicates why something happens, under what circumstances, or with what consequences:"aus Versehen" [by mistake]; "bei gutem Wetter" [in good weather]; "zu meinem Erstaunen" [to my amazement].
  • "Mo" describes manner - how it happens: "traurig" [sadly]; "mit Begeisterung" [with enthusiasm]; "sehr schnell" [very fast]; "ohne Verzögerung" [without delay].
  • "Lo" indicates location - where it happens: "zu Hause"; "in die Stadt"; "in der Stadt"; "über die Straße".

Here is an example of an admittedly unlikely declarative sentence, one that contains all of the aforementioned elements. It has a subject ("viele Ehemänner") in first position, a predicate consisting of a finite verb (sehen) in the second position and the remaining part ("alle Sportsendungen") in the final position. The "mid-field" contains the modifying expressions in the "expected" or "standard" order: Te ("jeden Sonntag") - Ka ("zum Entsetzen ihrer Frauen") - Mo ("völlig passiv") - Lo ("in ihrem Lieblingsessel"):

    Viele Ehemänner sehen jeden Sonntag zum Entsetzen ihrer Frauen völlig passiv in ihrem Lieblingssessel alle Sportsendungen. Many husbands, to their wives' disgust, watch all the sports shows completely passively every Sunday in their favorite easy chair.

Note what nuances of meaning are created when the "expected" order is altered, when the "Mo" expression, for example, "völlig passiv" is relocated (the way that any other element could be):

    Völlig passiv sehen viele Ehemänner jeden Sonntag zum Entsetzen ihrer Frauen in ihrem Lieblingssessel alle Sportsendungen.
    Viele Ehemänner sehen völlig passiv jeden Sonntag zum Entsetzen ihrer Frauen in ihrem Lieblingssessel alle Sportsendungen.
    Viele Ehemänner sehen jeden Sonntag völlig passiv zum Entsetzen ihrer Frauen in ihrem Lieblingssessel alle Sportsendungen.
    Viele Ehemänner sehen jeden Sonntag zum Entsetzen ihrer Frauen in ihrem Lieblingssessel völlig passiv alle Sportsendungen.

A further possibility is available in spoken or literary German:

    Viele Ehemänner sehen jeden Sonntag zum Entsetzen ihrer Frauen in ihrem Lieblingssessel alle Sportsendungen, völlig passiv.

    Style-Tip: Especially in spoken German, comparative phrases using als or wie often go to the end of a clause:

    Du hast das besser gemacht als dein Bruder.You did that better than your brother.
    Sie ist so groß geworden wie ihre ältere Schwester.She's gotten as big as her older sister.

B. Interrogative Sentences (Fragesätze).

Word Order (Wortstellung) (11)Word Order (Wortstellung) (12)
Are emotions more important to you than conventions?

    I. Yes-or-No Questions:
    In the case of yes-or-no questions, the first position is empty, and the subject follows the finite verb(this is also the case in the "Sie"-form of the imperative):

    Hast du alles dabei? Do you have everything with you?
    Sind Sie verrückt? Are you nuts?
    Habt ihr gut geschlafen? Did y'all sleep well?
    Gibt es etwas zu essen? Is there something to eat?
    Wird er das bald sagen können?Will he be able to say that soon?
    Sollen wir ihn nach Hause tragen?Should we carry him home?

    II. Information Questions:
    With questions intended to elicit specific information, on the other hand, the first position contains an interrogative word or phrase such aswann, warum, wer, wen, wem, wessen, wie, wo, wohin, woher, wie viel (or wieviel), um wieviel Uhr, in welcher Straße, etc.Note that this construction can sometimes involve "normal" word order: was can be the subject, as well as an object, and the nominative wer is always the subject in such questions.In most cases, however, the interrogative word or phrase is another part of speech: wen is a direct object, wann an adverb of time, and so forth:

    Wer hat den Hut gestohlen?Who stole the hat?
    Wer soll das Geschirr abspülen?Who's supposed to do the dishes?
    Wen hast du heute gesehen?Whom did you see today?
    Wem hast du das gesagt?Who did you tell that to?
    Wessen Hut trägt meine Frau?Whose hat is my wife wearing?
    Wann beginnt der Film?When does the movie start?
    Wann dürfen wir nach Hause?When may we go home?
    Wie alt ist Ihr Hund?How old is your dog?
    Was willst du heute Abend machen?What do you want to do tonight?
    Wo liegt Hanover, New Hampshire?Where is Hanover, New Hampshire, located?
    Wohin sollen wir jetzt gehen?Where should go now?
    Zu welcher Zeit lebte Leibniz?At what time did Leibniz live?

C. Dependent Clauses:
Up till this point, we have been equating the German sentence with the main, or independent clause, but we can also also use our model to describe dependent clauses.

    I. Relative Clauses:
    If the first position contains a relative pronoun, it begins a relative clause.

    II. Dependent (Subordinate) Clauses:
    If it contains a subordinating conjunction, it begins a dependent, or subordinate, clause.There are a great many subordinating conjunctions, some of the more common being:

    als (when)auch wenn (even if)bevor (before)bis (until)
    damit (so that)dass (that)ehe (before)nachdem (after)
    ob (whether)obwohl (although)seitdem (since)während (while)
    weil (because)wenn (if, when)

    The list of subordinating conjunctions also includes all of the interrogative words and phraseswhen they are used to state indirect questions:

    Ich weiß nicht, wann der Zug abfährt.I don't know when the train leaves.
    Es ist nicht klar, wem das Buch gehört.It isn't clear to whom the book belongs.

    When a subordinating conjunction occupies the first position, a dependent clause results. Keep in mind that, as the name implies, such a clause is not a whole sentence; an independent, or main clause must also be present. The primary feature of a dependent clause is that the finite verb is no longer in thesecond position, but moves to the end, following even the verb complement (if there is one). If that complement is a separable prefix, the two elements are written as one word. I.e. "er schläft ein" [he falls asleep] becomes "weil er einschläft" [because he falls asleep].

    Some other examples:

    ...dass er sein Kind zur Schule fährt...that he drives his child to school
    ...bevor du nach Hause kommst...before you come home
    ...nachdem ich so viel zugenommen habe...after I gained so much weight
    ...während das Semester in Deutschland beginnt...while the semester is starting in Germany
    ...ob wir ihm alles sagen sollen...if we should tell him everything
    ...obwohl du ihn erst heute kennen gelernt hast...although you never met him until today
    Word Order (Wortstellung) (13)Word Order (Wortstellung) (14)
    After Ralf has decided to assemble his music with the test-winner AOL ...he now just has to choose between Steffi and Julia.

    Note that these examples on a dependent clause can precede or follow the main clause.When it precedes, it normally occupies the first position, necessitating an inverted orderin the independent clause (i.e. with the subject is located in the third position).

    Es ist schön, dass er sein Kind zur Schule fährt
    It's nice that he drives his child to school
    Mach deine Arbeit fertig, bevor du nach Hause kommst.
    Finish your work before you come home
    Nachdem ich so viel zugenommen habe, muss ich vernünftiger essen.
    After I have gained so much weight, I'll have to eat more reasonably.
    Während das Semester in Deutschland beginnt, liegt er noch am Strand.
    While the semester is starting in Germany, he's still lying on the beach
    Obwohl du ihn erst heute kennen gelernt hast, scheinst du alles über ihn zu wissen.
    Although you never met him until today, you seem to know all about him.

    Dependent clauses, includingrelative clauses,can serve as the subject or object of a sentence:

    Dass wir ihm alles sagen sollen, ist nicht so klar.
    That we should tell him everything is not so clear.
    Ich weiß nicht, was du damit sagen willst.
    I don't know what you mean by that.
    Word Order (Wortstellung) (15)Word Order (Wortstellung) (16)
    Whoever has a grasp on his finances is simply more relaxed.

    A variation on a dependent clause beginning with "wenn": In both English and German,it is possible to produce the sense of a "wenn"-clause in thesubjunctive voiceby omitting the "wenn" and leaving the first position empty (with the finite verb in the second):

    Wenn ich das gewusst hätte, dann hätte ich dagegen protestiert.
    Hätte ich das gewusst, dann hätte ich dagegen protestiert.
    Had I known that, I would have protested against it.

    Wenn ich du wäre, würde ich das nicht tun.
    Wäre ich du, würde ich das nicht tun.
    Were I you, I wouldn't do that.

    In German, the same procedure applies, even when the clause is not in the subjunctive:

    Wenn das oft vorkommt, kann es bedenklich sein.
    If that happens frequently, it can be omnious.
    Kommt das oft vor, kann es bedenklich sein.

    Double-infinitives in the perfect tenses:
    In the case of main (independent) clauses, when modal auxiliariesand verbs like sehen, hören, helfen, and lassenthe perfect tenses, theyform double-infinitives, which go to the final position of the clause:

    Ich habe nichts sehen können.I couldn't see anything.
    Wir hätten das nicht sagen sollen.We shouldn't have said that.
    Der Prinz hat Rapunzel ein Lied singen hören.The prince heard Rapunzel singing a song.
    Er hat ein neues Haus bauen lassen.He had a new house built.

    In a dependent clause, these double-infinitives remain in the final position, andthe conjugated auxiliary verb, haben or sein, slips into the second-the-last place:

    Bist du sicher, dass sie das Buch hat lesen können?Are you sure that she was able to read the book?
    Wir sind nach Hause gegangen, weil wir keine Karten haben kaufen können.We went home because we couldn't buy any tickets.
    Es ist schade, dass du ihn nie hast singen hören.It's too bad that you've never heard him sing.
    Er hatte kein Geld mehr, weil er ein neues Haus hatte bauen lassen.He didn't have any more money, because he had had a new house built.
    Sie erinnert sich nicht daran, dass ich ihr habe kochen helfen.She doesn't remember that I helped her cook.

    III. Infinitive Clauses
    Infinitive clauses are kind of dependent clause in which there is no grammatical subject, only an implied one, and therefore the verb is not inflected. Note that the infinitive takes "zu."

    Es wundert mich, sie hier zu sehen.
    It surprises me to see them here.
    Er hat vergessen, seiner Freundin etwas zum Geburtstag zu kaufen.
    He forgot to buy his girlfriend something for her birthday.

    If the verb in question has a separable prefix, the zu goes between the prefix and the stem(e.g. anzufangen [to begin], zuzumachen [to close]).

    Longer infinitive clauses are set off by a comma. Note also that infinitive clauses can occupy the first position and can even become the subject of another clause.

    It is useful to view infinitive clauses as transformations of declarative main clauses.To make the transition, one drops the subject and converts the finite verb to an infinitive,which goes to the end of the clause(Note that in some cases one of the negatives must also be dropped in order to retain the intended meaning):

    Es ist schön. Wir gehen an einem heißen Sommertag schwimmen.
    Es ist schön, an einem heißen Sommertag schwimmen zu gehen.
    It's nice to go swimming on a hot summer's day.
    Er versucht. Er bindet sich die Schuhe mit einer Hand.
    Er versucht, sich die Schuhe mit einer Hand zu binden.
    He tries to tie his shoes with one hand.
    Ich habe keine Lust. Ich helfe ihm nicht. [Note the meaning!]
    Ich habe keine Lust ihm zu helfen.
    I have no desire to help him.
    Es ist meine Gewohnheit. Ich stehe früh auf.
    Es ist meine Gewohnheit früh aufzustehen.
    It's my habit to get up early
    Man wird Vater. Es ist nicht schwer.
    Vater zu werden ist nicht schwer
    It's not hard to become a father.
    Sie freut sich. Sie hat ihr Referat schon fertiggeschrieben.
    Sie freut sich, ihr Referat schon fertiggeschrieben zu haben.
    She's happy to have finished writing her paper.
    Es muss schön sein. Man kann gut Klavier spielen.
    Es muss schön sein, gut Klavier spielen zu können.
    It must be nice to be able to play the piano well.

    German uses um ... zu in order to express intention.This construction can usually be translated by "in order to":

    Sie kommen nach Deutschland. Sie wollen Musik studieren.
    Sie kommen nach Deutschland, um Musik zu studieren.
    They're coming to Germany in order to study music.
    Er trainiert jeden Tag. Er will besser Fußball spielen können.
    Er trainiert jeden Tag, um besser Fußball spielen zu können.
    He practices every day in order to be able to play soccer better.

    ohne ... zu and (an)statt ... zu: can also be part of infinitive clauses in German,although in English the same sense is rendered by gerunds:

    Er ging nach Hause, ohne ein Wort zu sagen.
    He went home without saying a word.
    Sie hat mir verziehen, ohne meine Ausrede gehört zu haben.
    She forgave me without having heard my excuse.
    Statt zu arbeiten ging sie ins Kino.
    Instead of working, she went to the movies.
    Anstatt zu telefonieren haben wir eine E-mail geschickt.
    Instead of telephoning, we sent an e-mail.

D. More About Main Clauses:

    I. "non-elements"
    We can, in our scheme, further posit a "position 0," which comes before the first position and contains elements (sometimes referred to as "non-elements") that do not affect the subsequent word order.These fall into three categories:

      a. Coordinating conjunctions,which introduce an independent clause. The most common are aber, denn, oder, sondern, and und:

      Sie war auch im Kino, aber ich habe sie nicht gesehen.
      She was also at the movies, but I didn't see her.
      Er wollte nicht kommen, denn2 heute Nacht hat er schlecht geschlafen.
      He didn't want to come, because he slept badly last night.
      Wir können es mitnehmen, oder wir können es hier essen.
      We can take it along, or we can eat it here.
      Du kannst mir das Geld gleich geben, oder du kannst später bezahlen.
      You can give me the money right away, or you can pay later.
      Er wohnt nicht mehr in der Stadt, sondern er ist aufs Land gezogen.
      He doesn't live in the city any more, but rather he's moved to the country.
      Du hast das bestellt, und jetzt musst du es essen.
      You ordered that, and now you have to eat it.

      b. Interjected words or phrases that are set off by commas. The most common are ja and nein:

      Ja, ich habe diesen Witz schon gehört.Yes, I've heard that joke already.
      Nein, du hast schon genug gegessen.No, you've already eaten enough.

      In addition to ja and nein, these interjected words or phrases can be exclamations or transitions that introduce the main clause that follows.They are always set off by a comma:

      Ach, das Leben ist so schwer!Oh, life is so hard!
      Übrigens, ich habe den Flaschenöffner vergessen.By the way, I forgot the bottle-opener.
      Nun, wir können immer auch zu Fuß gehen.3Well, we can always go on foot, too.

      c. Another possible "non-element" is a preceding independent clause, which is always set off by a comma:

      Er sagte, er wollte uns helfen.He said he wanted to help us.
      Ich weiß, du hast nichts Böses gemeint.I know you didn't mean anything bad.
      Ich habe schon gesagt, du kannst mit uns fahren.I already said, you can ride with us.
      Es ist noch nicht klar, wer das bezahlen wird.It's not yet clear who's paying for that.

      Note, however, that when a dependent clause does fill the first position,whatever its function otherwise,it requires inverted word order to follow:

      Weil wir morgen arbeiten müssen, sollen wir jetzt nach Hause gehen.Since we have to work tomorrow we should go home now.
      Bevor wir anfangen, sollen wir uns vorstellen.Before we begin we ought to introduce ourselves.
      Was sie damit meinte, weiß ich nicht.What she meant by that I don't know.

E. Negations

    I. kein
    Nouns without a definite article are negated by the use of kein,which receives the same endings as the other "ein"-words:

    Du bist kein guter Freund.You are not a good friend.
    Er spricht kein Deutsch.He doesn't speak any German.
    Ich habe kein Geld bei mir.I don't have any money on me.

    II. nicht
    The placement of nicht to negate a clause is more an art than a science,but determining just what is being negated will go a long way to producing anappropriate structure.(Those preferring to follow a list of set rules would be best served by linking to theseprescriptive instructions for negation).

    The key concept to grasp is that the nicht precedes the element that it is intended to revoke.If the sentence contains a predicate adjective or predicate noun, that is most likely what is being nullified:

    Du bist nicht sehr freundlich.You're not very friendly.
    Sie ist nicht meine Schwester.She's not my sister.

    Here are further examples of the placement of nicht so that it negates the key part of the sentence:

    Er wäscht sich nicht sehr oft.He doesn't wash very often.
    Wir sind nicht immer zu Hause.We aren't always home.
    Er tut das nicht gern.He doesn't like to do that.
    Sie fährt nicht zu schnell.She doesn't drive too fast.
    Sie arbeitet nicht hier.She doesn't work here.
    Ihr Auto steht nicht da.Her car isn't there.
    Sie kommen nicht zu mir.They're not coming to my house.
    Er joggt nicht vor dem Essen.He doesn't go jogging before dinner.
    Wir fahren nicht am Montag.We're not going on Monday.

    Nicht at the end of the Mid-Field:In each of the above examples, specific information is negated."Wir fahren nicht am Montag" states that the day on which we are notdriving is Monday, but we might possibly be going on a different day.The listener might well expect this assertion to be followed by "sondern ..." (but rather ...). If, on the other hand, we wish to negate the whole general idea of the sentence,we put the "nicht" after modifier, at the end of the sentence: "Wir fahren am Montag nicht."

    Sie redet nicht.She isn't talking.
    Wir sehen ihn nicht.We don't see him.
    Sie schenkt ihm das Buch nicht.She's not giving him the book.
    Wir gehen heute Nachmittag nicht.We're not going this afternoon.
    Wir arbeiten sonntags nicht.We don't work Sundays.
    Er spielt meistens nicht.He mostly doesn't play.
    Warum können wir ihn nicht sehen?Why can't we see him?

    If the sentence has a verb complement ("verbal idea"), however, that will be the partthat is negated:

    Er spielt nicht Schach.Er doesn't play chess.
    Mein Großvater fährt nicht Auto.My grandfather doesn't drive.

    Consider this last example: "Mein Großvater fährt nicht Auto."As a similar, previous example pointed out in A.I.c. ("Verb Complements Made from Other Parts of Speech"),the concept here is "Auto fahren". "Auto," in other words, is the verb complement, necessary to the predicate's meaning, and so it goes tothe end of the sentence, with the "nicht" preceding it.

    Were the auto conceptually the object of "driving", i.e. an augmentation,rather than a necessary part of the predicate, then the sentence would read:"Mein Großvater fährt dieses Auto nicht."

    Another point: If the element following the nicht moves to the first position, inverting the word order, the nicht does not move with it:

    Hier arbeitet sie nicht.She doesn't work here.
    Bei mir darfst du das nicht sagen.At my house you can't say that.
    Nach dem Essen gehen wir nicht spazieren.We're not taking a walk after dinner.
    Nach Hause gehen wir nicht.We're not going home.

    These rules describe the most usual situations, but it is possible to create special emphases when placing nicht immediately in front of the element to be negated. If this placement differs from the above examples,then a "sondern" (but rather) is probably called for:

    Du sollst nicht ihm das Geld geben, sondern mir. You should give the money not to him, but to me.
    Sie schenkt ihm nicht dieses Buch, sondern ein anderes. She's not giving him this book, but a different one.
    Wir gehen nicht heute ins Theater, sondern morgen. We're not going to the theater today, but tomorrow.

    When an adverb is negated as a sentence fragment, it can be thought of as occupying the first position,so that the nicht follows it:

    hier nicht not here
    heute nicht not today
    am Sonntag nicht not on Sunday
Word Order (Wortstellung) (17)Word Order (Wortstellung) (18)
In a city that never sleeps [i.e., Berlin], no one can afford tired feet.

    1Sometimes this structure houses the highly colloquial use of "tun" with an infinitive:"Arbeiten tut er nicht" [Work (is something) he doesn't do]. "Tun" plus an infinitiveis generally found only in dialects and in the speech of small children ("Sie tut es wegwerfen" [She throws it out]),but some set phrases are common: "Sie tun nichts als klagen" [They do nothing but complain]. Note the historical link to the English use of "do" plus the infinitive, both in emphatic statements and questions("I do like that"; "Do you think that's necessary?").
    back to text


    Note that "denn," in contrast to "weil," does not cause the finite verb to go to the end.
    back to text


    Note the distinction between this sentence and "Nun können wir zu Fuß gehen"[Now we can go on foot], in which the adverb nun occupies the first position and thus inverts the word order.
    back to text

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Arline Emard IV

Last Updated: 02/19/2023

Views: 5695

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Arline Emard IV

Birthday: 1996-07-10

Address: 8912 Hintz Shore, West Louie, AZ 69363-0747

Phone: +13454700762376

Job: Administration Technician

Hobby: Paintball, Horseback riding, Cycling, Running, Macrame, Playing musical instruments, Soapmaking

Introduction: My name is Arline Emard IV, I am a cheerful, gorgeous, colorful, joyous, excited, super, inquisitive person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.