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Sentence Structure in German



The word order in German is rather strict. We'll explain the type of components that a sentence has in detail and how they are organized.
The parts of a sentence in German to have in mind are:

The subject

Typical subject placement. Position 1

The subject usually is in [POSITION 1] in the sentence:

Ich habe einen Hund
I have a dog

Subject inversion. Position 3

To emphasize a complement or an object, it can be placed in [POSITION 1], which makes the subject move to [POSITION 3]:

Einen Hund habe ich
I have a dog

This complement can be even a subordinate clause:

Während meiner Kindheit war ich sehr zufrieden
During my youth, I was very happy

Interrogation. Subject in position 2

With interrogative sentences, the verb takes [POSITION 1] which is why it moves the subject to [POSITION 2]

Hast du einen Hund?
Do you have a dog?

Original imperative forms. There is no subject

The 2nd person singular and plural of the imperative do not have a subject.

Komm jetzt her
Come here now

PersonConjugationMeaning
2nd person singularkommcome
2nd person pluralkomm - tcome

Forms added to the imperative. Subject in position 2

In forms added to the imperative, the verb and the subject are organized like in the interrogative sentences:

Trinken wir noch ein Bier
Let’s drink one more beer

PersonConjugationMeaning
1st person pluraltrinken wirlet’s drink
Polite formtrinken Siedrink

The verb

Typical placement of the conjugated verb in position 2

If there is just one verb, it is placed in [POSITION 2]

Ich bin 30 Jahre alt
I am 30 years old

If there are several verbs, the conjugated verb is placed in [POSITION 2] and the unconjugated one (an infinitive or a participle) in the [LAST POSITION] of the sentence.

Ich möchte Deutsch lernen
I want to learn German

Conjugated verb with interrogation and the imperative in position 1

In interrogative sentences, the conjugated verb takes [POSITION 1] and, if there is an unconjugated one, it takes the [LAST POSITION]

Haben Sie Deutsch in der Schule gelernt?
Did you study German at school? (formal)

Komm her!
Come here!

Conjugated verb in the last position in subordinate clauses or in relative clauses

In subordinate clauses or relative clauses, the conjugated verb is placed in the [LAST POSITION], moving the unconjugated verb (infinitive or participle) to the [SECOND TO LAST POSITION].

Subordinate clauses

Ich glaube nicht, dass du heute kommen darfst
I don't think that you may come today

"Darfst" is the conjugated verb [LAST POSITION] and "kommen" is the unconjugated verb [SECOND TO LAST POSITION].

The subordinate conjunctions are those which make the conjugated verb go to the end of the sentence and are the following:

als (when), bevor (before), bis (until), dass (that), damit (so that), ob (if), obwohl (despite), seit (since), sobald (as soon as), sofern (as long as), soweit (as far as), sowie (as soon as), während (while), weil (because), wenn (if), wie (how), wo (where)

Relative clauses

Das ist das Mädchen, das ich in der Schule gesehen habe
This is the girl that I saw at school

"Habe" is the conjugate verb [LAST POSITION] and "gesehen" is the unconjugated verb (second to last position).

Particles that occupy position zero (particles that have no influence)

"Particles of position 0" means that they do not influence the order of the sentence.

Conjunctions

There are some conjunctions that do not take a grammatical position in the sentence.

Let’s look at an example:

Ich bin müde denn ich habe wenig geschlafen
I am tired because I slept little

Let’s analyse the clause in yellow:

POSITION 0POSITION 1POSITION 2LAST POSITION
Coordinate
conjunction
SubjectConjugated
verb
ComplementsUnconjugated
Verb
dennichhabeweniggeschlafen

The following conjunctions take position 0 in the sentence:

Interrogative particles

Interrogative particles take position 0. Therefore, the verb takes position 1 and the subject takes position 2:

Wie alt bist du?
How old are you?

The following particles do not take a position in the sentence:

PronounsAdverbs

Wer

Was

Welcher

Wann

Warum

Wie

Wie
  • Wie alt
  • Wie viel
  • Wie lange
  • Wie oft
  • Wie teuer
  • Wie weit

Wo
  • Woran
  • Worauf
  • Woraus
  • Wobei
  • Wogegen
  • Worin
  • Womit
  • Worüber
  • Worum
  • Wozu
  • Wohin
  • Woher

Objects

Objects are organized in the following order:

  • Accusative pronouns (mich, dich, ihn, sie, es, uns, euch)
  • Dative pronouns (mir, dir, ihm, ihr, ihm, uns, euch, ihnen)
  • Dative object (z.B.: meiner Mutter)
  • Accusative object (z.B. einen Brief)

Let’s see some examples to get a clearer idea of this:

DATIVE OBJECT + ACCUSATIVE OBJECT

Ich schicke meiner Mutter einen Brief
I am sending a letter my mother

DATIVE PRONOUN + ACCUSATIVE OBJECT

Ich schicke ihr einen Brief
I am sending a letter to her

ACCUSATIVE PRONOUN + DATIVE OBJECT

Ich schicke ihn meiner Mutter
I am sending it to my mother

ACCUSATIVE PRONOUN + DATIVE PRONOUN

Ich schicke ihn ihr
I am sending it to her

Order of complements: TEKAMOLO

Complements are placed between the conjugated verb and the unconjugated verb:

SubjectConjugated
Verb
ComplementsAccusative
Object
Unconjugated
Verb
Herr Meierhatgestern aus Liebe im Geheimen in MünchenBlumengekauft

Out of love, Mister Meier secretly bought flowers in Munich yesterday

Complements are organized amongst themselves by following the mnemonic rule TEKAMOLO:

  1. Temporal (TE)
  2. Causal (KA)
  3. Modal (MO)
  4. Locative (LO)

Let’s see an example:

TemporalKausalModalLokal
gestern
aus Liebeim Geheimenin München

The particle "nicht"

As we’ve seen in German negation, the adverb "nicht" is the most common type of negation. By placing "nicht" in a different position, the meaning can change.

Nicht negating the verb

It makes the verb of the sentence negative when placed right before the unconjugated verb (if there is one) or at the end of the sentence:

Ich möchte nicht essen
I don’t want to eat

Ich esse nicht
I don’t eat

"Nicht" negating a complement

When placed before any complement, it negates the complement

Ich möchte nicht jeden Tag Nudeln essen
I don’t want to eat pasta every day (every day is negated)

Ich möchte nicht zu spät essen
I don’t want to eat so late (so late is what is negated)



4 Comments

#4 [merhawi ]2016-08-03 12:32
it would be better, if an example of a short paragraph is written so all the structure and the parts of the paragraph can be seen easily. thanks a lot keep it up!

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