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The subordinate clause in German (Nebensatz)

The subordinate clauses are complicated and are often not fully understandable. In this article we have tried our best to explain them in the clearest way possible. Let’s get going:

Introduction

A complex sentence (Satzgefüge) is formed by a main clause (Hauptsatz) and a subordinate clause (Nebensatz).

COMPLEX SENTENCE = MAIN CLAUSE + SUBORDINATE CLAUSE

Types of subordinate clause constructions:

Common Subordinate Clauses

Common subordinate clauses are the most used subordinate clauses and have the following characteristics:

  • They have a common subordinate conjunction
  • The conjugated verb is placed at the end of a the clause

It’s easier to see this with an example:

Ich wusste nicht, dass du so klug bist
I didn’t know that you were so smart

One type of subordinate clause is the conditional clause.

Common subordinate conjunctions

subordinate
conjunctions

Infinitive Subordinate Clauses

Infinitive subordinate clauses are characterized by not having a subject. The subject is understood by the information in the main clause. The subject that is omitted from the subordinate clause can be either the main clause’s subject or its direct/indirect object or another that is understood to be there.

Er hat den Befehl gegeben, ihn nicht zu stören
He gave the order to not disturb him

Infinitive Subordinate Conjunctions

Infinitive
Subordinate Conjunctions
  • anstatt zu
  • außer zu

Relative clauses

An example of this type of clause is:

Hast Du die Lampe, die du gestern gesehen hast, gekauft?
Did you buy the lamp that you saw yesterday?

This type if clause is explained in: Relative clauses

Subordinate Clauses of the "Konjunktiv I" without "dass"

With the clauses of the Konjunktiv I it is not necessary to use a conjunction. You simply say:

Martin sagt, er sei Schauspieler
Martin says he’s an actor

Even though it is also ok to use "dass":

Martin sagt, dass er Schauspieler sei

The Comma in Subordinate Clauses

In German, you have to put in a comma to separate the main clause (Hauptsatz) from the subordinate clause (Nebensatz)

Ich mache, was ich will
I do what I want

Inverting the Subordinate Clauses

As we stated previously, the typical structure of a subordinate clause is:

COMPLEX SENTENCE= MAIN CLAUSE + SUBORDINATE CLAUSE

ich weiß nicht, ob er mich liebt
I don’t know if he loves me

Sometimes, more importance is given to the subordinate clause and therefore it comes first:

COMPLEX SENTENCE = SUBORDINATE CLAUSE + MAIN CLAUSE

Ob er mich liebt, weiß ich nicht
Whether/if he loves me, I don’t know

It should be emphasized that the subordinate clause now occupies the first position in the sentence, which makes the subject move to the 3rd position so that the verb stays in the second position.



4 Comments

#4 [George Zaher]2015-05-26 07:27
It is not understood how do I identify the Haupsatz from the nebensatz
Best Regards

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