German Word Order

Beginner German - Level A1

Overview

German has relatively flexible word order — certain grammar elements ( cases & declensions) make this possible. It seems tricky, but follows structured rules.

Vocabulary

Ordinal numbers, adverbs

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German A1

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German Word Order

Regular Word Order

Word order in German can be characterized as being “SVO-” or “Subject-Verb-Object-based.” This means that, in regular word order, the three main components of a sentence follow this pattern.

Example:
Der Hund frisst das Futter. / The dog eats the food.
  S      -      V      -      O

In this example, the dog (der Hund) is the subject, which performs the verb (eats / frisst) on the direct object (the food / das Futter). An object is a direct object when it receives the action of the verb. In other words, the direct object is being “verbed”: the food is being eaten. To help identify the direct object in a sentence, you can ask the question, “What is being verbed?” (e.g. eaten, played, etc.; “Was wird gegegessen/gespielt?”). The answer to the question is your direct object.

Example:
Das Mädchen spielt die Gitarre. / The girl plays the guitar.
    S          -         V      -      O

In the above sentence, das Mädchen (the girl) is the subject of the sentence, "spielt" (plays) is the verb, and the answer to “What is being verbed/played?” is the guitar. Hence, "die Gitarre" is the (direct) object of the sentence.

This is referred to as regularnormal or natural word order.

Inverted Word Order

In German, it is common to place other elements in a sentence, such as adverbs of time, manner and place first position in order to create emphasis. In English that does not always work, and sometimes sounds awkward. In German, placing anything other than the subject in first position creates inverted word order

Inverted word order is when the subject slips behind the verb in the sentence. All direct questions in German follow inverted word order. 

Example: Ich gehe heute zum Supermarkt. / I am going to the grocery store today. 
                (regular word order).
                Heute gehe ich zum Supermarkt. / Today, I am going to the grocery store.
                (inverted word order) 

In the above example, the adverb of time (Heute) is in the first or “front” position in the sentence, which lends it some emphasis. Note that the comma after “Today” disappears in the German, as commas are not used to set off the first element of the sentence.
Notice how the subject slipped behind the 

Unlike in English, the time, manner, and place elements precede the object (direct or indirect) in a sentence, which is why the order in the German example differs from the English one above. Here is a sentence with all three elements in the predicate.

Example:
Ich esse jeden Tag schnell zu Hause Pizza. / I eat pizza every day quickly at home.

If any of the elements after the object (pizza) is moved to first position, everything will stay in the same position. Here are the possible variations:

Jeden Tag esse ich schnell zu Hause Pizza. / Every day I eat pizza quickly at home.
Schnell esse ich jeden Tag zu Hause Pizza. / Quickly I eat pizza every day at home.
Zu Hause esse ich jeden Tag schnell Pizza. / At home I eat pizza every day quickly.

The important thing to remember is that the verb is in second position, with either the subject or the adverb in first position and the other (subject, adverb, etc.) in third position. Elements of time, manner, and place are added after in that sequence, unless an element is moved to the front position of the sentence, as illustrated by the examples above.

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Präsens — Subjekt (1) → Verb (2) → temporal (3) → kausal (4) → modal (5) → lokal (6) → Objekt (7)

When constructing sentences in German, generally they begin with either the subject or an adverb of time or place. If the subject is not in first position, it must come third in regular sentence order in the present tense, with the minor exception in the case of reflexive verbs (e.g. Heute rasiert sich der Mann.). The verb will come second, followed by adverbs, then time (from general to specific), cause (why, under what circumstances or with which results/consequences), manner (how), location, and, finally, objects. When an indirect object is included, it will be placed after the verb and before any adverbs and other elements. The direct object is typically located at the very end of the sentence; however, when that direct object is a pronoun (ihn, sie, or es), it moves directly to after the verb or in front of the indirect object (if present (see below)).

Der Junge gibt ihr morgen früh in der Bibliothek das Buch zurück. (normal order)

Der Junge gibt es ihr morgen früh in der Bibliothek zurück. (changed order due to acc. pronoun)

In the second sentence, the book (das Buch) is replaced by “es,” which necessitates a change in word order, depositing the accusative pronoun (the direct object) in front of the dative pronoun (the indirect object). This only occurs when the accusative noun/direct object is changed into a pronoun — it does not matter whether or not the dative indirect object is a pronoun, a noun, or a name.

It is worth noting that the temporal, causal, modal, and location elements, as well as objects of a sentence can be moved into different positions to change the meaning slightly, adding slightly more emphasis to those moved to the beginning. Consider the following sentence and its variants (the element of time will move):

Die Frau macht jede Woche aus Gesundheitsgründen regelmäßig im Fitnessstudio Yoga. (time=third (normal))

Jede Woche macht die Frau aus Gesundheitsgründen regelmäßig im Fitnessstudio Yoga. (first)

Die Frau macht aus Gesundheitsgründen jede Woche regelmäßig im Fitnessstudio Yoga. (fourth)

Die Frau macht aus Gesundheitsgründen regelmäßig jede Woche im Fitnessstudio Yoga. (fifth)

Die Frau macht aus Gesundheitsgründen regelmäßig im Fitnessstudio jede Woche Yoga. (sixth)

Technically, all of the above examples are grammatically correct, but the first two are the most common variants. Further, adverbs of time are the most common element to be placed at the beginning of the sentence instead of the subject.

Word order in sentences can change when conjunctions are used. With coordinating conjunctions, there is a comma at the end of the first clause, followed by the conjunction and the next sentence in regular word order.

Der Zug kommt pünktlich an, und ich warte auf ihn. / The train is arriving on time, and I am waiting for it.

When a subordinating conjunction is used to combine two clauses together, the clause that comes after the conjunction has dependent or subordinate word order. The verb is moved from the expected second position to the final position in the clause.

Der Zug kommt pünktlich an, obwohl eine Verzögerung auf der Ankunftstafel steht. / The train is arriving on time, although a delay is posted on the arrival board.

If a sentence begins with a subordinating conjunction, the entire subordinate clause will take position one, with the independent clause, beginning with the verb, appearing after the comma.

Obwohl eine Verzögerung auf der Ankunftstafel stehtkommt der Zug pünktlich an.

If a separable prefix verb is in the subordinate clause, the verb and prefix are joined at the end of the clause.

Obwohl der Zug pünktlich ankommtsteht eine Verzögerung auf der Ankunftstafel.

 

English tends to rely mostly on word order to indicate the grammatical function of a word or phrase. 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

Smiling customer service representative at work

Laura's Arbeitstag 

Laura hat einen langen Arbeitstag. Jeden morgen um 7.30 Uhr hat sie ein Teamgespräch. Das Gespräch dauert normalerweise nur eine halbe Stunde. Um 8 Uhr liest sie E-Mails und überprüft Kalkulationstabellen. Sie kommuniziert viel mit Kollegen aus England und den USA. Um 11 Uhr macht Laura eine kleine Kaffeepause. Sie trinkt gerne mit ihrer Kollegin Mira einen Kaffee. Um 11.30 Uhr hat Laura ein Meeting mit ihrer Vorgesetzten. Sie besprechen die Monatsfinanzen. Nach dem Mittagessen geht Laura oft durch die Produktionshalle. Dort kann sie die Produkte überprüfen. Um 14.00 Uhr hat Laura Spanischunterricht. Sie spricht gut Spanisch, aber sie braucht ein bisschen Hilfe mit ihrer Grammatik. Um 16.00 Uhr fährt Laura nach hause. Laura mag ihre Arbeit sehr. 


Vocabulary:
der Arbeitstag(e) - the work day
das Gespräch(e) - the conversation
überprüfen - to review, check
die Kalkulationstabelle(n) - the spreadsheet 
der/die Vorgesetzte  - the supervisor (article based on gender of supervisor)
die Produktionshalle - the production hall, factory hall, floor
die Grammatik  - the grammar

Questions: 
1. How long is her daily team meeting?
2. What does Laura do at 11.30 am? 
3. What do they discuss? 
4. How is Laura's Spanish? 
5. What does Laura do after lunch? 

Answers:
1. The team meeting is usually 30 minutes. 
2. At 11.30 am Laura meets with her supervisor. 
3. They discuss monthly finances. 
4. Laura's Spanish is good, but she needs help with her grammar.
5.She walks through the factory floor to review the product. 

1. Mark the subject in green and the verb in blue each sentence. 
   a. Benno geht gerne ins Kino. 
   b. Sylvia und Daniel arbeiten zusammen. 
   c. Ich fahre einen Toyota. 
   d. Morgens machen wir Yoga. 
   e. Am Dienstag kommt Raffael zu Besuch. 

2. Put the words in the correct order to form a sentence. (pay attention to capitalization!)
   a. spielen - Sie - am - Fussball - Montag
   b. heisse - nicht - Robert - Ich
   c. Dienstag  - am - er - arbeitet
   d. Wir - gerne - Kaffe - trinken 

3. Which of the following sentences follow regular word oder (R) and which ones follow inverted word order (I)?
   a. Ich spreche English, Deutsch, Französich und Dänisch. 
   b. Spanisch spreche ich nicht. 
   c. Wir fahren am Samstag nach Österreich. 
   d. Susie muss ihr Zimmer aufräumen. 
   e. Wann kommt Ingo in München an? 

4. Find the mistakes:
   a. Peter und Vroni verheiratet sind. 
   b. Geschieden sind Bella und Volker. 
   c. Ich am Montag arbeite nicht. 
   d. Oft wir gehen ins Kino. 
   e. Ich liebe dieses Lied. 

1. a. Benno geht gerne ins Kino. 
   b. Sylvia und Daniel arbeiten zusammen. 
   c. Ich fahre einen Toyota. 
   d. Morgens machen wir Yoga. 
   e. Am Dienstag kommt Raffael zu Besuch. 

2. a. Sie spielen am Montag Fussball./ Am Montag spielen Sie Fussball. (if formal you)
   b. Ich heisse nicht Robtert. (cannot be inverted, because "Ich" is capitalized)
   c. Am Dienstag arbeitet er. (must be inverted, because "er" is lowercase)
   d. Wir trinken gerne Kaffe. (cannot be inverted, because "Wir" is capitalized) 

3. Which of the following sentences follow regular word oder (R) and which ones follow inverted word order (I)?
   a. Ich spreche English, Deutsch, Französich und Dänisch. (R)
   b. Spanisch spreche ich nicht. (I)
   c. Wir fahren am Samstag nach Österreich. (R)
   d. Susie muss ihr Zimmer aufräumen. (R - modal verb!)
   e. Wann kommt Ingo in München an? (I - question)

4. Find the mistakes:
   a. Peter und Vroni verheiratet sind. -> Peter und Vroni sind verheiratet. 
   b. Geschieden sind Bella und Volker. (inverted word oder, emphasis on "geschieden")
   c. Ich am Montag arbeite nicht. -> Ich arbeite nicht am Montag. 
   d. Oft wir gehen ins Kino. (inverted word order with emphasis on "Oft")
   e. Ich liebe dieses Lied. (regular word order)

Listen to the audio and try to answer the following questions.

Questions

1. When did he use regular word order? 
2. When did he use inverted word oder? 
3. What does he often eat during the week?
4. How does he feel on Mondays?
5. Why does he not do sports during the week? 

 Answers

1. "ein Samstag und ein Montag schauen...aus", "Ich bin samstags...",  "Ich frühstücke...", "Ich koche...", "Ich kann...", "Arbeit macht..." 
2. "schlafe ich", "muss ich", "bin ich", "trinke ich", "gehe ich", "laufe ich", "bin ich", "mache ich", "habe ich" .
3. He orders pizza. 
4. He feels stressed. 
5.He does not have time during the week. 
 

Transcript

Also, ein Samstag und ein Montag schauen bei mir ganz anders aus.
Jeden Samstag schlafe ich aus. Jeden Montag muss ich früh aufstehen.
Ich bin samstags meist gut drauf. Montags bin ich gestresst.
Ich frühstücke gemütlich an einem Samstag. Montags trinke ich nur schnell einen Kaffee und sause in die Arbeit.
Samstag gehe ich gemütlich spazieren. Montags laufe ich im Büro rum.
Ich koche am Wochenende gerne etwas Gesundes. Nach der Arbeit bin ich zu müde und bestelle mir oft eine Pizza.
Am Wochenende mache ich Sport. Unter der Woche habe ich einfach keine Zeit.
Ich kann nur eins sagen: Arbeit macht müde!

Vocabulary

anders - different
ausschauen - to look (like)
ausschlafen - to sleep in
gut drauf sein - to be in a good mood
gestresst  - stressed
gemütlich - comfortable (-bly)
sausen - to whiz 
rumlaufen - to run around
gesund - healthy
etwas Gesundes  - something healthy
bestellen - to order
unter der Woche - during the week

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