German Subordinating Conjunctions

Overview

Subordinate clauses and, therefore, subordinating conjunctions change the word order in a sentence. When a sentence starts with a subordinating conjunction, the main clause begins with the conjugated verb. This happens because, according to the German word order, the verb must stand in the second position in the sentence at all times.

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In German there are independent clauses, or main clauses, and dependent clauses or subordinate clauses. An independent clause is a clause or sentence that can stand alone as a complete sentence. It typically follows regular word order (Subject-Verb-Object). We can connect two or more main clauses together, using coordinating conjunctions. (e.g. “und:, “aber”, etc. The word order in each main clause is unchanged. 

Example:
Ich gehe heute ins Kino. Er geht heute in die Arbeit. (two independent clauses)
I go to the movies. He goes to work. 
Ich gehe heute ins Kino und er geht heute in die Arbeit. 
I go to the movies and he goes to work. 

In the above example, we combined or connected to independent sentences to form a longer sentence, using the coordinating conjunction “und” (and). 

1. Subordinate Clauses

A sentence that cannot stand alone is called a dependent clause. It needs to be connected to a main/independent clause in order to make sense. We connect a subordinate or dependent clause to a main clause by using a subordinating conjunction. In English, this does not change the word order. In German, however, it does. Subordinating conjunctions change regular word order to subordinate or dependent word order. In other words, the conjugated verb is moved or “kicked” out of second position and placed at the end of the clause. 

Examples:Sie bleibt heute zu Hause. Sie ist sehr müde. (two independent clauses)
She is staying home today. She is very tired. 
Sie bliebt heute zu Hause, denn sie ist sehr müde. (two ind.clauses and coord. conj.)
Sie is staying home today as she is very tired. 
Sie bliebt heute zu Hause, weil sie sehr müde ist. (ind. and dep. clause and subor. conj.)

Notice that the word order did not change when using a coordinating conjunction, but the verb was kicked to the end of the sentence in the subordinate clause, due to the subordinating conjunction. Both conjunctions mean ‘because,’ but only ‘weil’ forces the verb to the end of the clause. Also, be aware that a subordinate clause can be extended by way of a coordinating conjunction, but this does not change the fact that the verb is placed at the end of the respective clauses (the subordinate word order continues throughout the combined dependent clauses).

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2. Subordínate Clauses at the beginning of a sentence

It is also possible to start a sentence with a subordinate clause. This can be done to put emphasis on this part of the sentence. Starting a sentence with the subordinate clause creates inverted word order in the main clause. One could say that the entire subordinate clause is now in position one

Example:
Sie bliebt heute zu Hause, weil sie müde ist. (main clause, subordinate clause)
She is staying home today because she is tired. 

Weil sie müde istbleibt sie heute zu Hause. (subordinate clause, main clause)
Because she is tired, she is staying home today. 
Notice that in the top example, the main clause follows regular word order, and in the subordinate clause the verb was kicked to the end. In the bottom example, the subordinate clause is at the beginning of the sentence with the verb kicked to the end of the clause. The main clause now is in inverted word order. 

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

Writing:
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
Reading:
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
Listening:
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.