German word order: Subordinate Clauses, part 2

Posted on 24. Sep, 2012 by in Grammar, Language

In my last post I explained how to form subordinate clauses with only one verb. Now, let’s go one step further and have a look at subordinate clauses that contain two verbs.

When a sentence contains two verbs, one of them is always a full verb and the other is either an auxiliary verb or – as the case may be – a modal verb. A full verb refers to the action, a modal verb indicates modality (likelihood, ability, permission, obligation) and an auxiliary verb helps to make a sentence more “grammatical”, so to speak – especially with regard to tenses. Let’s have a look at some English examples:

 

full verbauxiliary verbmodal verb

Simple Present: I write. – Ich schreibe.

Simple Past: I wrote. – Ich schrieb. / Ich habe geschrieben.

Present Progressive: I am writing. – Ich schreibe.

Past Progressive: I was writing. – Ich schrieb. / Ich habe geschrieben.

Will-Future: I will write. – Ich werde schreiben.

Present Perfect Progressive: I have been writing. Ich habe geschrieben.

Likelihood: I could write. – Ich könnte schreiben.

Ability: I can write. – Ich kann schreiben.

Obligation: I have to write. – Ich muss schreiben.

 

In all sentences, the verb “to write” is the full verb. The statements only differ because of their tenses and the auxiliaries or modal verbs being used. In tenses like simple present or simple past, the full verb has to be conjugated.

In other tenses, for example, present progressive, past progressive, will-future, and present perfect progressive, the auxiliary verb takes up the job of the finite verb (the verb that has to be conjugated). In sentences with modal verbs, the modal verb takes up the job of a finite verb, and thus has to be conjugated. Compare the following sentences in which the auxiliary verb “to be” has to be conjugated.

 

I am writing.

You are writing.

He/she/it is writing.

I have been writing.

He/she/it has been writing.

 

Such verb-“clusters” do also exist in German. When a German subordinate clause contains two verbs, then both verbs come at the end of the sentence, with the full verb prior to the auxiliary or modal verb.

 

1. Ich hoffe, dass euch das Essen schmecken wird. (I hope you will enjoy the meal.)

2. Er hatte mich angerufen, weil er mich etwas fragen wollte. (He called me because he wanted to ask me something.)

3. Ich packe meinen Koffer, weil ich morgen verreisen werde. (I am packing my suitcase because I will go on a trip tomorrow.)

4. Es tut mir leid, dass ich nicht helfen konnte. (I am sorry that I could not help.)

5. Ich kann heute Abend nicht weggehen, weil ich arbeiten muss. (I cannot go out tonight because I have to work.)

 

As you can see, full verbs crop up in their unconjugated forms, whereas auxiliary verbs and modal verbs have to be conjugated. A further difference in comparison to English is that auxiliaries and modal verbs come after the full verb in German subordinate clauses. Compare the following word orders of main clauses and subordinate clauses in German:

 

1a. Das Essen wird euch schmecken. (You will enjoy the meal.)

1b. …, dass euch das Essen schmecken wird. (… that you will enjoy the meal.)

2a. Er wollte mich etwas fragen. (He wanted to ask me something.)

2b. …, weil er mich etwas fragen wollte. (… because he wanted to ask me something.)

3a. Ich werde morgen verreisen. (I will go/ am going on a trip tomorrow.)

3b. …, weil ich morgen verreisen werde. (… because I will go/am going on a trip tomorrow.)

4a. Ich konnte nicht helfen. (I could not help.)

4b. …, dass ich nicht helfen konnte. (… that I could not help.)

5a. Ich muss arbeiten. (I have to work.)

5b. …, weil ich arbeiten muss. (… because I have to work.)

 

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About Sandra

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra

2 Responses to “German word order: Subordinate Clauses, part 2”

  1. Dave 2 October 2012 at 8:50 am #

    Hi Sandra, great blog! Please write more about German grammar. You’re explaining very well :)

  2. AndresC. 13 July 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    “In other tenses, for example, present progressive, past progressive, will-future, and present perfect progressive, the auxiliary verb takes up the job of the finite verb (the verb that has to be conjugated).”

    Actually, in the “Will-Future”, neither the auxiliary verb (will) nor the main verb are conjugated.

    I will write
    You will write
    He/she/it will write
    We will write
    You will write
    They will write

    Greetings.


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