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The comma is one of several punctuation characters. It serves to separate related thoughts or ideas within complex statements. Grammarians call such related thoughts or ideas clauses. German comma rules vary from English ones. Therefore, we should have a closer look at them.
There are two basic sentence types in German, which you may already know from English or any other language: main clauses and subordinate clauses. Main clauses are also known as independent clauses. Subordinate clauses are also knows as dependent clauses. As the names imply, independent clauses can stand alone, whereas dependent clauses cannot stand alone because they literally depend on main clauses.
The main difference between independent and dependent clauses is that independent clauses contain a subject (e.g., a noun) and a predicate (i.e., a verb or verb group), that’s why they can stand alone. In contrast, dependent clauses do not necessarily contain a subject but at least a predicate. Further, a main clause expresses the basic idea of a statement, whereas a subordinate clause gives any kind of additional information.
Main clauses are usually marked with full stops (.) but in German it is also possible to separate main clauses with commas – when it’s suitable.
1. Der Lehrer spricht, die Schüler hören zu. – The teacher is speaking, the students are listening.
2. Sabine trinkt ein Glas Wein, Tobias trink ein Bier. – Sabine is drinking a glass of wine, Tobias is drinking beer.
3. Das Kind spielt, die Mutter spült Geschirr. – The child is playing, the mother is doing the dishes.
4. Frau Schröder liest ein Buch, Herr Schröder schaut Fernsehen. – Frau Schröder is reading a book, Herr Schröder is watching TV.
Usually, statements like above are linked with the conjunction “und” (and) in order to realize a smoother flow of speech. In such cases, the conjunction “und” normally replaces the comma. Nevertheless, you can put a comma here in order to mark a break.
5. Der Lehrer spricht (,) und die Schüler hören zu. – The teacher is speaking, the students are listening.
6. Sabine trinkt ein Glas Wein (,) und Tobias trink ein Bier. – Sabine is drinking a glass of wine, Tobias is drinking beer.
7. Das Kind spielt (,) und die Mutter spült Geschirr. – The child is playing, the mother is doing the dishes.
8. Frau Schröder liest ein Buch (,) und Herr Schröder schaut Fernsehen. – Frau Schröder is reading a book, Herr Schröder is watching TV.
To be continued …