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Mastering German word order II: main clauses Posted by on Jul 22, 2010 in Language

In my previous post, I explained the word order of a basic German sentence, containing the following grammatical entities:

S = subject: ich (I)

V = verb: schreibe (am writing)

O = object: einen Brief (a letter)

T = time: heute (today)

L = location: im Büro (at the office)

My example sentence was:

Ich schreibe einen Brief. (S+V+O) – I am writing a letter.

To where I added the information about the TIME and LOCATION of my action:

Ich schreibe heute einen Brief im Büro. (S+V+T+O+L) – Today I am writing a letter at the office.

In this post I am going to explain what I have to do when I want to attach the TIME or LOCATION of my action at the beginning of a sentence.

When doing this, I have to make sure to execute some word shift. That is, I have to interchange the subject and the verb. So, the word order is no longer subject + verb (ich schreibe) but becomes verb + subject (schreibe ich). Compare:

Ich schreibe heute einen Brief im Büro. (S+V+T+O+L)

and

Heute schreibe ich einen Brief im Büro. (T+V+S+O+L)

In German we call this “versetzte Wortreihenfolge” (SHIFTED WORD ORDER). Unfortunately, I cannot give a logical explanation why we interchange the subject and verb here, but it would just sound odd if we didn’t do it.

I can also add the LOCATION at the beginning of my sentence, which asks for the word shift, too. Compare:

Ich schreibe heute einen Brief im Büro. (S+V+T+O+L)

and

Im Büro schreibe ich heute einen Brief. (L+V+S+T+O)

All you have to do is to bring the TIME or LOCATION at the beginning of the sentence, execute the word shift (S+V becomes V+S) and the rest of the sentence remains unchanged.

Here is the key of my last post’s exercise:

  1. Sie liest heute Abend ein Buch in der Bibliothek. (Sie liest heute Abend in der Bibliothek ein Buch.) – Tonight she is reading a book in the library.
  2. Er trinkt morgens eine Tasse Kaffee im Garten. (Er trinkt morgens im Garten eine Tasse Kaffee.) – In the morning he is drinking a cup of coffee in the garden.
  3. Sie kaufen freitags Lebensmittel im Supermarkt. (Sie kaufen freitags im Supermarkt Lebensmittel.) – On Fridays they are buying groceries in the supermarket.

If you like, you can apply the rule I have just explained to these sentences in order to exercise the construction of German sentences.

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About the Author:Sandra Rösner

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


Comments:

  1. Marita:

    This is not as bad as Dativ and Akkusativ – but it’s still one of the reasons I always had better grades in English classes 🙂 – and I grew up in Germany…

    I’m trying to teach German to my daughter and your blog is very helpful – thanks!

  2. Hoosier41:

    Sandra

    I enjoy your posts. You should be a teacher if you re not. Keep them coming they are very helpful.

    Hoosier

  3. Herr Eskimo:

    I wanted to thank you for this equations you provided in your explanation about German word order and how to write sentences. My financial situation, after completing a introduction course at a licensed institution, limits my ability to continue studying the language in a classroom and trying to find free resources via the internet. The A-1 certificate is all I need to acquire a work permit in Deutschland and fix my money woes but all the public library materials here provided no English equivalent for instructions, or whatever from the very beginning making it difficult for me to gain interest in pursuing it further when I constantly need to type word after word in a dictionary to find the definition, plus most translations failed to provide an accurate meaning to me. A few sites I frequently find useful are GermanPod101.COM, TranslatorBar.COM, http://Class.GeorgiaSouthern.EDU/German/Grammar/GR-IMP.HTM and now yours plus I found a trial version of TRIPPO for my mobile. I just need help now with learning when or how to use the correct version of ein, where and which preprosition to add, understanding changing noun suffixes plus which adjective ending to use but it comes simpler for me to remember formulas, words, etc. My hope is the GeorgiaSouthern site has good information because I only found it yesterday plus the lessons on About.COM or on the BBC were lacking several things to me and the GermanPod webpage was good but offers almost no details on composition structure, grammar, etc. Sorry to mention any other companies but I wanted to let others like me can find reasonable curriculum.

  4. Thanh Nguyen:

    Thanks so much for your posts! I’m a self learner German and these posts’re very useful.
    Viele Danke!