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Basic patterns in German language:

Word order in German


English has rules about the order of words in a sentence. The basic pattern is the order subject – finite verb – object (S–V–O). In comparison German word order is more flexible than English word order. But there are still some patterns and rules in German.

 

Word order in statements - examples:

In the following examples you can see that often the basic pattern in German is just like the English one: subject – verb – object.

Example 1:
English: He (= subject) works (= verb)  today (=  today)
Translation: he (English) -> er (German), to work (English) -> arbeiten (German), today (English) -> heute (German)
German: Er (= subject) arbeitet (= verb) heute (= object) 

Mostly the subject is the first position (S-V-O), but if the subject is not in first position in a sentence, it is placed directly after the verb (called subject–verb inversion). In German the verb comes before the subject if you have the expression of time in first place (to emphazice the expression of time or place)

Example 2:
English: He (= subject) works (= verb)  today (=  today)
Translation: he (English) -> er (German), to work (English) -> arbeiten (German), today (English) -> heute (German)
German:  Heute (= object) arbeitet (= verb)  er (= subject)

The main rule for word order in German is that the verb must be in second position in statements. In subordinating clauses the finite verb is sent to the end. So the basic pattern in German is often just like the English one: subject – verb – object. If there are two verbs in a sentence, one verb form – the finite verb – goes into the second position, while the other verb form (the infinitive or the participle) is sent to the end of the clause.

Example 3:
English: I said that he is at home
Translation: I (English) -> ich (German), to say (English) -> sagen (German), that (English) -> dass (German),  he (English) -> er (German), at home (English) -> zuhause (German), to be (German) -> sein (English)
German: Ich sagte, dass er zuhause ist.

But there are some instances where the finite verb is not in second position and comes first in the sentence: yes/no-questions and the imperative.

Example 4:
English: Give me the book
Translation: to give (English) -> geben (German), me (English) -> mir (German), book (English) -> Buch (German)
German: Geben Sie mir das Buch (formal use)
               Gib mir das Buch

Example 5:
English: Do you buy a book
German: Kaufst du ein Buch
 

Another rule  to sequence of various elements in a sentence is that expressions of time come before manner (how something is done) and the description of a place (Time (when?)– Manner (how?) – Place(where?)). It is very common to have descriptions of time or place in first position.

 



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