Really?! You can say that? — German sentence structure

Tell any German speaker that you are learning German and you’re sure to here this phrase: “Deutsche Sprache — schwere Sprache”. There are many reasons why German comes off as more difficult than English. First there are the three genders, then there are the four cases and then of course the verbs. The most important thing to understand though is that they are all connected and make up the entire German language. Unfortunately, you cannot learn one part and forget the other. But the good news is that when you put it together its really a magnificent language that allows for much more wordplay and poetics than English.

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  1. […] Parfum” – Watched 2 episodes of “The IT Crowd” (German). I found a cool post on German sentence order. I’ve got no motivation to check it out today, but I definitely want to keep it around for […]

  2. […] that temporal adverbs are placed in sentences just like time phrases and references. Yes, the usual Time — Manner — Place rule. Today we’re going to look at locational adverbs or the adverbs of place. In my courses I […]

  3. […] German is no exception. Now we’ve learned about basic German sentence structure. That German is a time, manner, place (wann, wie, wo) language. We’ve seen how you construct questions and answer them using the […]

  4. […] German Sentence Structure […]

  5. In the fourth box from the top, last sentence [Mit dem Gewehr …] the left hand clissification title is ‘time’, but I don’t see time in the sentence anywhere. Is this a typo? Should the classification for the line be ‘Manner’ indication the nature of what is in first position in this sentence?
    Thanks for any clarification.

  6. Christie · · Reply

    I find your examples of word order in English confusing. For simple declarative sentences the world order is fixed–more or less. While subject-verb-object is standard and expected, rearranging the order would not make the sentence incomprehensible. As with Yoda-speak in Star Wars, it would simply sound strange. Moreover, for effect, even that simple word order is sometimes inverted: Home go I! But that is unusual, and, as I indicated, typically done for effect. Still, there is nothing that says you cannot use that word order.

    The situation with complex sentences, however, is somewhat different in that almost all of the sentence elements can be moved around. The subject will indeed come before the verb–but it may be separated from the verb by certain adverbs. (I quickly take off my hat and coat.) But beyond that, the second sentence could be spoken or written in several different ways:

    I will give you the report at the office tomorrow.
    Tomorrow I will give you the report at the office.
    Tomorrow at the office I will give you the report.
    I will give the report to you at the office tomorrow. (changing the indirect object to a prepositional phrase)
    I will give you the report tomorrow at the office.
    At the office tomorrow I will give you the report.

    And probably a few other slight variations.

    All of these are acceptable in English, and none of them would raise any eyebrows. Word order in English actually has a great deal of flexibility, although some patterns are almost never used. For example, At the office will give I you tomorrow the report. Although this sentence would be understood–maybe with a bit of difficulty–by a native speaker of English, there most likely would be a presumption that the person saying it was NOT a native English speaker but someone who was translating the typical word order of their native language into English. The meaning of the sentence would change if the nominative pronoun “I” were changed to the objective pronoun “me”: At the office give me you tomorrow the report. Of course, the sentence would become much more ambiguous, perhaps intelligible only by context, if both pronouns were nouns.

    Perhaps it is only because my German is extremely rusty, but I also don’t get the distinction about the poster. The same “trick” can be played in English: I never want to have CHILDREN are the most important thing to me. It doesn’t really make sense as a sentence until you get what is going on–just as in German. But maybe I am missing something.

    1. Dear Christie,
      Thank you for your feedback. When giving English examples I do tend to exaggerate them in order to emphasize the fact that unlike what some, including Google translate, think, German and English cannot be translated one-to-one.

      Your examples of English sentences are valid, however, comprehensible does not mean it’s correct. There are many grammatical forms that are acceptable and in fact follow a rule, however, if they are not idiomatic, they are to a degree incorrect.

      The big take aways from this post for most readers is this very simple point:
      – German is a Time, Manner, Place language.
      – English is a Place, Manner, Time language.
      – In German position one is emphasized.
      – When time is in position one, it’s very natural (TMP).
      – In independent German clauses the conjugated verb comes in the second position.

  7. German Newbie · · Reply

    Thanks a lot for your posts. They are so much helpful for learning German Grammar. I have a question regarding word order related to adverb of time.

    I read that if the adverb comes in the beginning of the sentence to emphasize it, then the word order is adverb -> verb -> noun -> etc. However I could never see an example where we can have two adverbs of time. For example in my case one is specific time and another is generic; and as per Hammer’s the general precedes the particular in word order. Like: “Jeden Tag am 4 Uhr “. However I am not sure how to place them in the beginning of a sentence which means Ich stehe jeden Tag am 4 Uhr auf.

    Thanks a lot !

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