Lesson 13. Word Order in German Sentences

 

In our previous lessons we have covered basic grammar topics, such as articles, present tenses, etc. We have even learned how to make simple sentences. And while we can say quite a few things already, and talk about ourselves a bit, we still have not discussed such an important topic as word order in German sentences. This is exactly what we are going to do today. We will start with simple sentences today, and probably at some later stage will get to complicated ones

Word Order in Simple Sentences in German

Declarative Sentence

What you have to remember about word order in German simple sentences is that the verb (or rather that part of a predicate that can be conjugated) always takes the second place in the sentence. No matter what. The subject can take the first, the third, sometimes even the fourth, but the conjugated part of the predicate will always be on the second place).

If a subject takes the first place the word order is called a direct word order. If a subject follows the predicate it is an inverse word order. The rest of words take their places based on the meaning of the sentence. In many cases their order is not really fixed.

Example:

Direct Word Order

I II III
Meine Schwester besucht einen Kindergarten

My sister goes to a kindergarten.

Inversed Word Order

I II III
Wochentags besucht meine Schwester einen Kindergarten

On weekdays my sister goes to a kindergarten.

Negation

As you know in German the word nicht plays the role of a negation. As of now we have not used the word all that often, but we will come across it more in future, so please pay attention. If you want to make an entire sentence negative then nicht will take the last place in the sentence. If you only want to make one certain word negative, then use nicht before this word.

Example:
Der Postbote kommt heute nicht — The Postman is not coming today. The whole sentence is negative
Der Postbote kommt nicht heute, sondern morgen — The postman is coming not today but tomorrow. You can see the difference.

Interrogative sentence

There are two types of interrogative sentences in German. One of them requires a yes/no answer, and the other one is using an interrogative word (a question word). In these two types of sentences you will find a different word order.

Yes/No Questions

When making an interrogative sentence which requires a yes or a no as an answer you will have to put the predicate (the part that is conjugated) on the first position. After that follows a subject and then the rest of the words.

Example:

I II III
Meine Schwester besucht einen Kindergarten

My sister goes to a kindergarten.

Besucht meine Schwester einen Kindergarten?

In case if you use an interrogative word for your question, this word takes up the first position followed by the predicate (again the part that is conjugated), then a subject (except cases when the question is about the subject), then the rest of the words.

Example:

I II III
Wochentags besucht meine Schwester einen Kindergarten
On weekdays my sister goes to a kindergarten.
Wann besucht meine Schwester einen Kindergarten?
When does my sister go to a kindergarten?

The most important German interrogative words are the following

German English
Wer? Who?
Was? What?
Wann? When?
Wo? Where?
Warum? Why?
Wie? How?

As of now these are the most important things you need to know about word order in German sentences.

Exercises:

1. Make questions to the following declarative sentences.

2. Read the text below, translate it. Explain the word order in every sentence.

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3 Responses to Lesson 13. Word Order in German Sentences

  1. Urte says:

    Hi, thank you very much. Maybe you could give answers to those exercises?

  2. Elena says:

    Hello Urte,

    Thanks for your interest. Here are the answers to the first exersize. The answers for the second one are in the lesson itself (let me know if you have trouble with that one).

    Exersize 1:

    1. Wie heissen Sie?
    2. Woher kommen Sie?
    3. Wie alt sind Sie?
    4. Wo wohnen Sie?
    5. Sind Sie verheiratet?
    6. Haben Sie Kinder?
    7. Sind Sie berufstaetig?
    8. Was machen Sie gerne?
    9. Koennen Sie bitte Ihre Telefonnummer sagen?

  3. Bettina says:

    Hi,

    guess there is a mistake in one of the excercises. It should be “WANN besucht meine Schwester einen Kindergarten? When does my sister go to a kindergarten?” instead of ‘wenn’.

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