Learn the basics of German word order with this free and easy online German lesson. Words in German are formed into sentences according to a certain set of rules, just as they are in English and all other languages come to that matter.
'Syntax' is the official fancy word for this in English. In German the word is 'die Wortstellung.' I'll refer to it as 'word order' throughout this lesson in order to keep things as simple as possible.
In order to best help you learn German efficiently and effectively, I've partnered with a resource called the Rocket German Learning System.
Even if you live a busy life and don't feel like you have enough time to adequately learn how to speak the language fluently, this system is designed to help break down those barriers.
It's a lot of fun, too! Click here to learn all about it.
Here are the basic rules with examples.
In standard German word order the subject is positioned first in a sentence, followed by the verb and then the rest of the sentence. Therefore, simple German word order is similar to English word order as the following example demonstrates.
|Sandra||wirft (throws)||den Ball (the ball)|
What is a ...
Subject = The subject is usually a noun (a person, place or thing) and is normally doing or being something.
Verb = A verb normally follows the subject and is an action or state-of-being.
Object = The object is receiving the action of the verb.
In a stand-alone sentence, the German verb is always - no matter what - positioned in second place.
Example: Sandra wirft den Ball (Sandra throws the ball).
And, for example, when adding 'jetzt' ('now' in English) to the beginning of the sentence. You will see that because 'jetzt' takes first place in the sentence, the verb has to come in second position, which in turn pushes the subject ('Sandra') behind the verb ('wirft'). This happens whenever anything other than the subject is in first position in a sentence.
Example: Jetzt wirft Sandra den Ball (Now Sandra throws the ball).
Be aware: second place doesn't mean second word. It means the second element in a sentence.
By the way, you will notice quite a few German sentences will begin with something other than the subject. Why? To shift emphasis and/or for stylistic reasons.
Until now this German word order lesson has focused on simple, stand-alone German sentences. Sometimes, however, we see more complex sentence structures forming.
These more complex sentence structures consist of something called a 'subordinate clause'. A subordinate clause is part of a sentence dependant on another part, namely the main clause.
Such a clause typically begins with a 'subordinate conjunction', or easier-to-remember, 'link word', such as 'dass' (that). These words help link sentences.
The subordinate conjunction always pushes the verb in the subordinate clause to the end of that clause.
Example: Sandra sagt, dass sie den Ball wirft. (Sandra said that she throws the ball.)
In the example above you will notice that the main verb 'sagt' (said) is in second place as described in Rule 1. However, in the subordinate clause, you will notice the verb is pushed to the end of the sentence because of the subordinate conjunction 'dass'.
Further examples of subordinate conjunctions are: 'weil' (because), 'damit' (so that), 'indem' (while), 'als (when / as), 'ob' (if / whether) 'obwohl' (although), 'sobald' (as soon as), 'trotzdem' (despite the fact that), 'während' (whereas), 'wenn' (whenever / if).
So, whenever you see one of these words, ensure you place the verb to the end of the clause.
Be aware: subordinate clauses aren't always found in the last part of a sentence, they can be found in the first part, as the example below demonstrates.
Please note: in such a case the verb is pushed to the front of the main clause, just after the comma in the subordinate clause as shown below.
Example: Als ich heimkam, war das Abendessen schon auf dem Tisch. (When I came home dinner was already on the table.)
When constructing a sentence in English, we tend to follow the Place, Manner, Time rule:
Example: Sally is travelling to Berlin by train tomorrow.
In German it is constructed, would you believe it, exactly the opposite way around according to the Time, Manner, Place rule, otherwise known as When? How? Where?
Example: Sally fährt morgen mit dem Zug nach Berlin.
In English: 'Sally is travelling tomorrow by train to Berlin'. Sounds rather clumsy in English, right? You must stick to this rule in German though.
When asking questions, which require a yes or no answer, the verb comes first and then the subject follows.
Fährst Du nach Berlin? (Are you driving to Berlin?)
Kommst Du auch? (Are you also coming?)
Wohnst Du in München? (Do you live in Munich?)
When asking questions, which require a more detailed answer, the question word comes first and then the verb follows in second place as usual.
Wann kommst Du an? (When do you arrive?)
Wo wohnst Du? (Where do you live?)
Wie viel Uhr ist es? (What time is it?)
Lesson wrap up...
And, there you have it, my online guide to German word order. There are, of course, more rules, but these are the basic and the most important ones to learn initially.
Having trouble coming to terms with these concepts? Then why not try putting together your own examples following these rules? You could try forming them initially in English and then in German.
By the way, I encourage you to take a look at a German learning programme called Rocket German Learning System.
I've partnered with this resource because their speciality is helping you gain a firm grasp of the language while only investing a few minutes per day in the process.
Click here to discover how this system can be of benefit to you. It's not only simple, efficient and effective - but also quite fun to put into practice...
Top Tips & Advice
Longest German word?
Can you believe the longest German word contains no less than 80 letters?!
Click here to find out which long German words are Guinness World Record breakers and which one involves this very famous European river!
Business German phrases for use in emails and letters as well as for presentations, meetings and phone calls.
Learn German Numbers in this easy-to-follow online lesson. Lots of examples and tips on counting in German.