Make your own free website on
Prepositions and Their Cases
How to Use Prepositions
Word Order - Everything Else
The Key Points
German Language Building Blocks
Word Order - The Verb

Second Element | With Other Elements | With Sub-ordinate Clauses | With Paranthetical Expressions | First Element | Things That May Be First Element | Final Element | With Relative Clauses | With Adverbial Clauses | Verbal Log-jams | Participal Phrases | With Infinitive and Past Participle

This lesson focuses on the position of the verb. This deals with regular sentences, questions, and many other times in which the verb is placed differently. You will learn about the three different places in a sentence that the verb can be added to. It is best to learn the placement of the verb first before leaning the placement of the other words in a clause.
Second Element - Normal Order: this is used when there is a subject, verb, direct object, and nothing else:
Ich kaufe das Auto. - I'll buy the car.
Note that German is more flexible than English so one may say: Das Auto kaufe ich.
And no one would think that the car bought me.
Also any other element may be placed in the first position which would move the verb into the second position, and the subject to the third position, this way the verb still remains as the second element:
Heute fährt Peter in die Stadt. - Today Peter drives to town.
Dort kauft er einige Bücher. - He buys a few books there.
Dann fährt er nach Hause. - Then he drives home.
The verb is also the second element in the sentence when the sentence begins with a subordinate clause which then counts as the first element:
Als ich ihn sah, saß er im Garten. - When I saw him he was sitting in the garden.
Das sie verheiratet war, wußte er nicht. - He did not know that she was married.
The only times that the subordinate clause uses normal word order is with indirect speech and other noun clause objects when daß is not used:
Er glaubte, ich wäre krank. - He thought I was ill. (uses normal word order)
Er glaubte, daß ich krank wäre. - He thought that I was ill. (uses subordinate word order)
When there are paranthetical expressions which may be put at the beginning of a sentence without causing inversion. A paranthetical expression is a word such as ja, nein, or a name or other designation of the person being addressed. When one of these is used before the sentence then the verb is left as the second element :
Ja, das stimmt. - Yes, that's right.
Paul, wo ist dein Buch? - Paul, where is your book?
Remember these are followed either by a comma or an exclamation mark. More include:
also (well now, then), das heißt (that is), im Gegenteil (on the contrary), mit anderen Worten (in other words), nun (well), na (well), siehst du (do you see), so (well now, then), unter uns (between ourselves)
First Element: used mostly with simple questions, commands, and in conditional clauses if wenn is omitted:
Kommst du mit in die Stadt? - Are you coming to town with me/us?
Bleiben Sie hier oder gehen Sie mit den anderen? - Are you staying here or going with the others?
Bring' dein Heft hierher! - Bring your book here!
Gehen Sie zur Post und fragen Sie dort! - Go to the Post Office and ask there!
Hätte ich es nur gewußt! - If only I had known!
Schreibst du ihr heute, dann bekommt sie den Brief morgen. - If you write to her today, she'll get the letter tomorrow.
The following things may all be the first element in a sentence:
(a) an infinitive:
Zuhören mußt du, immer zuhören. - You must listen, always listen.
(b) an infinitive phrase:
Um sie vom Bahnhof abzuholen, nahm ich den Wagen. - I took the car to fetch her from the station.
(c) an adverb of time, manner, or place:
Heute/Schnell/Dorthin muß er reiten. - He must ride today/quickly/there.
(d) an interrogative adverb:
Warum sind die meisten Schauspieler arbeitslos. - Why are most actors out of work?
(e) an adjectival phrase:
Wenn es ihm gelingt, kriegt er viel Geld. - If he succeeds, he'll get a lot of money.
(f) a prepositional phrase:
Auf dem Lande haben wir ruhige Tage verbracht. - We spent peaceful days in the country.
(g) a past participle:
Geschrieben ist es noch nicht. - It's not written yet.
(h) a complement:
Ein treuer Freund bleibt er mir immer. - He's still a faithful friend to me.
(i) an adjectival phrase referring to the subject:
Gehorsam wie ein Kind, ging er die Treppe hinauf. - He went upstairs obedient as a child.
(k) a noun clause object:
Daß er so faul war, hatte ich nicht erwartet. - I hadn't expected him to be so lazy.
Final Element: used mostly with the subordinate clause which sends the finite verb to the end of the sentence. It even goes after infinitives, past participles, and seperable prefixes which all normally occupy the final position:
Ich muß dieses Buch lesen. - I must read this book.
Ich weiß, daß ich dieses Buch lesen muß. - I know that I must read this book.
Mein Vater hat es gesagt. - My father said so.
Ich weiß, daß mein Vater es gesagt hat. - I know that my father said so.
Er spricht seine Meinung aus. - He is expressing his opinion.
Ich weiß, das er seine Meinung ausspricht. - I know that he is expressing his opinion.
The verb also is the final element in relative clauses:
Meine Mutter, die ganz ermüdet war, ging früh zu Bett. - My mother, who was quite tired out, went to bed early.
The same as above goes for adverbial clauses:
Er konnte nicht bezahlen, weil er kein Geld hatte. - He could not pay, because he had not money.
Aside from indirect statements without daß and conditional clauses without wenn, another time the verb does not go to the end with a subordinate clause is when there is a verbal log-jam:
Ihr Chef tradelte sie, weil sie mir einen Brief hätte schicken lassen sollen. - Her boss told her off, because she ought to have had a letter sent to me.

As you recall modals use their infinitive form with the past participle function in compound tenses. The version seen below with three verbs, the finite being the first, is less common:
Du kannst ihn daran erinnern, daß er mir einen Brief wird schreiben müssen. - You can remind him that he will have to write me a letter.

The rules for the above are as follows:
If a subordinate contains an infinitive and a modal which is a past participle (infinitive in form), then the auxiliary comes first, followed by the finite, and lastly, the modal:
Wenn ich hätte kommen wollen, wäre ich auch gekommen. - If I had wanted to come, I should have done so.
Ich muß Ihnen leider mitteilen, daß Endspiel hat verschoben werden müssen. - Unfortunately I must inform you that the final has had to be postponed.
Participal Phrases: groups of words formed around a present or past participle. These function as parentheses and are used much less in German than in English:
genau genommen - strictly speaking
ehrlich gesagt - honestly speaking
im Grunde genommen - basically
wie erwartet - as expected
rein praktisch gesehen - from a purely practical point of view

The present participle is much rarer and often used as a clause:
She sat in her room ceaselessly knitting would be Sie saß in ihrem Zimmer und strickte unaufhörlich. The present participle is strickte unaufhörlich and would not be said or written as unaufhörlich strickend.
Last of all, when a sentence has both an infinitive and a past participle which ever one the other depends on comes first:
Er hat mich schwimmen gelehrt. - He has taught me to swim.
Er hat nicht kommen können. - He has been unable to come.
In the first sentence gelehrt depends on schwimmen so therefore schwimmen comes first. In the second können depends on kommen.
Lesson Twenty-Four - Word Order - Everything Else -->