Adverbs edit

Now that we can build very simple sentences, it's time to introduce a simple way of making them more interesting by including additional information.

Terminology edit

Unfortunately the terminology can be somewhat difficult here, not because the concepts themselves are difficult, but because the terminology itself is difficult to work with. For English speakers, or at least English speaking grammarians, words that modify other words are either adjectives or adverbs. If the word modifies a noun then it is an adjective, and if the word modifies something else, which can be any other kind of word or phrase, or even the rest of the sentence, then it's an adverb. This classification corresponds to the conditions where the suffix "-ly" is normally used in English, but there is no such suffix in German so this criterion is less useful here. The term modifier can be applied to adverbs and adjectives, and also includes phrases that perform a similar function. Meanwhile German speaking grammarians tend to organize these words along more logical lines, and, of course, differently than English speaking grammarians. But there is less agreement amongst themselves as to the exact scheme. For example Duden (a widely regarded as an authority on German grammar), calls nicht (to be covered below) a Partikel but DWDS (a widely regarded online German dictionary) lists it as an Adverb.

Another potential cause of confusion is that German words are often more flexible than their English counterparts, so the role a word plays depends on which meaning is attached to it in a particular sentence. And so the same term does not always apply to the same word in all its possible meanings.

The upshot is that there is no generally agreed upon name for the concept that is the subject of this section, namely that of a word that modifies a verb. The German meaning of Adverb comes close, but again, the exact meaning of the German term is variable. The German term Umstandswort, literally "circumstance word", is more descriptive, but it is a mouthful. So, for simplicity, the term adverb, with no qualifier, will be used here for the concept and we'll use the term modifier, possibly with a qualifier, for words that modify words other than verbs or nouns. For example, in the sentence "He's sleeping soundly," the word "soundly" is an adverb because it's applied to the verb "to sleep". On the other hand, in the sentence "This apple is bright red," the word "bright" is an adjective modifier because it modifies the adjective "red".

In German, the entire sentence (or clause in complex sentences) tends to revolve around the verb, so an adverb may usually be regarded as being applied the sentence as a whole. There are a few adverbs which usually only apply to an entire sentence and we'll cover those later in the section.

Adverb classification edit

German adverbs are not inflected, so you don't have to worry about things like number and gender with them. Some grammars thus include them in a larger class of "uninflected words" ― Nichtflektierbaren Wörter. We can classify most of them according to the type of information they provide:

  • Adverbs of time tell you when the action is taking place, in other words they answer a "When ..." question.
    • nun ― "now"
    • heute ― "today"
    • gestern ― "yesterday"
    • morgen ― "tomorrow"
  • Adverbs of location tell you where the action is taking place, in other words they answer a "Where ..." question.
    • hier ― "here"
    • dort ― "there"
    • draußen ― "outside"
    • drinnen ― "inside"
  • Adverbs of direction tell you in which direction movement is taking place, in other words they answer a "Where to ..." question.
    • her ― "(to) here"
    • hin ― "(to) there"
    • weg ― "away"
  • Adverbs of manner tell you the way the action is taking place, in other words they answer a "How ..." question.
    • anders ― "differently"
    • gern ― "with pleasure"

The V2 word order edit

Before adding these new words to sentences, we need to explore how the words will be arranged. English is said to have SVO word order, which means the subject (S) comes before the verb (V), which is then sometimes followed by other nouns or objects (O). German has what is called V2 word order, meaning that the subject and other elements in the sentence can go in various places, but the verb (V) must be in the second position. (At least in the simple sentence types we're covering at the moment.) In other words, there should be one and only one phrase or functional unit, be it the subject, an object, or adverbial phrase, at the start of a sentence, and this must be followed by the verb. This can sound odd to English speaking ears, but it becomes more natural with practice. To see how this works, we'll compare German and English versions of a simple subject+verb+adverb sentence.

In English, the usual order of words in such a sentence is (subject) then (verb) then (adverb), for example:

  • "I'm working now." (In this case the verb has two parts "am working".)

If you want to accent the "now", then you can move it to the start of the sentence:

  • "Now I'm working."

But notice that the subject "I" comes before the verb "am working" in both cases.

In German, you can say the same thing as:

  • Ich arbeite nun.

If you want to accent the nun then you can move it to the front, but with V2 word order the verb must come second and the subject must be moved after the verb:

  • Nun arbeite ich.

Note that the word for word translation would be "Now work I," which is incorrect in English. But the word for word translation of the English into German, Nun ich arbeite, is just as incorrect. Much of the time the subject will go first in both English and German, and the word order winds up about the same in both languages. But flexible word order is essential to convey the stress and importance you're giving to the individual parts of the sentence, and since the rules for possible word orders in German are different than they are in English, you must master these differences to produce grammatical German.

Examples edit

Here are a few examples to illustrate V2 word order:

  • Er lebt hier. ― "He lives here."
  • Hier lebt er. ― "Here he lives."
  • Wir reden morgen. ― "We'll talk tomorrow."
  • Morgen reden wir. ― "Tomorrow we'll talk."
  • Ich koche gern. ― "I like to cook" (Literally, "I cook with pleasure.")
    • Adverbs of manner are more shy about moving to the start of the sentence, so while Gern koche ich, may be technically grammatical, the phrasing is odd enough that it doesn't work as an example.

Negation of verbs edit

There are a number of ways to negate a sentence in German, and when to use which one depends on the situation. One of the most important is to use the adverb nicht, which tells you that whatever the verb is saying, that's what you're not doing. For example:

  • Wir reden nicht. ― "We don't talk."
  • Ich arbeite nicht. ― "I'm not working."
  • Sie kocht nicht. ― "She doesn't cook."

The German grammar is actually much simpler than English in this case since English requires an additional verb ("to do", "to be") to accomplish this. This is good news, but be sure not try to use the word for word translation from English to German since the result will always be ungrammatical. When nicht is used as an adverb it comes last in the sentence, except in cases where the something else must come last and has priority. (As noted above, Duden does not consider nicht an adverb, and this is the main reason. Duden includes the ability to move to the front of a sentence as a criterion for being an adverb.) But note that there are other uses of nicht, and its position in the sentence is a clue you can use to figure out exactly which word is being negated.

A similar adverb is nie ("never"). It can be used similarly to the way nicht is used, except that it's more flexible in terms of word order.

  • Sie kocht nie. ― "She never cooks."
  • Nie kocht sie. ― "Never does she cook."

Sentence adverbs edit

As mentioned above, there is a small class of words that serve to modify the rest of the sentence. They tell you what the speaker thinks of the fact itself rather than describing the action. For example:

  • natürlich ― "naturally, of course"
  • leider ― "unfortunately"
  • vielleicht ― "perhaps"

Examples edit

The rules for where sentence adverbs go in a sentence are about the same as for (verb modifying) adverbs:

  • Ich arbeite leider. ― "I'm working, unfortunately."
  • Natürlich kocht er. ― "Of course he's cooking."
    • Note that natürlich, just like the English counterpart "naturally", has multiple meanings, so the previous example is somewhat ambiguous. It might mean that he is cooking without artificial ingredients, though in that case the sentence would probably be phrased as Er kocht natürlich.


  Introduction and overviewBasic terminology  Personal pronouns, formal and informal you, introduction to gender  Intransitive verbs, verb conjugation, present tense  Adverbs, V2 word order, Negation of verbs, Sentence adverbs  Stem-changing verbs, Weak vs. Strong verbs  Polar questions, V1 word order, Pre- and postamblesNoun genderNoun pluralsNoun phrases, ArticlesTransitive verbs, Accusative case, word orderPronomial possessives, Possessive determiners, Possessive pronouns, Negation with keinIrregular verbs, Past-like present verbsUninflected adjectives, Predicate phrases, Copulative verbsInterrogatives, der wordsFuture tense, The sentence bracketDitransitive verbs, Dative caseCoordinating conjunctions, Ellipses, Adverbial conjunctions, Multipart conjunctionsPrepositions with accusative and dative, Prepositional verbsPrefixed verbs, Separable verbs, Separable and inseparable prefixesImperatives, The imperative mood, The impersonal imperativeImpersonal verbs, Impersonal pronouns, the Point-of-view dativeDative prepositionsPossessives and the genitive caseModal auxiliary verbs, Compound verbs, Modal adverbsDemonstrativesThe simple past tenseReflexive pronouns and reflexive verbsSubordinating conjunctionsDeclining adjectives

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