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Sentence Structure in Main clausesEdit

Here is the ultimate syntax guide for a main clause. German allows a considerable amount of syntactical freedom as parts of speech are indicated through case, rather than syntax. Nonetheless, there are conventions to follow, especially ones that reduce the ambiguity of pronouns.

Word-Order in the Main Clause
First Position Anything Used for emphasis. Sometimes people will even put a past participle or some other verb in the first position. You shouldn't do that until you know what you are doing. The first position is often used for the subject (Nominative), however.
Second Position Conjugated Verb "habe", "muss", "arbeitete"
Mittelfeld Nominative Pronoun "ich"
Reflexive Pronoun "mich", "uns"
Accusative Pronoun A "dich"
Dative Pronoun D "dir", "mir"
(Temporal Expressions) Expressions of time, especially short temporal adverbs, are often placed here.
Nominative Noun "die Katze"
Dative Noun D "meiner Mutter"
Accusative Noun A = ADDA "meinen Vater"
Prepositional Phrases Time, Manner, Place
Adverbs, Predicate Adjectives Time, Manner Place
Verbal negation using "nicht" see section on negation for proper treatment of this topic
Final Position All Remaining Verbs Separable Prefixes "Ich fange damit an!"
Past Participles (conjugated verb should be either "haben" od. "sein) "Ich habe heute nicht gearbeitet."
Infinitives Used with modal verb as conjugated verb. "Du sollst das nicht tun."
Used with modal-like verbs (sehen, hören, helfen, lassen) "Ich höre dich atmen."
Extended verb phrases: three verbs in sentence Build Inwards
Translating a hypothetical English sentence with three verbs into German, the first English verb - the conjugated verb - would be in the second position in the German sentence. The second verb will be on the outside of the verb-phrase, at the end of the German sentence. The third verb will be immediately before that. Subj . 1 . [Mittelfeld] . 3 . 2.
"Ich habe (1) seit dem Unfall nicht arbeiten (3) können (2)." "I have (1) not been able (2) to work (3) since the accident."
Nachfeld The stuff you forgot to say, or that you just thought of after saying your verb. This happens to both native-speakers and those learning the language. However, try to avoid it. This position is also used for comparisons. See below.

This is the officially-sanctioned syntax of a main clause. However, German syntax is not written in stone. One has considerable latitude in the way one constructs one's sentence. Before fleshing out the topic, here are some rules, conventions, and words of advice:

1) In terms of being placed in proper syntax, the pronouns are the most important, for they are the ones most liable to ambiguity ("sie" = which person, what part of speech, which case? Put it in its correct position).

2) It is not possible for a sentence to include all of the listed items, but it is still good to be able to reproduce that schema from memory.

3) You must be able to recognize an element of a sentence. For example, you must not split something like, "mit einem Buch", for that is a prepositional phrase, i.e., one and only one sentence element. Many other sentence elements are, however, only one word. You get a lot better at this as time goes on.

4) Two good mnemonics. Number one: pronouns before nouns. always. even if it feels weird to put both your accusative and dative objects before your subject (a noun), you must get used to it. It doesn't happen very often, though.

5) The second one is "ADDA" (i.e., NOT DAAD, the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst). ADDA describes, first, the pronouns (Accusative, then Dative), and then the nouns (Dative, then Accusative). ADDA. think ABBA, but with D's instead of B's.

6) The first position is usually your subject, but can also draw attention to something you want to discuss.

7) As will be explained below, prepositional phrases and adverbs follow the "Time, Manner, Place" format.

8) Beyond reducing/eliminating ambiguity, you actually do have a fair amount of freedom. "Time, Manner, Place" is more a suggestion than a commandment, and most German textbooks tell you to learn the schema laid out above, but then to speak and write your sentences with items in ascending order of importance. Put the important stuff at the end. Then you get to your verb, which gives all of the words in the sentence meaning, resulting in a crescendo of emotion and understanding. Or not. But you see how that might work.

9) If you speak enough, your verbs start going to the right places. It will seem perfectly natural that the verb is in the second position, and that the other verbs are at the end. Getting used to subordinate clauses takes more time, but eventually your words go to the right place. Don't worry about making mistakes, but also try not to forget which verb you have waiting in your head until the sentence ends.

10) Banish the terms, "subject", "direct object", and "indirect object" from your head. Get used to explaining things in terms of "nominative", "accusative", "dative", and "genitive". Same goes for "linking-" and "helping-verbs". Start talking about modal verbs, and modal-like verbs.

In general, you have to learn how to talk about grammar to be able to study German successfully.

11) If you can do the declensions in your head, you can do the syntax in your head. Syntax is easier.

Position of the VerbEdit

Clauses with one verb part - Sätze mit nur einem VerbteilEdit

In a main clause (Hauptsatz), the conjugated verb is in second position.

Clauses with one verb part
First Position (I) (II) Mittelfeld Punctuation
1. Er geht nach Hause .
2. Heute Abend fahre ich mit dem Auto nach Köln .
3. Im Park machte er einen langen Spaziergang .

Second position does not equal second word, as you can see above. However, there is only one group of words allowed before the conjugated verb. Such groups of words are called "phrases". While you can put very long phrases in front of the conjugated verb you mustn't use two. Therefore the sentence "Heute Abend ich fahre mit dem Auto nach Köln" is wrong. This is a big difference between English and German syntax.

Clauses with two verb parts - Sätze mit zwei VerbteilenEdit

Clauses with two verb parts
First Position (I) (II) Mittelfeld Second Verb Punctuation
4. Der Junge zieht den Mantel an .
5. Der Junge hat den Mantel angezogen .
6. Schüler müssen Hausaufgaben machen .
7. Gestern hat sein Vater ein fantastisches Essen gekocht .
8. Ein fantastisches Essen hat sein Vater gestern gekocht .

Sometimes you have to use more than one verb part in a clause. This is true for Perfekt forms, separable verbs, modals etc. Only one of these verbs is conjugated. The conjugated verb stays in second position, the other part goes to the end.

Clauses with three verb parts - Sätze mit drei VerbteilenEdit

Clauses with three verb parts
First Position II Mittelfeld Third Verb Second Verb Punctuation
9. Ich werde die Aufgaben nicht machen können .
10. Du hast mich nicht besuchen dürfen .
11. Ich kann dir deinen Wagen übermorgen umsetzen helfen .

Sometimes there are even three verbs in a sentence. These usually involve modals and perfect tenses. The conjugated verb is in the second position. The remaining two verbs are at the end of the clause, building inwards that is to mean, what would be the second verb in English is placed at the end, and what would be the third verb is placed before the second verb.

Order of phrases - Reihenfolge der SatzgliederEdit

In English, you need the position of phrases to determine whether a noun phrase is a subject or an object. In German the cases tell you which role is assigned to a certain noun phrase. Therefore, the word order is less strict.

First Position - erste PositionEdit

In neutral sentences the subject is most likely in the first position (Examples 1, 4, 5, 6).

However, you can put everything there you want to stress. This is very common with phrases about time or place (Examples 2, 3, 7). English speakers need to remember that the first position is restricted to exactly one phrase.

You can even put objects in first position (Example 8). You do it mostly, if you want to emphasize the object or if you have to repeat the sentence because your partner has not understood this particular part of it.

If the subject is not in first position, it goes directly after the conjugated verb (Examples 2, 3, 7, 8), unless preceded by a reflexive pronoun or an accusative or dative pronoun.

Order of Phrases in the Middle of the clause - Reihenfolge der Satzglieder im MittelfeldEdit


In the middle of the sentence - the part between the two parts of the verb - word order is quite flexible.

Often the word order for a neutral sentence can be described like this:

  1. Time
  2. Objects
  3. Manner
  4. Place

The mnemonic is "STOMP" where S is for subject. However, when looking at wild German sentences you will find structures that do not follow these principles but are nonetheless correct. This is very frequent in spoken language. Mostly the deviation from the neutral structure is caused by a special focus. While they are not wrong, it would be inappropriate to use them all the time. Therefore it is best to learn the principles described here. If you have mastered them and can use them without thinking about it, you can try some of the deviations.


Time seems to be a very important concept for German speaking people. It is mostly mentioned very early in the sentence, either at the very beginning in the first position which means that the subject goes directly after the conjugated verb (i.e.: Gestern war ich im Kino) or early in the middle field (i.e.: Ich war gestern im Kino). The sentence "Ich war im Kino gestern" is not exactly wrong, but it would sound weird in most situations. It could be used though in a casual conversation when putting special emphasis on "im Kino", but it's not the regular sentence pattern.

Order of ObjectsEdit

The order of objects is different for nouns and pronouns. Pronouns always come before nouns, and reflexive pronouns come before everything except nominative pronouns. ADDA, mentioned above, is a good way to remember the prescribed order of cases for pronouns and then nouns. As sentences can contain only two objects, here are the three possible combinations deriving from ADDA:

Two pronouns: accusative before dative (AD)

I   II    Acc. Dat.       
Ich habe  sie  ihm  gegeben.
Ich gab   sie  ihm         .

One noun, one pronoun: The pronoun goes first, regardless of the case

I   II    Pronoun  Noun      
Ich habe  ihm      die Kleider gegeben.
Ich gab   sie      dem Jungen         .

Two nouns: dative before accusative (DA)

I   II    Dat.           Acc.      
Ich habe  dem Jungen     die Kleider gegeben.
Ich gab   dem Jungen     die Kleider        .


This includes adverbs and prepositional phrases describing how, why, and by what methods the event of the sentence has taken place.


This includes adverbs and prepositional phrases describing location and direction

Satzglieder im NachfeldEdit

In German grammar the term Nachfeld is used to describe parts of the sentence that come after the second part of the verb. The Nachfeld is neglected in most learner's grammars. It is mostly used in spoken language, when people add something to a sentence as an afterthought or with special emphasis. In written language it is important for comparisons. You put them almost exclusively in the nachfeld.

Consider the example Peter verdient mehr Geld als Paul' (Peter earns more money than Paul). Now try to convert the sentence to the perfect. If you follow the normal sentence structure rules you would have to write: Peter hat mehr Geld als Paul verdient, but this is almost never done. The sentence best accepted by a majority of German speakers is: Peter hat mehr Geld verdient als Paul. The comparison is put after the past participle.

Note that the two items being compared must be in the same case. Du verdienst mehr Geld als ich. This is also correct grammar in English, though it is now almost obsolete among native English speakers.

Syntax of Interrogatives and ImperativesEdit

I am putting this up here for the sake of completion.


Interrogatives (questions) change word order in the first two fields or so. There are two kinds. In a question based on a verb, the conjugated verb comes first. Following that is the same string of pronouns first and nouns thereafter (and other sentence elements and finally the remaining verbs) that was detailed above. The main difference between questions and statements is that the freedom of the first position is eliminated; the item you wanted to emphasize must now find a different position in the sentence. The ascending-order-of-importance convention still holds.


Q: Hast du schon "Fargo" gesehen?
A: "Fargo" habe ich noch nicht gesehen.

The second kind of question involves a question word or wo-compound, which always comes at the beginning, and is immediately followed by the conjugated verb. They are then followed by the remaining parts of the sentence in the order outlined above. Be mindful of the case of the question word, and make sure never to use a wo-compound when referring to a person.

Q: Warum hast du "Fargo" nie gesehen? (Why have you never seen "Fargo"?)
A: Ich hatte keine Lust. (I had no interest.)
Q: Wem hast du geholfen? (Wem = "whom?" in the dative case.) (Whom have you helped?)
A: Ich habe meiner Mutter geholfen. (I have helped my mother.)
Q: Bei wem hast du dich beworben?  (From whom have you applied [for a job]?)
A: Beim Geschäft meines Onkels habe ich mich beworben. (I applied at my uncle's business.)
Q: Worum hast du dich beworben? (For what did you apply?)
A: Um eine Stelle habe ich mich beworben!  Bist du verrückt? (I applied for a job!  
Are you insane?)

And so on.


Imperatives (commands) also slightly alter the aforementioned main-clause sentence structure. Imperatives are formed in several ways:

Geh', bitte!  (Please go, informal)
Gehen Sie, bitte! (Please go, formal)
Gehen wir, bitte! (Let's go! Within a group)

This sequence - verb in imperative form, perhaps followed by the person to whom it is directed in the nominative case (depending on the kind of imperative used, however) - is then followed by all of the other elements of the sentence, in the aforementioned order.

German-speakers, like English-speakers and the speakers of many other languages, consider the use of the imperative mood to be rude, and, as in English, use a conditional or subjunctive construction to convey requests. This will be dealt with in a different section of this book.

Both of these syntaxes are very easy to master once you understand main-clause syntax.

Coordinating ConjunctionsEdit

Before moving on to subordinate and relative clauses, we must address coordinating conjunctions and parallel clauses. A coordinating conjunction is a conjunction that connects two clauses that are able to stand alone, i.e., two main clauses.

Here are some examples in English:

I am here and I am glad to see you.
You are grateful for this job, or you are a spoiled brat.

Commas are generally optional in English, whereas they used more often in German.

Here are the common coordinating conjunctions one would find in German:

German   English
aber     but, nevertheless, however 
denn     for, because (rarely used in spoken German; not to be confused with weil)
oder     or 
sondern  but rather 
und      and

As coordinating conjunctions connect two independent clauses, they do not affect word-order in the two clauses. The first clause is often separated from the second with a comma - especially if it is a long or complicated clause - after which follows the coordinating conjunction and the second clause.

Here are some examples in German:

Ich hasse und ich liebe, und ich weiß nicht warum.  (Odi et amo - Catullus)
Ich bin nicht jung, aber ich bin froh.

There are two more constructions to be aware of: entweder/oder and weder/noch, which correspond to "either/or" and "neither/nor", respectively.

Entweder bist du mit uns gemeinsam, oder du bist unser Feind.

Entweder/oder and weder/noch can also be employed to contrast two items as well as clauses. Note how "entweder" functions as an adverb.

English speakers should take note of the difference between aber and sondern, both of which can be translated directly as "but". Aber means "however". Sondern means "rather". Many other languages make this distinction.

Coordinating conjunctions are rather straightforward, and the number of coordinating conjunctions is few.

Dependent Clauses: Subordinate and Relative ClausesEdit


Subordinate and relative clauses introduce information regarding the main clause that needs to be expressed as a separate clause. They are collectively called "dependent clauses" because they are unable to stand by themselves as independent clauses. Usually, subordinate and relative clauses occupy a part of the main clause that was not fully explained; subordinate clauses tend to fulfill more abstract missing sentence elements than relative clauses do. Here are a few examples in English:

Subordinate Clauses:

I know that you are unhappy.
We came because it was your birthday.
We came because we knew that you were having a rough time.

This last example has two subordinate clauses: because we knew and that you were having a rough time.

Subordinate clauses are usually set off by a subordinating conjunction, such as that, because, when, if, and so on. In English, it is sometimes possible to omit the subordinating conjunction, specifically that, resulting in sentences such as, "I know you are unhappy," which is perfectly acceptable in English. Such an option does not exist in German.

Relative Clauses:

I know the person to whom you were talking (who you were talking to).
God helps those who help themselves.
You are the person that got hit by the fly-ball at the game on Saturday.

Relative clauses relate one element of a clause to another clause by way of a relative pronoun. The system of relative pronouns in German is considerably more extensive than that of English.

In German, both subordinate clauses and relative clauses affect syntax, in most cases by moving the conjugated verb to the end of the clause. Both subordinate clauses and relative clauses are set off by a comma in German, which can frequently be omitted in English. We should now examine the two types of clauses in greater detail, and then return to their syntax.

Subordinate ClausesEdit

Subordinate clauses are always set off by a comma, and begin with a subordinating conjunction. Here is a list of all subordinating conjunctions in German. Note how all of them answer a question presumably introduced in the main clause:

Subordinating Conjunctions
German English
als as, when
bevor before
bis until
da as, since (because)
damit so that, with it
dass that
ehe before
falls in case
indem while; "by [do]ing..." See below.
nachdem after
ob whether
obgleich although
obschon although
obwohl although
seit/seitdem since (time)
sobald as soon as
sodass / so dass so that
solang(e) as long as
trotzdem despite the fact that
während while, whereas
weil because
wenn if, when, whenever

Furthermore, all interrogative (question) words, such as wie, wann, wer, and wo, and wo-compounds, may be used as subordinating conjunctions. For example:

Ich weiß nicht, wohin er gegangen ist.  (I don't know where he went.)
Ich weiß nicht, wie das Fest sich entwickelt hat.  (I don't know how the party turned out)
Ich weiß nicht, warum er dir so böse ist.  (I don't know why he is so mad at you.)

Subordinate clauses provide information missing in the main clause. Consider the previous two examples. In both cases, the subordinate clause answered the question, "what?", or what would have been the accusitive object. Other subordinate clauses provide information that would otherwise have been provided by one of the several parts of speech.

Er hat mich geschlagen, als meine Frau im Klo war.  (He hit me when my wife was in the bathroom.)

In this example, the subordinate clause, set off by the conjunction, "als", answers the question, "when?", which would otherwise be answered adverbially.

The syntax regarding subordinate clauses will be discussed later. At this point, a property of subordinate clauses that is not altogether shared with relative clauses should be pointed out. Subordinate clauses are themselves parts of speech for the main clause, and to a limited extent can be treated as such. Consider the following two sentences, which are equivalent:

Ich darf in Kanada bleiben, solange wir noch verheiratet sind.
Solange wir noch verheiratet sind, darf ich in Kanada bleiben.

Note how, in the second sentence, the subordinate clause occupied the first position, immediately followed by the conjugated verb. In reality, the use of subordinate clauses as parts of speech integrated into the main clause is limited; they are, for aesthetic reasons, restricted to the first position and to following the main clause. At both times they are set off from the main clause by a comma.

Indem..., ist x passiert. This subordinating conjunction accomplishes the same functions as the English construction, "by [do]ing something..., x happened."

Indem er die Tür offen gelassen hat, hat er auch die Räuber ins Haus eingelassen.
By leaving the door open, he let the robbers into the house.

By requiring a subject in the clause, the German construction is less susceptible to ambiguity than English is; consider the sentence, "by leaving the door open, the robbers were able to enter the house," which is lacking an agent for the door being left open, even though such a construction is common in spoken English.

This section must make note of the differences between the words, als, wenn, and wann, all of which can mean "when" in English.

Als refers to a single event or condition in the past, usually expressed using the preterite tense.

Als du mich anriefst, war ich noch nicht zu Hause.  (When you called me, I was not yet home.)

Wann is the interrogative word for "when". It's use as a subordinating conjunction is limited to indirect questions and immediate temporal events.

Ich weiß nicht, wann er nach Hause kommen wird.

Wenn is the most versatile of the three, and has several other meanings beyond its temporal meaning. In the temporal space wenn describes, events are less recognized, or focuses on a condition, rather than an event.

Finally, "wenn" has one other principal function. It also means, "if", and is used in conditional and subjunctive statements.

Wenn ich einmal reich wär', ... (If i were ever rich...)

We will return to syntax later.

Relative ClausesEdit

In many ways, a relative clause is a lengthy description of an item in the main clause. Minimally, a relative clause takes a part of speech from the main clause, known as the antecedent and uses it in the dependent clause. What connects the two is a relative pronoun. As should already be published in this book, the following declension table is provided:

Relative Pronoun - Declension Summary
Case Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative der das die die
Accusative den das die die
Dative dem dem der denen
Genitive dessen dessen deren deren

Relative pronouns are similar to the definite article, with the exceptions of the dative plural and the genitive case being marked in bold.

Note that the distinctions between "that" and "which"; and "that" and "who" in English do not exist in German, where everything is described with a standard set of relative pronouns with no regard to how integral the qualities described in the relative clause are to the antecedent.

As relative clauses take one item from the main clause and use it in some way in a dependent clause, it is important to consider how relative pronouns work to avoid confusion. All words in German possess gender, number (singular or plural), and case. The main clause, as it relates to the antecedent, determines the gender and number of the relative pronoun; the relative clause determines its case.

In order to use relative clauses successfully, it is critical that this point be understood. Gender and number are "inherent" to the antecedent; no grammatical agent could conceivably change those properties. The relative pronoun's case is determined by its role in the relative clause, i.e., how it relates to the other parts of speech in the clause. Consider the following examples, all based on "the man", who is masculine and singular, and apparently not well-liked.

Case of Relative Pronoun Example
Nominative Der Mann, der nach Hause allein ging, ...
The man, who went home alone, ...
Accusitive Der Mann, den mein Freund während der Hochzeit schlug, ...
The man, whom my friend punched at the wedding, ...
Dative Der Mann, dem meine Mutter kein Weihnachtsgeschenk gegeben hat, ...
The man, to whom my mother didn't give a Christmas present, ...
Genitive Der Mann, dessen Tochter arbeitslos ist, ...
The man, whose daughter is unemployed, ...

In each of these examples, the gender and number of the relative pronoun were determined by the antecedent, while the case of the relative pronoun was determined by its role in the relative clause. Note particularly the genitive example, wherein the relative pronoun, meaning whose, modified a feminine noun, without his gender being affected.

Whenever you construct a relative clause, be mindful of this rule. Don't confuse yourself with its complexity, especially regarding the genitive case. As discussed in the chapter on personal pronouns, the word "whose", as well as other possessive pronouns such as "my", "your", and so forth, is a pronoun and not an adjective. The pronoun always expresses the characteristics of its antecedent, viz., gender and number.

Relative pronouns offered within prepositional phrases are perfectly acceptable:

Der Mann, mit dem meine Mutter wieder gestritten hat, ...
The man, with whom my mother argued again, ...

However, if the antecedent is not a person, and the relative pronoun falls within a prepositional phrase, a wo-compound is frequently substituted:

Das Flugzeug, worin ich nach Seattle geflogen bin, war fast kaputt.
The airplane, in which I flew to Seattle, was almost broken.

Relative clauses almost invariably follow the item that they are modifying or the main clause as a whole (with the gender and number of the relative pronoun indicating - to some extent - which potential antecedent it is referring to). Very rarely do they precede the main clause. Exceptions to this come in the form of aphorisms and proverbs:

Der (oder Wer) heute abend ruhig einschläft, bekommt morgen Eiskrem und Keks.  
(He who goes to bed quietly tonight will get ice-cream and cookies tomorrow 
- something a mother might say to her children.)

This usage is relatively unimportant.

One final property of relative clauses should be discussed. Relative clauses in some way describe their antecedent. The rules governing attributes in German are considerably more flexible than in English, because the German case system reduces ambiguity. This allows the German speaker to turn a relative clause into an extended attribute, which is essentially a long adjective. Compare the following two sentences, which are equivalent:

Der Mann, der jede Woche auf Dienstreise nach Seattle fährt, ist krank.
The man, who drives to Seattle every week on business, is sick.
Der jede Woche nach Seattle auf Dienstreise fahrende Mann ist krank.
The to-Seattle-every-week-on-business driving man is sick.

Such a construction is ludicrous in English, but not-uncommon in German. The experienced reader of German will, with practice, be able to read through such an item without difficulty.

It would be best to review what we have learned about subordinate and relative pronouns before discussing their syntax. Dependent clauses - both subordinating and relative clauses - modify or in some other way describe the antecedent clause upon which they are based. Subordinating clauses provide a variety of ways in which new information can relate to the main clause, many of which are adverbial in nature (e.g., "weil/because", but not "dass/that", which, in the examples above, replaced the accusitive object). Relative clauses modify and describe entities already mentioned in the main clause. Generally speaking, only subordinate clauses have the ability to occupy the first position in a main clause.


Main clause, subordinating conjunction + subordinate clause.
Subordinating conjunction + subordinate clause, conjugated verb + main clause.
Main clause including antecedent, relative pronoun based on antecedent + relative clause.

Syntax of Dependent ClausesEdit

Subordinate and relative clauses have similar syntax. Indeed, neglecting the verbs, they have a syntax similar to main clauses. Recall the syntax described at the beginning of this chapter. That syntax will form the basis of the Mittelfeld in dependent clauses.

Syntax of Dependent Clauses
Field Items Examples
Comma All dependent clauses are set off with a comma unless occupying the first position of a main clause ,
Conjunction For subordinate clauses, this is the subordinating conjunction. For relative clauses, this is the relative pronoun. "dass", "weil", "obwohl", "denen"
Mittelfeld The Mittelfeld of a dependent clause follows the same syntax as the Mittelfeld of the main clause.
Nominative Pronoun "ich", "wir"
Reflexive Pronoun "mich", "uns"
Accusative Pronoun A "dich"
Dative Pronoun D "dir", "mir"
Nominative Noun "die Katze"
Dative Noun D "meiner Mutter"
Accusitive Noun A = ADDA "meinen Vater"
Prepositional Phrases Time, Manner, Place
Adverbs, Predicate Adjectives Time, Manner, Place
Verbs Verbs will be dealt with in greater detail below. They are very complicated.
Number of Verbs Placement of Verbs (always at end of clause}
One (conjugated) At end of Clause
Two (conjugated - modal/-like or auxiliary; infinitive) Build inwards. Infinitive, then conjugated verb
Modal/-like is conjugated 3.2.1. Build inwards.
Modal/-like is not conjugated (likely the second verb) Conjugated verb (1); infinitive verb (3); modal verb (2)

Once again, no dependent clause will contain each of these elements. But understanding the position of pronouns is critical. The same conventions listed under the main clause schema apply.

Verbs in Dependent ClausesEdit

The way the verbs are arranged depends on the number of verbs in the verb-phrase, and the presence of a modal verb.

Dependent Clauses with One Verb

This is the simplest case. Such a clause has one verb, conjugated based on the person and number of the subject of the sentence. This conjugated verb is placed at the end of the clause.

Subordinate Clause Du weißt, dass ich dich liebe. (You know that I love you.)
Relative Clause Er ist ein Mann, der oft Berlin besucht. (He is a man who often visits Berlin.)

Dependent Clauses with Two Verbs

A clause with two verbs has one conjugated verb and one verb in the infinitive. Such examples are clauses in a perfect tense (wherein the conjugated verb is the auxiliary verb, either "haben" or "sein"), the future tense ("werden"), ones with modal verbs, and ones with modal-like verbs (sehen, hören, helfen, lassen).

In a main clause, the conjugated verb will be in the second position, and the infinitive verb will be at the end of the clause.

In a dependent clause, both verbs will be at the end of the clause, with the conjugated verb last. This supports the principle of "building inwards".

Subordinate Clause Du weißt, dass ich dich nicht lieben kann. (You know that I cannot love you.)
Relative Clause Er ist ein Mann, der nach seiner absolvierten Prüfung Berlin besuchen wird. (He is a man who will visit Berlin after his graduation exam.)

Dependent Clauses with Three Verbs

Sentences with three verbs typically involve a modal verb, whose presence complicates matters terribly. Let us think of some examples in English.

1) I am not able to help you move your car. - können - helfen - bewegen

2) I will be able to go to the store with you. - werden - können - gehen

3) I have not been able to afford that. (haben + "sich (dat) etw. leisten können" = to be able to afford sth.)

4) I have not been able to reach you over the phone. - haben - können - erreichen

And so on. The problem is, after you've learned how to put your verb at the end of the sentence in a main clause, and after you've learned how to "build inwards" in dependent clauses, and after you've pulled your hair out, night after night, sitting in a cafe in Seattle declining relative pronouns, German grammar throws yet another rule at you, this one so pointless and downright counter-productive, and it seems like German grammar is simply making fun of you at this point, that you leap out of your seat, scream "woo hoo!", and then get back to work.

The modal verb (or the modal-like verb) has to be at the end of the verb phrase, regardless of whether it has been conjugated. In cases where it has not, the conjugated verb moves to the beginning of the verb phrase. Let's look at our examples above.

Du weißt, dass...

1) ...ich dir dein Auto nicht bewegen helfen kann. This one is straightforward, because the modal verb is the conjugated verb, allowing the clause to follow the "build inwards" principle.

2) ...ich zum Markt mit dir nicht werde gehen können. The modal verb must come last. No semantic or logical reason for this.

3) ...ich mir das nicht habe leisten können. The modal verb must come last. Note here that the modal verb does not form a past participle when it has main verb to modify.

4) ...ich dich am Telefon nicht habe erreichen können. Note the somewhat sensible placement of "nicht".

And so...

Verb-order in Dependent Clauses
Number of Verbs Placement of Verbs (always at end of clause}
One (conjugated) At end of Clause
Two (conjugated - modal/-like or auxiliary; infinitive) Build inwards. Infinitive, then conjugated verb
Modal/-like is conjugated 3.2.1. Build inwards.
Modal/-like is not conjugated (likely the second verb) Conjugated verb (1); infinitive verb (3); modal verb (2)

Infinitive ClausesEdit

The reader is already familiar with several types of German verbs that require other verbs; these verbs are modal verbs (können, dürfen, wollen, etc.); modal-like verbs (sehen, hören, helfen, lassen); auxilliary verbs (sein, haben), used for the perfect tenses; and werden, used for future and passive constructions. Another verb that can take another verb without forming an infinitive clause is bleiben (e.g., stehenbleiben, to remain standing). These verbs never form infinitive clauses, and the verbs that are used with them go at the end of the sentence.

Infinitive clauses are another kind of clause found in German, and are equivalent to infinitive clauses in English. Consider the following examples in English:

I am here (in order) to help you clean your house.
The car is ready to be driven.
I work to be able to afford my car.

Infinitive clauses are formed after verbs that do not regularly take other verbs. They indicate purpose, intent, and meaning of the action in the main clause. As such, infinitive clauses have no subject, or no nouns in the nominative case. Here are the above examples in German:

Ich bin hier, um dir dein Haus putzen zu helfen.
Das Auto ist bereit, gefahren zu werden.
Ich arbeite, um mir ein Auto leisten zu können.

Infinitive clauses are usually found after a main clause, though it is possible for them to occupy the first position of a main clause. They are always set off by a comma.

Of particular interest is the construction, "um...zu..."", which corresponds to the English construction, "in order to...". Um is placed at the beginning of the clause, after which follows a standard infinitive clause. Whereas "in order" is frequently omitted from English infinitive clauses of this sort, "um" is always included such clauses in German.

The Mittelfeld follows the standard syntax of main clauses, though without nominative nouns and pronouns. At any rate, infinitive tend to be rather short.

Verbs (in the infinitive form) always come at the end, immediately preceded by the word zu. In the case of separable-prefix verbs, such a verb is written as one word, with the word zu between the prefix and the main verb; e.g. anzuschlagen, auszugehen, abzunehmen, and so forth.

The syntax of infinitive clauses can thus be summarized as follows:

Syntax of Infinitive Clauses
Position Contents Examples
Introduction Comma or Capital Letter (beginning of sentence) "," "Um"
Mittelfeld Reflexive Pronoun "mich", "uns"
Accusative Pronoun A "dich"
Dative Pronoun D "dir", "mir"
(Temporal Expressions) Expressions of time, especially short temporal adverbs, are often placed here.
Dative Noun D "meiner Mutter"
Accusitive Noun A = ADDA "meinen Vater"
Prepositional Phrases Time, Manner, Place
Adverbs, Predicate Adjectives Time, Manner Place
Infinitive Verb Phrase Verbs with no separable prefix zu + Infinitive; e.g., "zu gehen"
Verbs with separable prefix prefix-zu-infinitive, written as one word; e.g., "anzufangen"
End Either a period to end the sentence, or a comma to introduce the main clause ","; "."


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