1. Education

German Word Order

  PART TWO


In Part One of this lesson on German word order, we discussed Wortstellung in normal declarative sentences. In this section we look at another possible situation: the dependent or subordinate clause in German.

What is a subordinate clause? It is that part of a sentence—in English or German—that cannot stand by itself and is dependent on another part of the sentence, the main clause. That makes the clause subordinate. A subordinate clause is introduced by a subordinating conjunction (dass, ob, weil, wenn, usw.) or in the case of relative clauses, a relative pronoun (den, der, die, welche, usw.). The conjugated verb is placed at the end of a subordinate clause (“post position”).

Substandard German: Some German-speakers these days ignore the verb-last rule, particularly with weil (because) and dass (that) clauses. You may hear something like "...weil ich bin müde" (because I'm tired), but it's not good German! One theory says this bad-German trend comes from the influence of English, but in any case it is not acceptable German. Your German should reflect the word order rules outlined on this page!

Another thing you should know is that German sometimes prefers to avoid subordinate clauses by using alternatives, especially in spoken German. But that is another lesson we'll have to deal with in the future. In any case, you still need to know how German subordinate clauses work, since they are encountered frequently, especially in written and printed German, and in some common phrases.

Here are some examples of subordinate clauses in German and English, with the verb in red and the subordinate conjunction in blue. Notice that each German subordinate clause (in bold type) is set off by a comma. Also notice that the German word order is different from that of the English and that a subordinate clause may come first or last in a sentence.

„Ich weiß nicht, wann er heute ankommt.”
“I don't know when he arrives today.”

Als sie hinausging, bemerkte sie sofort die glühende Hitze.”
When she went out, she immediately noticed the intense heat.”

„Es gibt eine Umleitung, weil die Straße repariert wird.”
“There's a detour because the road is being repaired.”

„Das ist die Dame, die wir gestern sahen.”
“That's the lady (that/whom) we saw yesterday.”

CONJUNCTION FIRST, VERB LAST
As you can see above, a German subordinate clause always starts with a subordinating conjunction and ends with the conjugated verb. It is always set off from the main clause by a comma, whether it comes before or after the main clause. The other sentence elements, such as time, manner, place, that we discussed in Part One fall into the normal order. The ONE thing you must remember is that when a sentence starts with a subordinate clause, as in the second example above, the very first word after the comma (before the main clause) MUST be the verb! In the example above, the verb bemerkte was that first word. (Note the differences between the English and German word order in that same example.)

Another type of subordinate clause is the relative clause, which is introduced by a relative pronoun. (As in the previous English sentence!) Both relative clauses and subordinate clauses with a conjunction have the same word order. The last example in the sentence pairs above is actually a relative clause. A relative clause explains or further identifies a person or thing in the main clause.

One important aspect of learning to deal with subordinate clauses is to be familiar with the subordinating conjunctions that introduce them. On the next page you'll find a listing of German subordinating conjunctions and some more tips on word order.

NEXT > Subord. Conjunctions1 | 2 | Quiz

Also see: German Word Order - Part 1


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