The Rules of German Sentence Structure

By OptiLingo • 6 minute read

Learn how to form a grammatically correct German sentence structure

Learn the German Word Order Quickly

The only way to reach German fluency is by mastering the sentence structure. Know which rules to create your sentences by makes a big difference. So, we compiled every rule on German sentence structure that you need to succeed. Never question German word order again, just speak fluently with ease.

German Has the Same Sentence Structure as English

This is a great starting point. Since you already know English, mastering German sentence structure will be much easier.

English and basic German sentences both follow the SVO (subject-verb-object) structure. This means that simple sentences will look something like this:

  • The dog plays with the ball. – Der Hund spielt mit dem Ball.

The subject is “the dog” (der Hund), the verb is “plays” (spielt), and the object is “the ball” (dem Ball). As you can see, both languages have the same sentence structure. But, German only follows this for simple sentences. Once you say a complex sentence, things change.

German word order is similar to English

German Word Order with Two Verbs

Very often, you’ll have to use two verbs in a sentence in German. Whether you’re speaking in past tense or have a complex idea, it’s best to get used to how it works in a sentence. Luckily, it’s not complicated at all.

One of your verbs will be the dominant one. If you’re talking in the past tense, it’s going to be “haben” (to have). In German, the dominant verb comes first. And this is the one you conjugate. The secondary verb either remains in the infinitive form or conjugated according to the rules of the past tense. Then, you’ll have to place the second verb to the end of the sentence. Although it’s at the end, and it’s not directly conjugated, that’s the verb that gives your sentence it’s meaning, so it’s still the main verb. Let’s take a look at some examples.

  • I have rented a bicycle. – Ich habe ein Rad gemietet.
  • You must take a detour. – Sie müssen einen Umweg machen.
  • Mr. Meier can help you. – Herr Meier kann Ihnen helfen.

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Forming Questions in German

When you’re asking a question in German, the sentence structure is again very similar to English. Again, if you have two verbs, the first one’s conjugated while the second one goes to the end of the question. But, just like in English, German has question words. These are often called W-Wörter in German, because they all being with a “w”.

German Question Words

  • why – warum
  • what – was
  • when – wann
  • how – wie
  • where – wo
  • where from – woher
  • where to – wohin
  • who – wer
  • who(m) – wen
  • whose – wessen
  • to/from whom – wem

How to Ask a Question in German

There are two ways to form a question in German. You either use a question word, or you can invert the word order. These examples below show either option.

  • Can I rent a car here? – Kann ich hier ein Auto mieten?
  • When did you arrive? – Wann sind Sie angekommen?

asking questions in German

Inverted Word Order in German

This rule has no real parallel in modern English, although older, poetic English may occasionally contain examples of it. In the simplest of terms, any time a sentence or clause begins with anything other than the subject, that first word is followed immediately by a verb. The subject follows the verb, then come objects and adverbial constructions.

  • We drank some wine at the restaurant. – Im Restaurant haben wir Wein getrunken.
  • Yesterday we were in Berlin. – Gestern waren wir in Berlin.

The German Sentence Structure With Conjunctions

Conjunctions are words that you use to connect two parts of the sentence. Sometimes these two halves are equal, then you use conjunctions such as “und” (and). Other times, one of the sentence halves is dependent of the other. That’s when you need to use word like “wenn” (if) to connect them, and show which one is the dominant sentence.

Now this is where German learners are in a pickle. If a German sentence is made of a dominant and a dependent half (or it begins with conjunction) it becomes the following sentence structure: CSOV (conjunction, subject, object, verb). So, the main verb moves to the end of the sentence.

Common German Conjunctions

  • when – als/wenn      
  • until – bis
  • that – dass
  • if – wenn/falls
  • as if – als ob
  • after – nachdem
  • before – bevor
  • since (as) – da
  • since (time) – seitdem
  • whether – ob
  • although – obwohl
  • because – weil
  • how – wie

This German word order rule doesn’t just happen when the conjunction is at the beginning of the sentence. It also happens when the conjunction appears as a clause within the sentence. So, when that happens, you need to use inverted word order at the second half of the sentence. The following examples can show you how it’s done.

  • He says that the have no vacant rooms – Er sagt, dass kein Zimmer frei ist.
  • I don’t know whether people come today. – Ich weiss nicht, ob heute Leute kommen.

to talk in German you need to know the sentence structure

Negating Statements in German

In English, affirmative statements are negated by inserting the words “not” or “no”. German works in a similar manner using the words “nicht” and “kein”. For example:

  • I can sing. – Ich kann singen.
  • I cannot sing. – Ich kann night singen.
  • I have money. – Ich habe Geld.
  • I have no money. – Ich habe kein Geld.

Learn German Sentence Structure From Everyday Phrases

Understanding German sentence structure isn’t that difficult. But, you need to master forming sentences to reach German fluency. So, the best way to learn the word order rules is by seeing them in their natural habitat. Everyday phrases and expressions all include the grammar rules you just learned. And to find the list of the most useful German phrases, all you need to do is download OptiLingo.

OptiLingo has the only vocabulary list you’ll need to reach fluency. And, it also makes you speak the language. This means that you’ll build your confidence and speaking skills while you’re learning useful vocabulary. To discover the secrets to German sentence structure, download OptiLingo today!