German Sentence Structure

By optilingo

Learn how to write sentences in German, complete lesson. Includes overview of German direct objects, German indirect objects and German prepositions.

Understanding grammar will help you on your way to foreign language fluency. In the German language, word order differs greatly from that of English. These differences will be explained in the following pages; for this reason, and in keeping with the rest of this text, a literal, word-for-word translation is provided for most of the German example sentences. This will allow you to better understand how sentences are structured. This word order may seem somewhat odd at first, but this approach is very systematic and is designed to help you better understand a few simple rules of German sentence structure.

The Position of Verbs in the Sentence

Four general rules cover the position of almost all the verbs which you are likely to see when learningthe German language [How to Learn German Grammar]. As is the case with most languages, all rules are meant to be broken, but the following serve as a good starting point for your understanding.

Rule One – Normal Word Order:

This is the simplest of the four rules, as sentences following this rule follow a word order similar to that of English. Generally speaking, sentences following this rule are structured as follows:

Subject + modifiers — main verb (+adverbs, if applicable) — objects + phrases.

Please note that if there is both a main verb and a helping verb, the main verb will be placed at the very end of the sentence or clause. Below are a few examples that illustrate this rule:

 

I have rented a bicycle.                          —          lch habe ein Rad gemietet.

                                                             I have a bicycle rented.

 

You must take a detour.                         —          Sie müssen einen Umweg machen.

                                                             You must a detour make.

 

Mr.Meier can help you.                          —          Herr Meier kann Ihnen helfen.

                                                        Mr.Meier can you help.

 

Rule Two – Asking Questions:

This rule applies to instances when a question is asked, and it is very similar to word order for English question sentences as well. For the most part, sentences like these can begin with a question word or with a verb.

 

Can I rent a car here?                                 —    Kann ich hier ein Auto mieten?

                                        Can I here a car rent?

 

When did you arrive?                                 —    Wann sind Sie angekommen?

                                        When are you arrived?

Rule Three – Inverted Word Order:

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.

                                                                              In the restaurant have we wine drunk.

 

Yesterday we were in Berlin.                     —     Gestern waren wir in Berlin.

                                                            Yesterday were we in Berlin.

Rule Four – Beginning WithCertain Conjunctions:

This rule has no direct counterpart in English. It is used with sentences or clauses that begin with a special group of conjunctions. Some of the most common are provided in the list below:

 

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

 

In such cases, the main verb is placed at the end of the sentence or clause. (Note that in the examples below, the conjunctions appear as clauses within the sentence. The sentences do not begin with the conjunctions.)

 

He says that the have no vacant rooms.     —        Er sagt, dass kein Zimmer frei ist.

                                                    He says, that no room vacant is.

 

I don’t know whether peoplecome today.   —        Ich weiss nicht, ob heute Leute kommen.

                                                                  I know not, whether today people come.

Forming questions

There are two simple ways to negate a statement and turn it into a question: one is by inverting the word order, and the second is by starting with a question word.

Forming questions by inverting the word order means you place the verb first in the sentence, as in the examples below.

 

They arrive today.                                           —        Sie kommen heute an.

Dothey arrive today?                                    —        Kommensie heute an?

 

Tina has money.                                             —        Tina hat Geld.

DoesTina have money?                               —        HatTina Geld?

 

The second way to form questions is to use a question word. Below is a list of the more common question words in German.

 

when                     wann

where                    wo

how                       wie

how much             wieviel

who                            wer

what                           was

what kind of               was für

Negating Statements

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 nichtsingen.

 

I have money.                                                 —        Ich habe Geld.

I have nomoney.                                            —        Ich habe kein Geld.