German Word Order with Video

Word-Order

German Word Order

The word order is one of the biggest aspects of learning German and one of the first challenges to get your head round. Practice makes perfect and soon the word order will be natural to you but in the meantime use this grammar guide to help keep on top of it.

You can now learn even more on this topic with the help of a fun animation and a grammar quiz. Simply check out our Countries and Nationalities in level A1.

 

 


Explanation of some Terms:

Subject (S): The subject of a sentence is someone or something that is doing the action.
Verb (V): A verb is an action word that describes what the subject does, is or happens to them.
Direct Object (DO): A direct object is a person or a thing that is directly affected by the action of the verb.
Indirect Object (IO): An indirect object is a person or thing the action is intended to benefit or harm.
Adjective (A): Adjectives are describing words that tell you more about a person or thing such as appearance or size.
Adverb (AV): Adverbs are words like slowly, happily or now which are usually used to give you further information about when, how or in what circumstances something happens.


How to form a German Sentence

Sentences with a subject, verb and direct object:
In a typical German sentence the subject (S) of the sentence comes first followed by the verb (V) and the direct object (DO) at the end. That’s the same in English.

For example:
Ich (S) spreche (V) fünf Sprachen (DO). ⇨ I speak five languages.

Sentences with a subject, verb and adjective:
As in English, the subject (S) of the sentence comes first, followed by the verb (V) and then the adjective (A) at the end.

For example:
Sie (S) ist (V) schön (A). ⇨ She is beautiful.

Sentences with a subject, verb, direct object and adjective:
As in English, German adjectives (A) come before the object (O) they describe.

For example:
Rosen (S) sind (V) schöne (A) Blumen (O). ⇨ Roses are beautiful flowers.

Sentences with a subject, verb, direct object and adverb:
In English, adverbs can appear in different places within a sentence.

For example:
Now he lives in England.
He lives in England now.

That’s the same in German.

  • An adverb (AV) can be placed after the verb (V).
  • For example:
    Er (S) wohnt (V) jetzt (AV) in England (DO). ⇨ He lives in England now.

  • But this is not fixed. Adverbs can be also placed at the beginning of the sentence. However if you start a German sentence with an adverb (AV) the subject (S) and the verb (V) will swap places.
  • For example:
    Jetzt (AV) wohnt (V) er (S) in England (DO). ⇨ Now he lives in England.

Sentences with a subject, verb, direct object and indirect object:
The subject (S) of the sentence comes first, followed by the verb (V), then the indirect object (IO) and finally the direct object (DO) at the end.

For example:
Ich (S) gebe (V) ihm (IO) das Geld (DO). ⇨ I give him the money.

Sentences with a subject, verb, direct object, indirect object, and adverb:
The subject (S) of the sentence comes first, followed by the verb (V), then the indirect object (IO) then the adverb (AV) and finally the direct object (DO) at the end.

For example:
Ich (S) gebe (V) ihm (IO) heute (AV) das Geld (DO). ⇨ I give him the money today.

However this is not fixed. You can also start a sentence with the adverb. Once again, if you start a German sentence with an adverb (AV) the subject (S) and the verb (V) will swap places.

For example:
Heute (AV) gebe (V) ich (S) ihm (IO) das Geld (DO). ⇨ Today I give him the money.


How to form a German Question

Asking a question by changing the word order:
You can change a statement into a question by just swapping around the subject (S) and the verb (V) and adding a question mark at the end of the sentence. However, this is only possible with questions that can be answered with either yes or no.

For example:
Sprechen (V) Sie (S) Deutsch? ⇨ Do you speak German?
Wohnst (V) du (S) in England? ⇨ Do you live in England?

Asking a question by using a question word
A question word is a word like who, why or when that is used to ask for more information. As in English, the question word (Q) is placed at the beginning of a question.

For example:
Wo (Q) wohnst du? ⇨ Where do you live?
Woher (Q) kommen Sie? ⇨ Where are you from?

Below is a table with important question words

Table: Important Question Words

German English
wann when
warum why
was what
wer who
wie how
wie viele how many
wo where
woher where from

Tip

Although it is important and will help your German move in leaps and bounds, you will get it wrong from time to time. Do not worry as although it may sound a little weird to a native German, you will be understood and they will still have great respect for you as you gave it your best shot. Remember, learning a language is all about being able to communicate in that language, not to get everything spot on first time. Learn and enjoy!

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  • Dylan Nicholson

    “Sentences with a subject, verb, direct object, indirect object, and adverb:
    The subject (S) of the sentence comes first, followed by the verb (V), then the indirect object (IO) then the adverb (AV) and finally the direct object (DO) at the end.”

    Can you confirm that for sentences *without* an indirect object, it’s normally (S) (V) (AV) (DO) , e.g. Ich esse jeden Tage Frühstück? It’s not find hard to examples with (AV) and (DO) reversed, but I’m wondering if they’re by English speakers or Germans who’ve been speaking English too long!

    Actually the case I’m more interested in is when there’s an auxiliary verb involved AXV), in that case I believe it should be

    (S) (AXV) (AV) (DO) (V)

    However I’ve even seen cases where in the same sentence there are adverbs both before and after the (DO) e.g.:

    Sie haben den ganzen Nachmittag lang Fußball im Fernsehen gesehen.

    I read somewhere that adverbs that “modify” the verb are often put in the final position, but it’s not entirely clear to me what is meant by “modifying a verb” – does it mean ‘adverbs of manner’? But what if I just wanted to say “Sie haben den ganzen Nachmittag lang Fußball ruhig gesehen.”?

  • Hi Dylan,

    I can confirm that the word order for sentences without an indirect object is:

    (S) + (V) + (AV) + (DO)

    For example: Ich (S) putze (V) heute (AV) die Fenster (DO).

    It is possible to swap the adverb and the direct object but you would only do this for emphasis purposes. The same applies to sentences with an auxiliary verb. For example:

    Ich (S) habe (AXV) gestern (AV) die Fenster (DO) geputzt (V)

    Or:

    Ich (S) habe (AXV) die Fenster (DO) gestern (AV) geputzt (V)

    The second sentence emphasises on the fact that you cleaned them “yesterday”.

    And yes, adverbs can modify verbs and are put at the end of the sentence. Grammar terms always sound so complicated but all it means is the adverb describes the action (verb) in more detail E.g. “Er singt” versus “Er singt gut.”

    If you want to say this sentence in the past it’s not the adverb that will go in the final position it is the verb (past participle) that comes last. E.g.

    Er hat den ganzen Tag gut gesungen.

    I hope this clears up the grammar fog 😉