Word Order In German

Before you start working with patterns, here are a few things to remember. One of the most important aspects of German is the order of words in a sentence which may be very different from what English or French speakers are accustomed to. Therefore, until you have got used to the rules of word order, it's impossible to get confidence in reading, writing, or speaking.

In a simple German sentence, words follow the same rules of word order as they do in English: subject + verb + object. In the following example, German Sie with a capital 'S' is the formal or polite way to say you to an adult, a person you don't know well, or a person in a position of authority. It is the same word for singular and plural. The plural sie with a small 's' can refer to two or more people or things:

Ich verstehe Sie. - I understand you.

In questions the positions of the subject and verb are reversed. It doesn't matter if the subject is a noun or a pronoun.

Er kann das. - He can do it.

Kann er das? - Can he do it?

Monika kann das.

Kann Monika das?

It is common practice to omit the verbs gehen (go), tun (do), or any other verbs of motion or action after können (can), especially if motion or any other action is already indicated by the accusative case or an adverb.

Kannst du Deutsch? - Can you (speak) German?

Definite Article

Just as English uses the definite article the, German also employs the definite article which must be in the appropriate case.

Der is used frequently with words which represent male nouns: der Vater - the father

Die is used with words which represent female nouns: die Mutter - the mother

Das is used with words which represent neutral nouns: das Buch - the book

The most important thing to understand is that the word order in German does not change the meaning of the sentence; it only adds a certain emphasis on the elements of the sentence. Notice the inversion of the verb and the subject when the direct object das moves into the place normally occupied by the subject.

Das/Den/Die mag ich. - I like this (one).

Take a look at these forms of the definite article used at the beginning of the sentence:

Die mag ich. Die may refer to a feminine noun as die Idee (the idea).

Den mag ich. Den may refer to a masculine noun as der Roman (the novel).

Das mag ich. Das may refer to a neutral noun as das Buch (the book).

Direct Object

The direct object is a person or thing to which an action is done. The direct object comes after the verb or at the beginning of the sentence (in case of emphasis).

Ich mag den Mann. - I like the man.

Some articles which determine nouns (direct objects) change their endings in the accusative, dative and genitive cases. The change of ending in der indicates that the noun phrase den Mann functions as direct object of the verb mag and is therefore used in the accusative case. Besides articles, adjectives, nouns and pronouns can also be used in the accusative case.

Negation

To negate a sentence in German, the word nicht (not) is used. One of the trickiest things about it is deciding where to place nicht. Normally, the negative always follows the verb, but if the verb has a direct object (es, ihn, etc.), nicht is placed after it.

Ich kann nicht. - I can't.

Ich kann es nicht. - I can't do it.

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Grammar Patterns

Listening Comprehension