Unit 1, Lesson 8: Word order in German

Because of the differences in articles in the accusative and nominative cases, German offers a more flexible word order than English. The object of the sentence can come before the subject in the sentence.

Take another example: “Erst die Frau, dann den Mann beißt der böse Hund.” If you ignore the case signals given to you by the definite articles and rely on standard English word order, then you come up with the amusingly ridiculous meaning: “First the woman, then the man bites the bad dog.” In fact the sentence means “The bad dog bites the woman first, then the man.”

A Foundation Course in Reading German, Howard Martin and Alan Ng

In German, the main verb of a statement has to be in the second position of the sentence. So the part of the sentence before the verb must be a single unit, then the verb (conjugated to the subject of the sentence), and then the rest of the sentence.

Finally, yes/no questions in German always begin with the verb.

Example

Harry hob ihn auf und starrte auf den Umschlag. Sein Herz schwirrte wie ein riesiges Gummiband.

Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen, chapter 3, page 40

Here we can see that the verb is in the second position of the sentence.

Vocabulary

hob — The first-person preterite of “heben“, to lift.

der Umschlag — The envelope.

das Herz — The heart.

schwirrte — The first-person preterite of “schwirren“, to twang.

riesiges — Gigantic. “Ein riesiges Gummiband” is the object of the sentence. “Riesiges” is the neuter accusative form of “riesig”.

das Gummiband — The rubber band.

Translation

Harry lifted it up and stared at the envelope. His heart twanged like a gigantic rubber band.

The English version is comprised of one longer sentence:

Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, c

Past lessons

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