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Basic Sentence Structure in German

Posted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 11:16 am
by Admin
Let's start with normal sentence formation in German.

In a simple or normal structure the subject comes first, then the conjugated verb, then the object and any infinitives or participles.

Ich lese ein Buch – I read a book.

Ich trinke Kaffee – I drink coffee.

Ich spiele Schach - I play chess.

Complex Sentence Structure

Most often you will need an auxiliary or helping verb together with the main verb to complete your sentences in German.

Auxiliary verbs or helping verbs are sein (to be), haben (to have), werden (to become) and modal verbs (müssen, können, wollen, sollen, dürfen and mögen).

So in this case, auxiliary verbs take the second position in the sentence while the main verb goes at the end of the phrase.

Ich habe es gerade gelesen – I have just read it.

Ich werde Dir bald eine Mail schreiben - I will write you an email soon.

Remember: In German, verb has a fixed second position. In complex sentences, helping verb comes at the second place and the main verb goes to the end. This is a general rule. So keep it in mind :-)

If the verb has a separable prefix, then the prefix is moved to the end of the sentence.

Ich stehe jeden Tag um 7.00 Uhr auf – I get up everyday at 7:00.

aufstehen – to get up

Lesson on: Separable Verbs in German and their usage

Sentence Structure: Inversion

In case of inversion, when you emphasize either on an adverbial phrase, an object or a predicative: the subject goes directly behind the conjugated verb and the object or adverbial phrase comes at the beginning of the sentence.

So, Ich habe eine Katze (I have a cat) by inversion changes to

Eine katze habe ich – I have a cat.

Other examples:

Ich laufe schnell (I run fast) by inversion it changes to ....

Schnell laufe ich – Fast is how I run.

Once again, in German, anything can go at the beginning of the sentence other than the subject itself depending on how important is your information. The subject goes directly behind the conjugated verb in this case.

Heute gehe ich in die Bibliothek - Today I go to the library

Here you are emphasizing that today (heute) you will go to the library. So heute (today) comes first, then the verb gehen (to go), then directly behind the verb comes the subject I (ich).

Another example:

Wo ist mein Buch? - Where is my book?

Auf dem Tisch liegt dein Buch - On the table is your book or Your book is on the table.

Here, Auf dem Tisch (on the table) stands together, thereafter follows the verb liegen (to lie).

Sentence Structure with a Subordinate Clause

A subordinate clause is always dependent on the main sentence and generally comes at the end of the main sentence but can be at the beginning as well like in English. So you have the flexibility :-)

Subordinate clauses are seperated from the main clauses by a comma and starts either with subordinate conjunctions (als, dass, damit, ob, weil, obwohl, wenn, wo, wie etc.) or with a relative pronoun (der, die, den, deren, welche etc.).


Ich weiß nicht, ob er mit mir überhaupt klar kommt - I do not know, whether he can get along with me (at all) or he understands me good.

Ob er mit mir überhaupt klar kommt, weiß ich nicht – Whether he can get along with me (at all), I don not know.

Look in the second example, where subordinate clause stands at the beginning and starts with subordinate conjunction (ob) and ends with the verb (kommen) (Ob er mit mir überhaupt klar kommt), main sentence starts with the verb (weiß ich nicht) . One more example:

Wenn ich kann, komme ich mit - If I can, I will go with you.

Subordinate clause with reletive pronoun (der, die, den, deren, welche etc.):

Er ist der Typ, der geht gerne Klettern - He is the guy, who likes climbing.

*Subordinate clause in German is called Nebensatz.

*Main caluse or sentence is called Hauptsatz.

Interrogative sentences

The most common form of interrogative sentences begin with a question word like Wer (who), Wann (when – regarding time), Wie (how), Warum (why) , Wo (where ), Wem (to/for whom - dative form), Wen (whom - accusative form), Wohin/Woher (to/from where).

So, they begin with a question word, then comes the conjugated verb, then the subject, and then comes rest of the sentence.

Was machst du heute Nacht? - What are you doing tonight?

Wo ist mein Buch? - Where is my book?

Woher kommst Du? - Where are you from? / Where do you come from?

Was spielst Du gerade? - What are you playing now?

Interrogative sentences: Asking for an adverbial

Wie alt bist Du? - How old are you?

Wie hoch ist der Baum? - How tall is the tree?

Wie weit ist es von Berlin nach London? - How far is it from Berlin to London?

Wie spät ist es? - What time is it? Or What's the time now?

Interrogative sentences: Yes/No questions

In case of interrogative sentences, which can be answered with a 'yes' or 'no', verb comes at the beginning of the sentence.

Kommst Du mit mir? - Are you coming with me?

Hast Du gut geschlafen? - Did you sleep well?

Schläfst Du noch? - Are you still sleeping?

Imperative sentences or command

In an imperative statement or command, just like in English, the conjugated verb comes at the first position:

Geh weg! - Go away!

Sei ruhig! - Keep quiet!

Hör auf! - Stop it!

Hör auf damit! - Stop doing that!


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