A boy reading a book.

When it comes to forming sentences in English, anyone who is studying the language knows the drill: subject, verb, and object. In certain cases, German word order, or “Die Wortstellung,” follows the same basic rules as English. However, the language is more versatile, which can be confusing to newcomers. Starting with simple sentences is the best way to gain fluency in German.

Moreover, if you’re going to visit a German speaking country and want to use the basic German in conversations with the native speakers, learning German grammar is just as important as knowing some basic vocabulary and being familiar with the German culture. Even if you are able to recognize and use some common German phrases, you sill need to implement the corrent word order to not confuse people you’re talking to.

Today, we’ll teach you the fundamentals and provide you with some helpful resources for mastering German sentence structure. Thanks to them, you should be able to have a German basic conversation as well as use some basic German phrases which require conjugations and putting words in different moods. Overall, knowing German word order and sentences should help you speak German better and converse freely with people from German-speaking countries.

Building Basic German Sentences The Right Way

For instance, the most simple sentences in German are structured in the same way as they are in English, with the subject first, the verb second, and the object third. This helps us interpret basic English statements:

I’m eating cookies = “Ich esse Kekse.”

You see the child = “Du siehst das Kind.”

I follow the rules = “Ich befolge die Regeln.”

Puzzle pieces.

German Sentences With Auxiliary Verbs

Simple German sentences, on the other hand, quickly become more nuanced as you begin to refer to events in the past or express circumstances. In certain cases, you’ll need an auxiliary verb, and your sentence will suddenly have two verbs. To construct a sentence with the correct German word order, you must first determine which verb is the dominant one.

Simple: the conjugated verb, which is also the auxiliary component of the verb, is always the dominant verb. The remainder of the verb phrase is either left in the infinitive or conjugated according to the necessary tense (past, future, and passive voice). The auxiliary verbs “haben,” “sein,” and “werden” mean “to have,” “to be,” and “to become” or “to will.”

Ich habe ein Handy gekauft = I have bought a mobile phone.

Du bist zu spät gekommen = You have come too late.

Er wird belogen = He is being lied to.

Forming German Sentences With Modal Verbs

Modal verbs, when combined with the infinitive of a full verb, form a predicate that specifies or characterizes a relationship between the subject and the verb in a sentence. They work similarly to auxiliary verbs in terms of sentence structure. Other verbs can also be used in modal constructions, forming the infinitive with “zu” (to): “Du brauchst das nicht zu tun” means “You don’t have to do that.”

German modal verbs:

Dürfen = to be allowed to, may

Können = to can, be able to

Mögen = to like

Müssen = to have to, must

Sollen = should

Wollen = to want

Building Complex German Sentences With Conjunctions

A conjunction is a word that joins two sentences or portions of a sentence together. A relative clause is formed when one part depends on the other. In German, relative clauses have a different form than in English.

The word order of a dependent part of a sentence or sentences with certain conjunctions is different. They are organized in the CSOV format: conjunction, subject, object, verb. The main point to keep in mind is that the verb goes to the end of the sentence.

Er sagt, dass er beschäftigt ist. = He says he’s busy.

Ich weiß nicht, ob ich das kann. = I don’t know if I can do that.

Ich bleibe daheim, weil es regnet. = Ich stay at home because it’s raining.

Wir essen, bis nichts mehr da ist. = We eat until everything is gone.

A man writing a piece of paper.

Common German Conjunctions:

Wie = how

Weil = because

Als / Wenn = when

Falls / Wenn = if / in case

Bis = until

Dass = that

Ob = Whether

Obwohl / obgleich = although

Als ob = as if

Da = since / as

Seit / Seitdem = since

Bevor / ehe = before

Nachdem = after

Damit = so that

Während / indem = while

Sobald = as soon as

Sodass = so that

Solange = as long as

Trotzdem = despite

Basic German Word Order

Two women at the classroom.

Here are a few prescriptions for constructing simple German sentences if you want to drill the rules into your head:

  • SVO stands for subject, verb, and object – this is the same word order as in English.
  • The second element of the sentence is always the noun, either the main verb or the conjugated component of the verb.
  • The subject must immediately follow the noun, main verb, or conjugated element if it does not precede it.

Sentence Structure: Time, Manner, Place

English sentences are structured according to location, manner, and time – and that’s another difference in German. “Today, I’m riding my bike to class” is an example of English’s position (to class), manner (by bike), and time (today) structure.

“Ich fahre heute mit dem Rad zur Schule.” will be the German structure. The order of importance is time (“heute”), preceded by manner (“mit dem Rad”), and location (“zur Schule”).

For emphasis, you can break the rules of time, manner, and location, as well as the order of subject, verb, and object, in German.

  • “We arrived the day before yesterday” can be changed to “We arrived yesterday” if you want to emphasize the date.
  • “I adore you,” she says. If you really need to emphasize the object, i.e., the person you love, you can change (I love you) to “Dich liebe ich.”
  • “We want to go scuba diving.” If you need to emphasize the verb, i.e., the thing you want to do, you can change (We want to swim) to “Schwimmen wollen wir.”

Tips For Forming Basic German Sentences

There are several potential situations that make mastering German sentence structure the most complicated when learning German. Auxiliary plus modal verbs and relative clauses are the most important to note here.

The auxiliary verb or modal verb, which is conjugated, appears first in the sentence in its normal position, and the infinitive comes last. This can be frustrating for beginners because the infinitive reflects what is happening and therefore has some significance; however, you must pay attention to conjugate the first verb correctly.

The verb phrase occurs at the end of the sentence in a relative clause, but the order is reversed. The last verb is the dominant verb, auxiliary, modal, or first verb.

Differentiate the conjunctions

Sentences in German that begin with conjunction do not always have a different structure. The SVO order of the following sentence is maintained by so-called coordinating conjunctions:

Und = and

Denn = for / because

Sondern = rather / but

Aber = but / however

Oder = or

Subordinating conjunctions, on the other hand, alter the sentence structure in the manner described above, placing the conjugated verb last.

Learn the German Language Every Day

Finally, pay attention to the common phrases you learn and hear, and do a simple study of the German sentence structure to see how words naturally appear in expressions. Determine the subject, verb, object, and adverbial phrases, and then apply the rules you’ve just learned.

The best way to train yourself and become fluent in using German phrases and sentences correctly is by practicing and putting them into reality in our Readle – Learn German App. Beginners and advanced learners will all benefit from it, as it’s great for learning German in a fun way regardless of your current level.