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, but the language is more versatile, which can be confusing to newcomers. Starting with simple sentences is the best way to gain fluency in German. We’ll teach you the fundamentals and provide you with resources.
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, verb-second, and object third. This translates to being able to interpret basic English statements like:
I’m eating cookies = “Ich esse Kekse.”
You see the child = “Du siehst das Kind.”
I follow the rules = “Ich befolge die Regeln.”
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 correctly construct the sentence structure, you must first determine which 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 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, which form 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 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.
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
Rules For Basic German Sentence Structure
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.
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
Another distinction from German is that English sentences are structured according to location, manner, and time. “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.” (We arrived yesterday) can be changed to “We arrived yesterday.” (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
The several potential instances of putting the verb at the end of a sentence are one of the many difficulties when learning German. Auxiliary plus modal verbs and relative clauses are the most important to note.
The auxiliary verb or modal verb, which is conjugated, appears first in the sentence in its normal position, but 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 portion of the verb last.
Learn The Structure Of Everyday Phrases In German
Finally, pay attention to the common phrases you learn and hear, and do a simple study of the sentence structure to see how words naturally appear in expressions. Determine the subject, verb, object, and adverbial phrases, then apply the rules you’ve just learned to their placement.
The best way to train yourself and become really strong in German sentences is by practicing them and seeing them being put into reality in our Readle – Learn German App. Beginners and advanced learners will all benefit from it!