What is the difference between subordinate clause vs. dependent clause in German? You might know by now, that the basic sentence structure in German is: subject – verb – object. Any main clause needs at least one of each. What if they don’t have one of each? Then that’s not a stand-alone sentence, but a subordinate clause which is more like an extension of the main clause. What’s a dependent clause then? It is also an extension of the main clause, but it follows the same subject – verb – object rule, it has one of each. Although it does have one of each, it can’t stand alone because it needs the information given in the main clause. A dependent clause is therefore a special form of the subordinate clause.
Dependent clauses fall into two categories, each defined by the element that introduces them.
I. Relative clauses begin with a relative pronoun.
II. Dependent clauses begin with a subordinating conjunction (or equivalent). There are a lot of those conjunctions, and here are some of the common ones:
|als (when)||auch wenn (even if)||bevor (before) bis (until)|
|damit (so that)||dass (that) ehe (before)||nachdem (after)|
|ob (whether)||obwohl (although)||seitdem (since) während (while)|
|weil (because)||aufgrund [von] (due to)||wenn (if, when)|
A dependent clause is formed when subordinating conjunction is placed first. Keep in mind that, as the name suggests, such a clause is not a complete sentence; an independent, or primary, a clause must be present as well. The finite verb is no longer in the second position in a dependent clause but has moved to the end, following even the verb complement (if there is one). The two elements are written as one term if the complement is a separable prefix. Example: “er schläft ein” [he falls asleep] becomes “weil er einschläft” [because he falls asleep].
|…dass er sein Kind zur Schule fährt …that he drives his child to school|
|…bevor du nach Hause kommst …before you come home|
|…nachdem ich so viel zugenommen habe …after I gained so much weight|
|…während das Semester in Deutschland beginnt …while the semester is starting in Germany|
|…ob wir ihm alles sagen sollen …if we should tell him everything|
|…obwohl du ihn erst heute kennen gelernt hast …although you never met him until today|
A word about word order: a dependent clause may come before, after, or after the main clause. It usually takes the first position when it precedes, necessitating an inverted order in the independent clause (i.e. with the subject is located in the third position).
|Es ist schön, dass er sein Kind zur Schule fährt|
|It’s nice that he drives his child to school|
|Mach deine Arbeit fertig, bevor du nach Hause kommst.|
|Finish your work before you come home|
|Nachdem ich so viel zugenommen habe, muss ich vernünftiger essen.|
|After I’ve gained so much weight, I’ll have to eat more reasonably.|
|Auch wenn ich es wollte, könnte ich die Rechnung nicht bezahlen.|
|Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t pay the bill.|
|Während das Semester in Deutschland beginnt, liegt er noch am Strand.|
|While the semester is starting in Germany, he’s still lying on the beach|
|Obwohl du ihn erst heute kennen gelernt hast, scheinst du alles über ihn zu wissen.|
|Although you never met him until today, you seem to know all about him.|
|Die Idee, dass ich plötzlich für alles verantwortlich sein sollte, war mir neu.|
|The idea that I was suddenly supposed to be responsible for everything was new to me.|
Subordinate clauses in German cannot be used as sentences on their own. They’re reliant on the rest of the sentence (main clause). As a result, they’re sometimes called contingent clauses.
Main clauses are referred to as “Hauptsätze” in German, while subordinate clauses are referred to as “Nebensätze.” The main clause (independent clause) and a subordinate clause make up a complex or compound sentence (dependent clause).
This means that a subordinate clause adds to the main clause’s knowledge. For example, I’m learning German in order to study in Germany. The main clause is “I am studying German,” and the dependent clause is “I want to study in Germany.”
The conjunction “because” is used to connect the two clauses together. Subordinate conjunctions are a form of conjunction.
Before we get into the specifics of how to form sentences with German subordinate clauses, let’s first learn about subordinating conjunctions.
Subordinate conjunctions connect main and dependent clauses together. Subjunctions are another name for them. Subordinate clauses in German are often preceded by a subordinate conjunction.
In German, there are a lot of subordinating conjunctions. All of them should be familiar to you since they are often used in everyday conversations.
Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to memorize them. There’s no need to be concerned, though. They will become second nature to you with daily practice.
The following are the most significant and widely used German subordinate conjunctions:
|als||as / when|
|sobald||as soon as|
|soweit||as far as|
|sowie||as well as / as soon as|
|während||during / while|
|wenn||if / whenever|
To really understand the difference between the different types of clauses (main clauses and subordinate clauses in German Grammar word order), the best thing to do is practice them. You can easier locate the verb in the second position and therefore see, that it’s the main clause when you keep on reading and practicing your knowledge. A subordinate clause cannot stand alone and won’t start with “ich bin” or “ich habe” (I am or I have). Remember that the conjugated verb is placed at the end of a German sentence when it’s not the main clause and the verb goes to the second place in the main clause. Most likely, you’ll find a dependent clause at the end of the clause, for example, “ich weiß nicht, ob er mich mag, weil ich nicht mit ihm sprach” where the subject is in the first position, so that’s independent clauses that follow the SVO sentence structure and the subordinate clause will be after the comma in the German language.
So, what’s the best way of practicing it? Try out Readle, for free! You can decide to get full paid access or stick to the free stories. Either way, you can practice German on your personal level, while you’re still being entertained!