German grammar

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

German grammar is the grammar of the German language. Although some features of German grammar, such as the formation of some of the verb forms, resemble those of English, German grammar differs from that of English in that it has, among other things, cases and gender in nouns and a strict verb-second word order in main clauses.

German has retained many of the grammatical distinctions that other Germanic languages have lost in whole or in part. There are three genders and four cases, and verbs are conjugated for person and number. Accordingly, German has more inflections than English, and uses more suffixes. For example, in comparison to the -s added to third-person singular present-tense verbs in English, most German verbs employ four different suffixes for the conjugation of present-tense verbs, namely -e for the first-person singular, -st for the second-person singular, -t for the third-person singular and for the second-person plural, and -en for the first- and third-person plural.

Owing to the gender and case distinctions, the articles have more possible forms. In addition, some prepositions combine with some of the articles.

Numerals are similar to other Germanic languages. Unlike English and Swedish, units are placed before tens as in Danish, Dutch, and Norwegian.


A German noun – excluding pluralia tanta – has one of three specific grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter). Nouns are declined for case and grammatical number (singular, plural). In German, all nouns are capitalized, not just proper nouns.


German has all three genders of late Proto-Indo-European – the masculine, the feminine, and the neuter. Most German nouns take one of these genders. Nouns denoting a person, such as die Frau ("woman") or der Mann ("man"), generally agree with the natural gender of what is described. However, since every German noun ending with -chen or -lein is grammatically neuter, there exist several notable counterexamples such as das Mädchen ("girl") and das Fräulein ("miss"). Thus these are not illogical, whereas das Weib (old, regional or anthropological: woman; a cognate of the English "wife") is really an exception. In addition, German assigns gender to nouns without natural gender in an arbitrary fashion. For example, the three common pieces of cutlery all have different genders: das Messer ("knife") is neuter, die Gabel ("fork") is feminine, and der Löffel ("spoon") is masculine.

Students of German are often advised to learn German nouns with their accompanying definite article, as the definite article of a German noun corresponds to the gender of the noun. However, the meaning or form, especially the ending, of a noun can be used to recognize 80% of noun genders.[1] For instance, nouns ending in the suffixes -heit, -keit, -ung, -tät, or -schaft are always feminine.[2] As noted above, nouns ending in -chen or -lein take the neuter. A noun ending in –e is likely to be feminine; however, this is not a universal rule: die Katze ("cat"), die Blume ("flower"), and die Liebe ("love") are feminine, but der Bote ("messenger"), der Junge ("boy") and der Knabe ("knave") are masculine, while das Ende ("end") is neuter. Similarly, a noun ending in –er is likely to be masculine (der Teller, der Stecker, der Computer); however, das Messer ("knife") and das Wasser ("water") are neuter, whereas die Mutter ("mother") and die Butter ("butter") are feminine in High German.



Unlike English, which has lost almost all forms of declension of nouns and adjectives, German inflects nouns, adjectives and pronouns into four grammatical cases. The cases are the nominative (Nominativ, Werfall, 1. Fall), genitive (Genitiv, Wes[sen]fall, 2. Fall), dative (Dativ, Wemfall, 3. Fall), and accusative (Akkusativ, Wenfall, 4. Fall). The case of a particular noun depends on the grammatical function of the noun in the sentence.

  • Nominative (Wer oder was?): The subject of a sentence, that which carries out the action
    • He loves her.
  • Accusative (Wen oder was?): The direct object, that which is acted upon, or the object of certain prepositions
    • He loves her.
  • Genitive (Wessen?): The possessor of something, or the object of certain prepositions or verbs; in English "Whose?"
    • This is Susanna's book.
  • Dative (Wem?): The indirect object, as in when an object is given to someone, or the object of certain prepositions and verbs
    • I gave the book to her.

Note: In earlier usage (17-19th century) German words derived from Latin also had a vocative and an ablative case, and some words still have a vocative (e.g. Jesus, vocative Jesu or Jesus, and Christus, vocative Christe or Christus).

Example: der Tisch (masc.) (engl. the table)
Singular: Plural:
Nom.: der Tisch die Tische
Acc.: den Tisch die Tische
Gen.: des Tisch(e)s der Tische
Dat.: dem Tisch(e) den Tischen
In a jocular sentence (using only one noun for understanding purposes):
Der Tisch [nominative] gab dem Tisch(e) [dative] des Tisch(e)s [genitive] den Tisch [accusative].
The table [nom.] gave (to) the table [dat.] of the table [gen.] the table [acc.].
Declension of the German definite articles, der, die, and das ("the").
This sentence is an example of how cases are used in German (and in every other language with grammatical case). This differs from English, where the word order in a sentence has more meaning. In German, because the function of each noun is not marked by its position within the sentence but by the declined articles—and in case of genitive and dative also by a suffix at the end of the noun itself—the German sentence could also be:
Der Tisch gab dem Tisch(e) den Tisch des Tisch(e)s.
Der Tisch gab des Tisch(e)s Tisch dem Tisch(e)
Den Tisch des Tisches gab dem Tisch der Tisch.
Dem Tisch(e) gab den Tisch des Tisch(e)s der Tisch.
Des Tisch(e)s Tisch gab dem Tisch(e) den Tisch.
Although some of these may sound exotic in modern day German, they are grammatically correct (and even rather unusual constructions are more regularly used in poetry).

Contrary to strongly inflected languages like Latin, German expresses cases more through the word's article than the ending of the word, though especially the difference between plural and singular is also expressed by suffixes on the words' endings (der Tisch, die Tische). Other exceptions of a suffix expressing the case of a noun along with the article are the forms of genitive and dative singular and dative plural. Yet, one could still say that transferring the case-information to the article preserved the German case system throughout its development from Old High German to contemporary German.


Today, the use of the genitive case is relatively rare in spoken language - speakers sometimes substitute the dative case for past uses of it in conversation, quite similar to the language's Germanic relative Faroese. But the genitive case remains almost obligatory in written communication, public speeches and anything that is not explicitly colloquial in German and is still an important part of German Bildungssprache (language of education). Television programs and movies often contain a mixing of both, dative substitution or regular genitive, depending on how formal or "artistic" the program is intended to be. The use of the dative substitution is more common in southern German dialects, whereas Germans from northern regions (where Luther's Bible-German had to be learned like a foreign language back then) use the genitive more regularly. Though it has become quite common not to use the genitive case when it would formally be required, great numbers of Germans know how to use it and generally do so. Especially among people of higher education, it is considered a minor embarrassment to be caught using the dative case incorrectly. Therefore, it is by no means recommended to avoid the genitive when learning German, since the decline of this case, which has been going on for about 600 years, is proceeding very slowly, because the historical development of German Standardsprache has reestablished this particular case in German language to some extent, and not necessarily just in written form. For example, the genitive is rarely used in colloquial German to express a possessive relation (e.g. das Auto meines Vaters "my father's car" may sound odd to some Germans in colloquial speech), but the partitive genitive is rather common today (e.g. einer der Besten "one of the best"). Furthermore, some verbs require the genitive as their object, but this standard is often ignored by some of the native speakers; instead, they replace these genitive objects with (substitutional) prepositional constructions: e.g. Ich schäme mich deiner. ("I'm ashamed of you.") turns into Ich schäme mich deinetwegen. ("I'm ashamed because of you.").

Yet, a German book series called Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod ("The dative is to the genitive its death") alludes to this phenomenon (being called "genitive's death struggle" by the author) in its title. In correct standard German, the title would be "Der Dativ ist des Genitiv[e]s Tod" ("Dative is Genitive's Death"). In alternative word order also "Der Dativ ist der Tod des Genitivs". As is apparent, the book uses a dialect way of speaking, i.e. by employing the dative case together with a possessive pronoun instead of the genitive, to poke fun at what the author perceives as a decline in the German language, since in written German a dative construction replacing the genitive is still considered a major error. This is, by the way, not how most Standard German speakers would colloquially replace the genitive case; rather, this usage is prevalent in some German regional dialects, such as Bavarian. Standard German speakers would construct Der Dativ ist der Tod vom Genitiv, which is (being literally the English "of the Genitive") incorrect in the Standard as well, but far less incriminated.

Linguistically, the thesis of the genitive case dying out can easily be refuted. Indeed, the genitive case has been widely out of use in most dialects of the German language for centuries. The new phenomenon is only the replacement of dialects by a colloquial Standard German, which does not at all, however, affect the use of the genitive case in the written language. Also, many Germans wrongly use the genitive after prepositions including nahe, gemäß or entgegen, although the dative is required.

There are, however, legitimate dative constructions to indicate possession, as in "Dem Knaben ist ein Buch zu eigen". The construction "zu eigen", however, doesn't practically appear but in Latin beginners' translations, as the sentence should indicate (puero liber est). Some dialects have "Dem Knaben ist ein Buch" which is literally a dativus possessivus. If a genitive is unmarked and without article (practically, in the plural), usage of von (and after it, a dative) is not only legitimate but required, as in: "Die Belange von Minderheiten sind zu schützen" (minorities' affairs are to be protected). In that case, "Belange der Minderheiten" would produce a definite article, which is not intended, and "Minderheiten" itself is somewhat an unmarked plural. Additionally, the dative case is commonly used to indicate possession of bodily parts that are the direct objects of an action. Constructions such as Er brach sich den Arm. ("He broke his arm.", literally "He broke himself the arm.") and Du stichst dir die Augen aus, Junge! ("You'll put your eyes out, kid!", literally "You [will] put yourself the eyes out, kid!" ) are typical and correct in any context. In English, this construction only occurs in the construction to look someone in the eye and its variants.


The dative case governs the indirect object of a sentence and location. The sentence "Ich gebe meinem Sohn(e) einen Hund" (Eng. I give my son a dog) contains a subject "ich", a verb "gebe", an indirect object "meinem Sohn(e)"; and a direct object "einen Hund". "Meinem Sohn(e)" is the to whom or the destination of the object of the subject's action, and therefore takes the masculine dative -m.

Dative also focuses on location. (See accusative or dative prepositions below). German places strong emphasis on the difference between location and motion, the accusative case governing motion and the dative governing location. There are four important verbs that show this dichotomy: hängen/hängen, legen/liegen, stellen/stehen, setzen/sitzen (motion/location). To demonstrate the accusative use, take the example "Ich hänge das Bild an die Wand.," "I hang the picture on(to) the wall." This sentence demonstrates motion: note the accusative article of 'Wand'. On the other hand, consider the sentence "das Bild hängt an der Wand." This sentence shows location; now, the picture is located on the wall, so "Wand" is dative.

Cases after prepositions

The case of a noun after a preposition is decided by that preposition. No prepositions require the nominative case, but any other case may follow one, for example, the preposition für (for) is followed by the accusative case, the word mit (with) is followed by the dative, and the word außerhalb (outside of) is followed by the genitive case. Certain prepositions, called "two way prepositions", have objects either in dative or accusative, depending on whether the use implies position (e.g. in der Küche = "in the kitchen", dative case) or direction (e.g. in die Küche ("into the kitchen", accusative case).

Prepositions and cases

Prepositions in German can be difficult for English speakers to master. The simple reason is that prepositions are designed to give some direction, location, intensity, etc. to a sentence. The way an English speaker would indicate such things may be totally different from the way a German speaker would.

Furthermore, there are instances where German uses a preposition in a way that might seem strange to a native English speaker, e.g. as a separable prefix attributed to a verb. For example, in "Mach' die Lichter aus!" (Turn the lights off!), aus (out) is used instead of "ab". There is also the verb ausschlafen, literally "to sleep out", which in English idiom would be expressed by "sleep in".

The objects of some prepositions have a fixed case. For example, if 'bei', a dative preposition, is used in a sentence, its object will be dative, as in the sentence "Ich mache einen Besuch bei meiner Familie. (I'm visiting with my family). Notice the dative feminine inflection on "mein".

The following chart shows the cases associated with several prepositions in common usage.[3][4][5]

Accusative Dative Genitive Accusative or dative
bis aus anstatt* an
durch außer statt* auf
entlang*** bei außerhalb hinter
für dank** innerhalb in
gegen gegenüber jenseits neben
je gemäß** diesseits über
ohne laut** seitens unter
um mit während* vor
wider nach wegen* zwischen
seit mithilfe
von würdig
zu anhand
trotz ** *

* with dative colloquially and with pronouns.
** may take the ("hypercorrect") genitive.
*** as a preposition takes the genitive or a colloquial dative: entlang des Weges (dem Wege) "along the way", but as a postposition it takes the accusative with identical meaning: den Weg entlang.

"Unusual" prepositions, which exist in vast amount in bureaucratic style, as a rule take the genitive. The nascent preposition "Richtung" (lit. "direction", as in "ich fahre (in) Richtung München", I'm driving in the direction of Munich) takes an accusative. An expanded list of prepositions taking the genitive case may be found here.[6]

Two-way prepositions with either dative or accusative mean location with dative, questioned "where" (wo?), and direction with accusative, questioned "where to?" (wohin?) (rule without exception).

Declension of adjectives

The declension of an adjective depends not only on the gender, number and case of the noun it modifies, but also on whether the indefinite article, definite article or no article is used with it. The following table shows two examples which exemplify all three cases:

Masculine nominative singular Feminine dative singular
definite article der hübsche Mann (the/that handsome man) vor der verschlossenen Tür (in front of the/that locked door)
indefinite article ein hübscher Mann (a handsome man) vor einer verschlossenen Tür (in front of a locked door) [a specific door]
no article hübscher Mann (handsome man) vor verschlossener Tür (in front of a locked door) [an undefined door or any door]

Note that the word "kein" is declined similar to the indefinite article.

Declension of adjectives is mandatory even in proper names. The name of Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, for instance, changes into "das Kunsthistorische Museum" when preceded by a definite article. Adjectival bynames given to historical or legendary persons, must also be declined according to their grammatical role in a phrase or sentence. Hence, one says Karl der Große ist im Jahre 800 Kaiser geworden ("Charlemagne became emperor in the year 800"), but das Schwert Karls des Großen ("The sword of Charlemagne").


The German language has several different ways of forming the plural. A student of German as a foreign language must learn the plural for each new noun learned; although many feminine nouns are very regular in the formation of the plural, many masculine and neuter nouns are not. For example, some plurals are formed with an "n" or "en", some with an umlaut and an "e", other plurals are the same as the singular, some add "er" or an umlaut and "er". Many loanwords borrowed from another language, as well as some dialectal or colloquial nouns, take a plural in "s" (e.g. das Restaurant → die Restaurants). Some foreign endings such as Latin -um are deleted before the plural ending (e.g. das Zentrum → die Zentren). A few loanwords have a different stress in the plural than in the singular (e.g. der Muslim → die Muslime).

singular plural
die Frau (woman) die Frauen
der Mann (man) die Männer
die Kuh (cow) die Kühe
der Globus (globe) die Globen
der Atlas (atlas) die Atlanten
der Kuss (kiss) die Küsse
der Bus (bus) die Busse
das Kabel (cable) die Kabel
das Auto (car) die Autos
die Mitarbeiterin (female employee) die Mitarbeiterinnen
der Kaktus (cactus ) die Kakteen

Special colloquial or dialectal plural forms exist also for some native words. For example, Stöcker is often used as the plural of Stock "stick" in northern Germany, whereas the standard plural is Stöcke.

Although ancient German plurals called for morphologically distinct gender markings, this is no longer the case. With regard to the treatment of adjectives and articles, this amounts almost to the plural number behaving as a fourth gender. Textbooks and articles typically list the articles or adjectival endings for plurals in the next row or column where a fourth gender would be given if it existed. What this suggests is not completely true, but it is usually an effective approach for non-native speakers studying the language.

Nominal (or noun) phrases

(The content of this section is not yet applicable for proper names.)

A German nominal phrase, in general, consists of the following components in the following order:
article, number (cardinal or ordinal), adjective(s), noun, genitive attribute, position(s), relative clause, reflexive pronoun

  • "Die dritte umwerfende Vorstellung des Schillerdramas in dieser Woche in Hamburg"

(the third stunning performance of the drama by Schiller this week in Hamburg)

Of course, most noun phrases are not this complicated; adjectives, numbers, genitive attributes, positions, relative clauses and emphasizers are always optional.

A nominal phrase contains at least a cardinal number, an adjective, a pronoun or a noun. It always has an article, except if it is an indefinite plural noun or refers to an uncountable mass.

  • "Die Drei" (the three of them)
  • "Der große Mann" (the tall man)
  • "Der Mann" (the man)

If the noun is uncountable, an article is not used; otherwise, the meaning of the sentence changes.

  • "Ich kaufe billiges Bier" (I buy cheap beer)
  • "Ich kaufe ein billiges Bier" (I buy a bottle/can/glass/sort ... of cheap beer)
  • "Ich habe Geld" (I have money)
  • "Ich habe das Geld" (I have the money) or (I have enough money to...)

A nominal phrase can be regarded a single unit. It has a case, a number, and a gender. Case and number depend on the context, whereas the main noun determines the gender.

Genitive attribute

A nominal phrase may have a genitive attribute, for example to express possession. This attribute may be seen as merely another nominal phrase in the genitive case which may hang off another nominal phrase.

  • "Der Beruf des alten Mannes" (The profession of the old man.)
  • "Die Hütte des Häuptlings des Stammes" (The hut of the chief of the tribe)
(genitive phrase has its own genitive phrase). This is uncommon in modern German. "Die Hütte des Stammeshäuptlings" (The hut of the tribe's chief/tribeschief) is preferred.

A direct translation of "Der Beruf des alten Mannes" would be "the profession of the old man." "The old man's profession" could be translated directly and correctly as "Des alten Mannes Beruf", though this form is almost never used in modern German, even if educated circles regarded it a very elegant use of language. It is found in poetry, especially if helpful for metrical and rhyming purposes.


A nominal phrase may contain a "position phrase"; this may be seen as merely another nominal phrase with a preposition (or postposition) or a pronominal adverb (See Adverbial phrases).

  • "Eine Wolke am Himmel" (a cloud in the sky)
  • "Der Bundeskanzler während des Bürgerkriegs im Kongo" (the Chancellor during the civil war in the Congo)
(position phrase has its own position phrase)
  • "Der Regen im Dschungel im Sommer" (the rain in the jungle in the summer)
(Several position phrases)
  • "Der Berg dort" (that mountain over there)

Extended attribute phrase

German permits lengthy nominal modifiers, for instance:

"Der während des Bürgerkrieges amtierende Premierminister" (literally: the during-the-civil-war office-holding prime minister), the Prime Minister holding office / officiating during the civil war.

"Die noch zu Anfang des Kurses relativ kleinen, aber doch merklichen Verständigungsschwierigkeiten" (literally: The still-at-the-beginning-of-the-course-relatively-small-but-nevertheless-noticeable communication difficulties), the communication difficulties still relatively small at the beginning of the course, but nevertheless noticeable.

These are a feature of written (particularly educated) German. One also might hear them in the context of formal oral communications as well (such as news broadcasts, speeches, etc.).

Relative clause

A nominal phrase will often have a relative clause.

Aside from their highly inflected forms, German relative pronouns are less complicated than English. There are two varieties. The more common one is based on the definite article der, die, das, but with distinctive forms in the genitive (dessen, deren) and in the dative plural (denen). Historically this is related to English that. The second, which is more literary and used for emphasis, is the relative use of welcher, welche, welches, comparable with English which. As in most Germanic languages, including Old English, both of these inflect according to gender, case and number. They take their gender and number from the noun they modify, but the case from their function in their own clause.

Das Haus, in dem ich wohne, ist sehr alt.
The house in which I live is very old.

The relative pronoun dem is neuter singular to agree with Haus, but dative because it follows a preposition in its own clause. On the same basis, it would be possible to substitute the pronoun welchem.

However, German uses the uninflecting was ('what') as a relative pronoun when the antecedent is alles, etwas or nichts ('everything', 'something', 'nothing'.), or when the antecedent is an entire clause.

Alles, was Jack macht, gelingt ihm.
Everything that Jack does is a success.
Jack vergaß sein Buch, was niemanden überraschte.
Jack forgot his book, which surprised nobody.

In German, all relative clauses are marked with a comma.

Articles and article-like words

The inflected forms depend on the number, the case and the gender of the corresponding noun. Articles have the same plural forms for all three genders.

Cardinal numbers

In relation to nouns, cardinal numbers are placed before adjectives, if any. If the number is relatively low, it is usually not combined with an indefinite plural article (e.g. einige or mehrere). Personal pronouns of the first and second person are placed before numbers. Personal pronouns of the third person cannot be used with numbers.

"Drei Hunde" (three dogs)
"Die vier apokalyptischen Reiter" (the four horsemen of the Apocalypse)
NOT: "Einige fünf Äpfel" BUT: "Einige Äpfel" or "Fünf Äpfel" (some apples, five apples)
"Ein paar tausend Euro" (a couple thousand euros)
"Wir vier" (us four)

The use of cardinal numbers requires the plural form of the noun or nominal phrase.

NOT: "Zehn Pferd" BUT: "Zehn Pferde" (ten horses)
EXCEPTION: "Zehn Bier" (colloquial) and "Zehn Biere" (semi-formal) are both acceptable, with respect to certain nouns such as beverages.

The cardinal number "one" is partly identical in form and inflection to the indefinite article. The number is distinguished from the article in speech by intonation and in writing sometimes by emphasis (e.g. italics or spacing: "ein" or "e i n"). In colloquial German, the indefinite article ein is sometimes shorted to [ən] (like English an), whereas eine becomes [nə]. In dialects, the shortening may arrive at [ə] (Schwa, like English a) or [a] in Upper German regions. The cardinal number (= one), however, always retains its full pronunciation.

"Ein rotes Buch" may mean
"a red book" - ein rotes Buch; or
"one red book" - ein rotes Buch

The numbers zwei (two) and drei (three) (and sometimes other numbers as well) have case endings in some instances. Where an adjective would have weak endings, numbers do not have endings. If an adjective had strong endings, these numbers may also have strong endings in the genitive case

"das Haus zweier junger Frauen" (two young women's house)

If there is no other word carrying the strong ending of the genitive plural, the numbers must carry it.

"die Reise dreier Schwestern" (three sisters' voyage)

If these numbers are center of a nominal phrase in the dative plural and no other word carries case markers, they may carry dative endings.

"Zweien habe ich Bananen gegeben" (I have given bananas to two (of them); lit.: "Twain have I bananas given.")


German adjectives normally precede the noun they are modifying. German adjectives have endings which depend on the case, number and (in the singular) gender of the nominal phrase. There are three sets of endings: strong endings, mixed endings and weak endings. Which set is used depends on what kind of word the adjective comes after, and sometimes also on the gender and case.

Like articles, adjectives use the same plural endings for all three genders.

"Ein lauter Krach" (a loud noise)
"Der laute Krach" (the loud noise)
"Der große, schöne Mond" (the big, beautiful moon)

Participles may be used as adjectives and are treated in the same way.

In contrast to Romance languages, adjectives are only declined in the attributive position (that is, when used in nominal phrases to describe a noun directly). Predicative adjectives, separated from the noun by "to be", for example, are not declined and are indistinguishable from adverbs.

NOT: "Die Musik ist laute" BUT "Die Musik ist laut" ((the) music is loud) or, rarely, "Die Musik ist eine laute" ((the) music is a loud one)

There are three degrees of comparison: positive form, comparative form and superlative form.


The pronouns of the third person may be used to replace nominal phrases. These have the same gender, number and case as the original nominal phrase. This goes for other pronouns, too.

pronoun [position(s)] [relative clause]

Personal pronouns

Personal Pronouns
1st sg. 2nd sg. 3rd sg. 1st pl. 2nd pl. 3rd pl. naturally: 2nd formal
grammatically: 3rd pl.
masc. fem. neut.
ich du er sie es wir ihr sie Sie
(† mein)
(† dein)
(† sein)
ihrer seiner
(† sein)
unser euer ihrer Ihrer
(indirect object)
mir dir ihm ihr ihm uns euch ihnen Ihnen
(direct object)
mich dich ihn sie es uns euch sie Sie


  • du (deiner, dir, dich) can also be written Du (Deiner, Dir, Dich), especially in letters.
  • wir (unser, uns, uns) is written as Wir (Unser, Uns, Uns) in case of a pluralis majestatis.

The reflexive personal pronoun (in English, "myself" etc.) takes distinct forms only in the 3rd person (and 2nd person formal address) dative and accusative, to wit, sich. (Uncapitalized also in the 2nd person formal).

Adverbial phrases


German verbs may be classified as either weak, with a dental consonant inflection, or strong, showing a vowel gradation (ablaut). Most verbs of both types are regular, though various subgroups and anomalies do arise. However, textbooks often class all strong verbs as irregular. There are more than 200 strong and irregular verbs, and there is a gradual tendency for strong verbs to become weak.

Verbs in sentence structure

In German sentences the verb is always placed as the second element. When there are two verbs in a sentence they are placed as the second and last elements respectively. However, this rule can change when a subordinating conjunction is used. A verb placed as the second element does not necessarily mean it is the second word; for instance the second element could follow both an article and a noun, or a possessive pronoun and a noun.

Examples: (Underlined word indicates verb as second element.)

  • Ich spiele am Samstag Fußball. (I play football on Saturday.)
  • Meine Katze ist schwarz und weiß. (My cat is black and white.)

Examples: (Underlined words indicate verbs as both second and last elements.)

  • Ich werde morgen nach Deutschland fliegen. (I will fly to Germany tomorrow.)
  • Sie möchte einen besseren Computer kaufen. (She would-like to buy a better computer.)

The position of the second verb is changed when a subordinating conjunction is used. When one is used in the middle of the sentence, the second verb is sent directly to the end of the sentence. For example: (First underlined word indicates the subordinating conjunction, second underlined word indicates the verb at the end of the sentence.)

  • Ihr Pulli ist aus rotem Stoff, weil es ein Liverpool-Pulli ist. (Your sweater is from red material, because it is a Liverpool sweater.)

Separable verbs

German has many verbs that have a separable prefix that can be unattached to its root. Examples are aussehen, to appear or look, and vorstellen, to imagine, or to introduce.

  • Peter sieht spitze in seinem Anzug aus. Peter looks handsome (lit sharp) in his suit.
  • Lori, kennst du meine Frau? Ja? Wer stellte euch vor? Lori, do you know my wife? Yeah? Who introduced you?

Modal particles

Modal particles (Abtönungspartikel) are a part of speech used frequently in spoken German. These words affect the tone of a sentence instead of conveying a specific literal meaning. Typical examples of this kind of word in German are doch, mal, halt, eben, nun, schon, eh or ja. Many of these words also have a more basic, specific meaning (e.g. ja "yes", schon "already"), but in their modal use, this meaning is not directly expressed.


German sentence structure is somewhat more complex than that in other languages, with phrases regularly inverted for both questions and subordinate phrases.



  1. Durrell, Martin; Hammer, A.E. (2002), Hammer's German Grammar and Usage (Fourth ed.), McGraw-Hill, pp. 1–10, ISBN 978-0-07-139654-7<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Relation of the form and gender
  3. German accusative prepositions
  4. German Dative Prepositions
  5. German Genitive Prepositions


External links