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Sentence Structure

Main clause
(EVERY SENTENCE HAS AT LEAST ONE OF THESE)

Standard: SUBJECT - VERB - REST
Ich habe leider kein Geld in der Tasche.
S V REST (adverb: leider + object: kein Geld + place: in der Tasche)


Alternative: REST#1 - VERB - SUBJECT - REST#2
Leider habe ich kein Geld in der Tasche.
R1 V S R2

In der Tasche habe ich leider kein Geld.
R1 V S R2

Kein Geld habe ich leider in der Tasche.
R1 V S R2
(strange but correct)
NOTE: There are NO commas here. Starting a sentence with an element besides the subject does NOT call for a comma, and it is incorrect to put one.

NOTE: Only one element can go up front in a sentence!
Thus: Leider, als ich ein Kind war, habe ich nicht gespielt. ( INCORRECT!)
It has to be:
Als ich ein Kind war, habe ich leider nicht gespielt. -or-
Leider habe ich nicht gespielt, als ich ein Kind war.


Subordinate Clauses

1. With subordinating conjunctions:

MAIN CLAUSE (S-V-R),  SUBORDINATE CLAUSE (CONJUNCTION - S - R - V)

Jeder weiß, dass ich zu faul bin.
S V C S R V
Main Subordinate

Wir haben gewartet, bis unser Vater endlich ankam.
S V C S R V
Main Subordinate

Ich bin krank, da ich gestern zu viel getrunken habe.
S V R C S R V
Main Subordinate

  • NOTE: Subordinate clause is ALWAYS preceded by COMMA.
  • Subordinating conjunctions are always followed by nouns.
  • The subordinate clause may PRECEDE the main clause, in which case the whole subordinate clause counts as the "1st place" in the sentence, which means the subject/verb of the main clause gets inverted:
    Dass ich zu faul bin, weiß jeder.
    Da ich gestern zu viel getrunken habe, bin ich krank.


2. With relative pronouns:

Relative clauses:
  • are also subordinate clauses with conjugated verb at the end of the clause.
  • are always separated from the rest of the sentence by commas!
  • generally come right after the NOUN that they modify, which BREAKS up the MAIN or SUBORDINATE clause in which they are inserted:
Der Mann ist kein guter Tennisspieler. (Main clause, normal form)

Der Mann, den du gestern gesehen hast, ist kein guter Tennisspieler. (Main clause, broken in two by the relative clause--which is also a subordinate clause, and is why its conjugated verb is at the end of the clause, not at the end of the whole sentence.)

Ich glaube, dass der Mann kein guter Tennisspieler ist. (Subordinate clause)

Ich glaube, dass der Mann, den du gestern gesehen hast, kein guter Tennisspieler ist. (Sub. clause broken up by the relative clause, which also has the verb-at-end structure.)

Infinitive clauses

Infinitive clauses: (Zu-clauses)

  • Infinitive clauses should generally be set off by commas (optional in new rules, but convenient to do so).
  • Unlike English, the zu + infinitive structure is at the end of the clause.
  • Unlike main, subordinate, and relative clauses, the zu-clause has no conjugated verb, only an infinitive.
Ich habe vergessen, das Buch zu lesen.
Ich habe vergessen, das Buch zweimal zu lesen.
Ich habe vergessen, das Buch meines Bruders zweimal zu lesen.
Ich habe vergessen, das Buch meines Bruders zweimal in der Bibliothek zu lesen.


A normal sentence in German may have several types of clauses, but they are all separated by commas, which makes reading (and writing) them much easier.

If you use your commas correctly, it's easy to isolate each clause within a sentence and check whether the structure for that type of clause is correct!


Copyright © 2017 Will Lehman. All artwork copyright © 2017 Milo Schuman.