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  Word-Order Scheme

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Note: This page offers a supplementary approach to German word order, one that emphasizes formal structures and prescriptive rules. There is also a more user-friendly, and ultimately more accurate approach. Both sites overlap considerably.

English tends to rely mostly on word order to indicate the grammatical function of a word or phrase, while German uses inflections. The German endings, such as those indicating the nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive cases in three different genders, allow for some greater flexibility in clause construction. Hence "Der Hund beißt den Mann" and "Den Mann beißt der Hund" both mean "The dog bites the man" (as opposed to "The man bites the dog"). Nevertheless, German word order is extremely important, even when it is not vital to meaning, and its correctness plays a major role in how a foreigner's command of the language is evaluated.

At the same time, word order is an infinitely complex aspect of language, never wholly mastered by non-native speakers. Very few rules cover all possibilities, and context often trumps other considerations. When Robert Frost writes, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," it's poetic; if someone with a foreign accent says the same thing in conversation, it sounds like Yoda.

The following discussion will introduce a series of increasingly complex models for describing German word order.

 
  We have been working towards this moment for 12 years. Many patients with Parkinson's disease can now live more normally again.
 


Simple declarative sentences:

A simple - and incomplete - description of the German declarative, independent clause defines five "slots" into which the various sentence elements are placed.

Note that not all of these slots are necessarily filled at the same time. The minimum requirement is a subject and a finite verb:


   1   2   3   4   5 
 A   Klaus   gibt   dir das Geld   am Freitag   zurück 
 B   Wir   haben   der Frau ihr Buch   am Montag   zurückgegeben 
 C   Ich   sage   es ihm   später    
 D   Thomas   muss      mehr   arbeiten 
 E   Ich   fahre      jeden Tag mit dem Bus in die Stadt    
 F   Dein Bruder   spielt      sehr gut   Tennis 

Some points about these examples:

Example A: Klaus gibt dir das Geld am Freitag zurück.
[Klaus is giving you the money back on Friday]: The verb zurückgeben has a separable prefix, which goes to slot #5. From this position zurück complements the inflected gibt.
The verb has both a direct (accusative) and indirect (dative) object. When one is a pronoun ("dir") and the other a noun ("das Geld"), the pronoun comes first.
While most verbs distinguish direct and indirect objects through a combination of the accusative and dative, fragen, kosten, and lehren do not follow this pattern; both objects are accusative. However, these two objects have the order you would expect:

Darf ich dich etwas Persönliches fragen? May I ask you something personal?
Das hat den Mann eine Menge Geld gekostet.  That cost the man a bunch of money.
Sie lehrt ihren Bruder die deutsche Sprache. She's teaching her brother the German language.


Example B: Wir haben der Frau ihr Buch am Montag zurückgegeben.
[We gave the woman her book back on Monday]: Here the direct (accusative) and indirect (dative) objects are both nouns. In that situation, the indirect object comes first.

Example C: Ich sage es ihm später.
[I'll tell him (say it to him) later]: Here the direct (accusative) and indirect (dative) objects are both pronouns. In that situation, the direct object comes first.

Example D: Thomas muss mehr arbeiten.
[Thomas has to work more]: The finite verb, a modal auxiliary, is complemented by the infinitive at the end.

Example E: Ich fahre jeden Tag mit dem Bus in die Stadt.
[I go into town every day by bus]: The three adverbial phrases in slot #4 are in the prescribed order: time, manner, place.

Example F: Dein Bruder spielt sehr gut Tennis.
[Your brother plays tennis very well]: Note that "Tennis" is not in slot #3, but rather in #5, where it is part of the verb complement. Perhaps a better translation would be: Your brother is very good at playing tennis.
In other words, "Tennis" is here not the object of "spielen"; rather it is part of the concept "to play tennis."
Contrast this with "Er spielt diesen Sport jede Woche" [He plays this sport every week], where "diesen Sport" is the object of "spielen." In this regard, "Tennis spielen" can be thought of either as a verb with a separable prefix or as being analogous to complements that are in the form of an infinitive. Some examples of the latter:

"einkaufen gehen"  Wir gehen heute einkaufen. We're going shopping today.
"fahren lernen" Mein Bruder lernt jetzt fahren. My brother is learning to drive now.
"schlafen gehen" Wann geht Ihr Kind schlafen? When does your child go to bed?

 
  He has visions every day.
["Visionen haben" is the verbal idea]
 

Predicate adjectives also complement the finite verb to create the "verbal idea:"

"intelligent sein"  Sie ist in der Schule sehr fleißig. She's very industrious in school.
"unhöflich sein"  Bist du auch mit deinen Freunden so unhöflich?  Are you that impolite with your friends, too?

The predicate noun also completes a "verbal idea." A predicate noun, which is in the nominative case, can be thought of as the "object" of the verbs sein, werden, and bleiben. But it occupies slot #5 as a verbal complement instead of slot #3, where the direct and indirect objects are to be found:

Sie ist ihren Eltern nur ein kleines Kind. She's just a little child to her parents.
Er wurde nach diesem großen Abenteuer mein vierter Mann. He became my fourth husband after this great adventure.
Er bleibt trotz allem mein bester Freund. Despite everything he remains my best friend.

A few other examples of a "verbal idea":

"Platz nehmen"  Ich nehme lieber in der ersten Reihe Platz. I prefer to sit (take a seat) in the first row.
"zu Hause sein"  Sie ist meistens zu Hause She's usually home.

The "Inverted Word Order":

In the "inverted word order" some element other than the subject (or the finite verb) occupies the first position. While this first element receives a bit more emphasis, the effect is not especially strong. Contrast this with Yiddishisms in English like, "On the floor you throw the salad?!" "A shot in the head he needs."

 
  With age, chronic iron, nickle, and copper deficiencies often appear. [For an explanation of why "oft" preceeds the subject here, see the discussion of Slot #6 below in the section entitled "A More Nearly Complete Word-Order Scheme"}
 

For this scheme, we need another slot. The finite verb still occupies the second position, and the subject follows it. Hence:

   1   2   3   4   5   6 
 A   Morgen   sollen   wir       schwimmen gehen 
 B   Am Freitag   kannst   du   ihm das Buch      geben 
 C   Das Buch   kannst   du   ihm   am Freitag   geben 
 D   Mit dem Bus   fährt   sie     am liebsten   
 E   Sehr gut   hast   du   das   heute Abend   gespielt 
 F   Gesagt   habe   ich   das   nie   
 G   Arbeiten   will   ich      erst nach dem Essen   
 H   Weil es regnet,   bringen   wir   den Schirm      mit 
 I   Ohne zu wissen warum,   wirft   sie   es   in den Papierkorb   
 J   Es   spielen   zwei Mädchen      in der Mannschaft   


 
  At T-Com the prices are falling. T-Com's new Wish-What-You-Want prices are coming March 1st. Then you can decide yourself how you want to save on telephoning.
 
Some points about these examples:

Examples A and B: Morgen sollen wir schwimmen gehen. [Tomorrow we ought to go swimming]: Am Freitag kannst du ihm das Buch geben. [On Friday you can give him the book]:
English also permits these inversions.

Example C: Das Buch kannst du ihm am Freitag geben. [You can give him the book on Friday]:.
Here the inversion is not possible in English without further elements: The book (is what) you can give him on Friday.

Example D: Mit dem Bus fährt sie am liebsten. [She most prefers to go by bus]:
No such inversion does English permit.

Example E: Sehr gut hast du das heute Abend gespielt. [You played that very well tonight]:
It would be possible to say in English, "Tonight you played that very well," or even, with added emphasis, "That you played very well tonight," but not: "Very well you played that tonight."

Examples F and G: Gesagt habe ich das nie. [I never said that]; Arbeiten will ich erst dem dem Essen. I don't want to work until after dinner.
Even the past participle or an infinitive can go into slot #1.1

Example H: Weil es regnet, bringen wir den Schirm mit. [Because it's raining, we're bringing the umbrella along]:
Slot #1 can even contain a dependent clause.

Example I: Ohne zu wissen warum, wirft sie es in den Papierkorb. [Without knowing why, she throws it into the wastebasket]:
Here slot #1 contains an infinitive clause.

Es spielen zwei Mädchen in der Mannschaft. [There are two girls playing on the team]:
Here the so-called "introductory es" is a "false subject." This structure is often found in the passive voice. Its only purpose is aesthetic.

Questions:

With this 6-slot scheme we can also describe the word order of questions.

In the case of yes-or-no questions, slot #1 is empty (this is also the case in the imperative):

 1   2   3   4   5   6   Translation 
    Hast   du   alles   dabei?      Do you have everything with you? 
    Sind   Sie      verrückt?      Are you nuts? 
    Habt   ihr     gut   geschlafen?   Did y'all sleep well? 
    Gibt   es   etwas      zu essen?   Is there something to eat? 
    Wird   er   das   bald   sagen können?   Will he be able to say that soon? 
    Sollen   wir   ihn   nach Hause   tragen?   Should we carry him home? 


With questions intended to elicit specific information, on the other hand, slot #1 contains an interrogative word or phrase such as wann, warum, wer, wen, wem, wessen, wie, wo, wohin, woher, wie viel (or wieviel), um wieviel Uhr, in welcher Straße, etc. Note that this construction can sometimes involve "normal" word order: was can be the subject, as well as an object, and the nominative wer is always the subject in such questions. In most cases, however, the interrogative word or phrase is another part of speech: wen is a direct object, wann an adverb of time, and so forth:

 1   2   3   4   5   6   Translation 
 Wer   soll      das Geschirr      abspülen?   Who's supposed to do the dishes? 
 Wen   hast   du      heute   gesehen?   Whom did you see today? 
 Wem   hast   du   das      gesagt?   Who did you tell that to? 
 Wann   beginnt   der Film?            When does the movie start? 
 Wie alt   ist   Ihr Hund?            How old is your dog? 
 Was   willst   du     heute Abend   machen?   What do you want to do tonight? 
 Wo   liegt   Hanover?            Where is Hanover located? 
 Wohin   sollen   wir      jetzt   gehen?   Where're we supposed to go now? 
 Zu welcher Zeit   lebte   Leibniz?            At what time did Leibniz live? 



Dependent Clauses:

Up till this point, we have been equating the German sentence with the main, or independent clause, but we can also also use our model to describe dependent clauses.

If slot #1 contains a relative pronoun, it begins a relative clause, which is described here.
If slot #1 contains a subordinating conjunction, it begins a dependent, or subordinate, clause. There are a great many subordinating conjunctions, some of the more common being:

 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)   wenn (if, when) 

The list of subordinating conjunctions also includes all of the interrogative words and phrases when they are used to state indirect questions:

 Ich weiß nicht, wann der Zug abfährt   I don't know when the train leaves. 
 Es ist nicht klar, wem das Buch gehört.   It isn't clear to whom the book belongs. 

When a subordinating conjunction occupies slot #1, our 6-position model now defines the resulting dependent clause. Keep in mind that such a clause is not a whole sentence; an independent, or main clause must also be present. The primary feature of a dependent clause is that the finite verb is no longer in the second position, but moves to the end, following even the verb complement (if there is one). If that complement is a separable prefix, the two elements are written as one word. I.e. "er schläft ein" [he falls asleep] becomes "weil er einschläft" [because he falls asleep]. Some other examples:

 1   2   3   4   5   6   Translation 
 dass      er   sein Kind   zur Schule   fährt   that he drives his child to school 
 bevor      du      nach Hause   kommst   before you come home 
 warum      ich   so viel      zunehme   why I gain so much weight 
 wann      das Semester      in Deutschland   beginnt   when the semester starts in Germany 
 ob      wir   ihm alles      sagen sollen   if we should tell him everything 

Note that in these examples, the subject is always located in slot #3.

In the case of the modal auxiliaries and verbs like sehen, hören, helfen, and lassen in the perfect tenses, the double infinitive remains in the final position in dependent clauses, and the conjugated haben slips into the second-the-last place:

Bist du sicher, dass sie das Buch hat lesen können? Are you sure that she was able to read the book?
Wir sind nach Hause gegangen, weil wir keine Karten haben kaufen können. We went home because we couldn't buy any tickets.
Es ist schade, dass du ihn nie hast singen hören. It's too bad that you've never heard him sing.
Wir haben kein Geld mehr, weil wir ein neues Haus haben bauen lassen. We don't have any more money, because we had a new house built.
Sie erinnert sich nicht daran, dass ich ihr habe kochen helfen. She doesn't remember that I helped her cook.

Infinitive clauses provide another example of an empty slot #2. In this kind of dependent clause there is no grammatical subject, only an implied one, and therefore the verb is not inflected. Note that the infinitive takes zu.

If the verb in question has a separable prefix, the zu goes between the prefix and the stem (e.g. "anzufangen" [to begin], "zuzumachen" [to close]).

Longer infinitive clauses are set off by a comma. Note also that infinitive clauses can fill slot #1 and can even become the subject of another clause.

It is useful to view infinitive clauses as transformations of declarative main clauses. To make the transition, one drops the subject and converts the finite verb to an infinitive (Note that in some cases one of the negatives must be dropped to retain the intended meaning):

    Es ist schön. Wir gehen an einem heißen Sommertag schwimmen.
    Es ist schön, an einem heißen Sommertag schwimmen zu gehen.
    It's nice to go swimming on a hot summer's day.

    Er versucht. Er bindet sich die Schuhe mit einer Hand.
    Er versucht, sich die Schuhe mit einer Hand zu binden.
    He tries to tie his shoes with one hand.

    Ich habe keine Lust. Ich helfe ihm nicht. [Note the meaning!]
    Ich habe keine Lust ihm zu helfen.
    I have no desire to help him.

    Es ist meine Gewohnheit. Ich stehe früh auf.
    Es ist meine Gewohnheit früh aufzustehen.
    It's my habit to get up early

    Man wird Vater. Es ist nicht schwer.
    Vater zu werden ist nicht schwer
    It's not hard to become a father.

    Sie freut sich. Sie hat ihr Referat schon fertiggeschrieben.
    Sie freut sich, ihr Referat schon fertiggeschrieben zu haben.
    She's happy to have finished writing her paper.

    Es muss schön sein. Man kann gut Klavier spielen.
    Es muss schön sein, so gut Klavier spielen zu können.
    It must be nice to be able to play the piano so well.

German uses um...zu in order to express intention. This construction can always be translated by "in order to":

    Sie kommen nach Deutschland. Sie wollen Musik studieren.
    Sie kommen nach Deutschland, um Musik zu studieren.
    They're coming to Germany in order to study music.

    Er trainiert jeden Tag. Er will besser Fußball spielen können.
    Er trainiert jeden Tag, um besser Fußball spielen zu können.
    He practices every day in order to be able to play soccer better.

ohne...zu and (an)statt...zu: can also be part of infinitive clauses in German, although in English the same sense is rendered by gerunds:

    Er ging nach Hause, ohne ein Wort zu sagen.   He went home without saying a word.
    Sie hat mir verziehen, ohne meine Ausrede gehört zu haben.   She forgave me without having heard my excuse.
    Statt zu arbeiten ging sie ins Kino.   Instead of working, she went to the movies.
    Anstatt zu telefonieren haben wir eine E-mail geschickt.   Instead of telephoning, we sent an e-mail.

More About Main Clauses:

"non-elements": We can, in our scheme, further posit a "slot #0", which contains elements (sometimes referred to as "non-elements") that do not affect the subsequent word order. These fall into three categories:

1. Coordinating conjunctions, which introduce an independent clause. The most common are aber, denn, oder, sondern, and und:

Sie war auch im Kino, aber ich habe sie nicht gesehen. She was also at the movies, but I didn't see her.
Er wollte nicht kommen, denn heute Nacht hat er schlecht geschlafen. He didn't want to come, because he slept badly last nicht.
Wir können es mitnehmen, oder wir können es hier essen. We can take it along, or we can eat it here.
Du kannst mir das Geld gleich geben, oder du kannst später bezahlen. You can give me the money right away, or you can pay later.
Er wohnt nicht mehr in der Stadt, sondern er ist aufs Land gezogen. He doesn't live in the city any more, but rather he's moved to the country.
Du hast das bestellt, und jetzt musst du es essen. You ordered that, and now you have to eat it.

2. Interjected words or phrases that are set off by commas. The most common are ja and nein:

Ja, ich habe diesen Witz schon gehört. Yes, I've heard that joke already.
Nein, du hast schon genug gegessen. No, you've already eaten enough.

In addition to ja and nein, these interjected words or phrases can be exclamations or transitions that introduce the main clause that follows. They are always set off by a comma:

Ach, das Leben ist so schwer! Oh, life is so hard!
Übrigens, ich habe den Flaschenöffner vergessen.  By the way, I forgot the bottle-opener.
Nun, wir können immer auch zu Fuß gehen.2 Well, we can always go on foot, too.

3. Another possible "non-element" is a preceding independent clause, which is always set off by a comma:

Er sagte, er wollte uns helfen. He said he wanted to help us.
Ich weiß, du hast nichts Böses gemeint. I know you didn't mean anything bad.
Ich habe schon gesagt, du kannst mit uns fahren.  I already said, you can ride with us.
Es ist noch nicht klar, wer das bezahlen wird. It's not yet clear who's paying for that.

Note, however, that a dependent claus does fill slot #1:

Weil wir morgen arbeiten müssen, sollen wir jetzt nach Hause gehen. Since we have to work tomorrow we should go home now.
Bevor wir anfangen, sollen wir uns vorstellen. Before we begin we ought to introduce ourselves.
Was sie damit meinte, weiß ich nicht. What she meant by that I don't know.

"Nicht"3

The placement of nicht is more an art than a science, but there are a few rules that can be followed to advantage. One approach is to create some lists of general rules:

"Nicht" precedes:

    1) predicate adjectives:

    Du bist nicht sehr freundlich.  You're not very friendly.

    predicate nouns:

    Sie ist nicht meine Schwester.  She's not my sister.

    2) adverbs indicating general time (compare with the "specific time" category below):

    Er wäscht sich nicht sehr oft.  He doesn't wash very often.
    Wir sind nicht immer zu Hause.  We aren't always home.

    3) adverbs of manner (including "gern"):

    Er tut das nicht gern.  He doesn't like to do that.
    Sie fährt nicht zu schnell.  She doesn't drive too fast.

    4) adverbs of place:

    Sie arbeitet nicht hier.  She doesn't work here.
    Ihr Auto steht nicht da.  Her car isn't there.

    5) prepositional phrases (including those indicating definite time):

    Wir fahren nicht am Montag.  We're not going on Monday.
    Sie kommen nicht zu mir.  They're not coming to my house.
    Er joggt nicht vor dem Essen.  He doesn't go jogging before dinner.

    6) the verb complement ("verbal idea"):

    Warum können wir ihn nicht sehen?  Why can't we see him?
    Mein Großvater fährt nicht Auto.  My grandfather doesn't drive.
    Er spielt nicht Schach.  Er doesn't play chess.

If, however, the element following the nicht moves to slot #1, inverting the word order, the nicht does not move with it:

    Hier arbeitet sie nicht.  She doesn't work here.
    Bei mir darfst du das nicht sagen.  At my house you can't say that.
    Nach dem Essen gehen wir nicht spazieren.  We're not taking a walk after dinner.
    Nach Hause gehen wir nicht.  We're not going home.

"Nicht" follows:

1) the finite verb (in slot #2):

Sie redet nicht.  She isn't talking.

2) direct and indirect objects:

Wir sehen ihn nicht.  We don't see him.
Sie schenkt ihm das Buch nicht.  She's not giving him the book.

3) adverbs denoting a specific time (although this category, like the "general time" referred to above, can sometimes get fuzzy):

Wir gehen heute Nachmittag nicht.  We're not going this afternoon.
Wir arbeiten sonntags nicht.  We don't work Sundays.
Er spielt meistens nicht. He mostly doesn't play.

These rules describe the most usual situations, but it is possible to create special emphases by placing nicht immediately in front of the element to be negated. If this placement differs from the above rules, then a sondern ("but rather") is probably called for:

    Du sollst nicht ihm das Geld geben, sondern mir.  You should give the money not to him, but to me.
    Sie schenkt ihm nicht dieses Buch, sondern ein anderes.  She's not giving him this book, but a different one.
    Wir gehen nicht heute ins Theater, sondern morgen.  We're not going to the theater today, but tomorrow.

When an adverb is negated as a sentence fragment, it can be thought of as occupying slot #1, so that the nicht follows it:

    hier nicht  not here
    heute nicht  not today
    am Sonntag nicht  not on Sunday


A More Nearly Complete Word-Order Scheme:4 By expanding the number of slots, we can make further differentiations in word order. The following scheme has two drawbacks: it is very complicated, and it still it does not cover all possibilities. Nevertheless it serves to describe some of the more complex aspects of word order not discussed so far.


 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9 
 non-elements   anything except finite verb   finite verb   pronoun subject   acc. pronoun   dat. pronoun   non-phrase time adverb   noun subject   dat. noun   acc. noun 
 10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19 
 specific time phrase   negative   general time phrase   manner   place   verbal complement   past participle   infinitive   finite verb (when not in #2)   double infinitive 

Further recapitulations and elucidations: Again, not all - or even a majority - of slots will be filled in any one clause.

    Slot #0, as just described, can contain "non-elements" that do not affect subsequent word order.

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
 Ja,   ich   glaube      das                                                Yes, I believe that 
 Aber   du   kennst      ihn                     gar nicht                           But you don't know him at all 

Slot #1 may contain almost anything except the finite verb. The possibilities fall into six categories:

a. The subject. This is the so-called "normal word order."

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
    Sie   kennt      mich                     nicht      sehr gut                     She doesn't know me very well 

b. Any elements that would, in "normal word order," be found later on, e.g. direct or indirect objects; adverbs of time, manner, or place; verb complements. In this case, there is "inverted word order," and the subject moves to slot #3 or #7.

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
    Den Wagen   darfst   du                     noch   nicht                  fahren         You may not drive the car yet 
    Heute   gibt   es                  Regen                                 Today there'll be rain 
    Klug   bist   du                        nicht                           Smart you're not 

c. The element in slot #1 can be quite long and include whole clauses:
 
  In a city that never sleeps [i.e., Berlin], no one can afford tired feet.
 
d. An interrogative word or phrase, e.g. wie, wann, wohin, welche Adresse, wessen Auto etc., which are intended to elicit specific information. If the interrogative word or phrase is the subject, e.g. wer, welcher Mann, etc., then "normal word order" is retained. If it is another element, the word order is inverted.

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
    Wer   hat                     den Hut                     gestohlen            Who stole the hat? 
    Wann   dürfen   wir                                 nach Hause         gehen         When may we go home? 
    Wessen Hut   trägt               meine Frau                                       Whose hat is my wife wearing? 

e. A subordinating conjunction (e.g. dass, weil) or a relative pronoun. In this case, the clause in question is dependent, and the finite verb will be found in slot #18. Note that the following examples are not complete sentences, but dependent clauses.

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
    obwohl      du                  ihn   erst gestern                  kennengelernt      hast      although you didn't meet him until yesterday 
    den   sie                  ihrem Vater                              gab      that she gave her father 


f. Nothing. If slot #1 is empty, the clause is either a yes-or-no question or an imperative.

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
       Bist   du                                    wahnsinnig               Are you crazy? 
       Fragen   Sie                  den Mann               im Büro                  Ask the man in the office. 

Slot #2 always contains the finite, or inflected, verb - except in dependent clauses.

Slot #3 contains the subject when a) it is a pronoun, and b) the subject is not in slot #1. The reason for this added distinction, that the subject is a pronoun, is that when a noun and a pronoun are next to each other, Germans prefer to put the pronoun first. The following several slots (#4 and #5) contain pronoun objects, and these would precede a noun, even if it were the subject (See the commentary below to slot #7).

Slot #4 contains the accusative pronoun. In the simpler scheme above, all the objects were grouped together in what was called #4, and we then noted that within that category, pronouns precede nouns, accusative pronouns precede dative pronouns, and dative nouns precede accusative nouns. In this system, we will spread the various objects out into a series of slots.

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
    Er   gibt      es            der Frau                                    He gives it to the woman. 

Slot #5 contains the indirect, dative pronoun object.

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
    Er   gibt         ihr         das Buch                                    He gives her the book. 

Slot #6 contains a "non-phrase time adverb." This means a short expression like heute or jetzt that Germans prefer to drop into the clause before getting to the noun phrases. Hence:

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
    dass               heutzutage   jeder Deutsche                        Englisch         spricht      that nowadays every German speaks English 
    Mit der U-Bahn   will            jetzt   kein Mensch                              fahren         Now no one wants to travel by subway 

Slot #7 contains the subject (nominative) noun phrase when it does not occupy slot #1. It winds up here because of German speakers' desire to have pronouns precede nouns, but this position is associated with more formal speech or writing. See the two previous examples, as well as the following.

 
  Are emotions more important to you than conventions?
 

 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
    Früh   übt      sich         der Meister                                       One must begin early to achieve mastery. 
    Einen guten Rat   kann         dir   immer   dein Vater                              geben         Your father can always give you good advice. 

 
  During the day the activity of plaque-bacteria is elevated by eating and drinking. [Note that here durch das Essen und Trinken occupies slot #6]
 

Slots #8 and #9, which contain the dative and accusative noun objects, have already been discussed elsewhere.

Slots #10, #11, and #12 are discussed above in connection with the placement of nicht.

Slot #12 could conceivably contain more than one time expression. In that event, the general precedes the specific: heute in acht Tagen [a week from today]; morgen um 10 [tomorrow at 10].

Slots #12, #13, and #14: again, the order is time, manner, place.

Slots #15-#18 have already been treated in the models above. In the perfect tenses of the passive voice it is possible to have two past participles in #16, in which case the worden comes second:

Das ist schon gesagt worden.  That has already been said.

Here are some further examples of using slots #15-#18:

 1   2   3   4-8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   translation 
 Als Kind   hat   sie         morgens   nicht      sehr gut      Tennis   gespielt            As a child she didn't play tennis very well in the morning. 
 was      ich               nie                  werde   vergessen können   which I'll never be able to forget 
 Sicher   hätte         das Buch         früher         zu Ende   geschrieben worden         sein sollen   Certainly the book should have been written to completion earlier 

 
  After Ralf has decided to assemble his music with the test-winner AOL ... he now just has to choose between Steffi and Julia.
 

A Few More Points:

Especially in spoken German, comparative phrases using als or wie often go to the end of a clause:

Du hast das besser gemacht als dein Bruder.  You did that better than your brother.
Sie ist so groß geworden wie ihre ältere Schwester.  She's gotten as big as her older sister.

Colloquial speech sometimes makes use of word-order expectations to achieve an effect. By leaving slot #1 empty but putting the subject in slot #3, the speaker can actually emphasize the object that should have been been there:

Habe ich schon getan.  I already did that.
Wissen wir schon.  We already know that.
Glaube ich nicht.  I don't believe it.
Muss sie ja nicht.  She doesn't have to.



Footnotes:
1 Sometimes this structure houses the highly colloquial use of "tun" with an infinitive: "Arbeiten tut er nicht" [Work (is something) he doesn't do]. "Tun" plus an infinitive is generally found only in dialects and in the speech of small children "(Sie tut es wegwerfen" [She throws it out]), but some set phrases are common: "Sie tun nichts als klagen" [They do nothing but complain]. Note the historical link to the English use of "do" plus the infinitive, both in emphatic statements and questions ("I do like that"; "Do you think that's necessary?").
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2 Note the distinction between this sentence and "Nun können wir zu Fuß gehen" [Now we can go on foot], in which the adverb nun fills slot #1 and thus inverts the word order.
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3 Bear in mind that nouns without a definite article are negated by the use of kein:
    Du bist kein guter Freund.   You are not a good friend.
    Er spricht kein Deutsch.   He doesn't speak any German.
    Ich habe kein Geld bei mir.   I don't have any money on me.
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4 Proposed by James Woodrow Marchand in Applied Linguistics: German; A Guide for Teachers, ed. by Simon Belasco (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1961), p. 1. The version here differs slightly from Marchand's.
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