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Need help determining how much is allowed in position 1 before the verb.

Hello, I need some help with determining how much info is allowed to go in front of the verb in a German sentence.

I think the following is correct: In der USA müssen Kinder für zwölf Jahren in die Schule gehen.

Would the following be incorrect, specifically with the words in position 1 (before the verb)?

In der USA Kinder müssen für zwölf Jahren in die Schule gehen.

What can I do to make sure I do not have multiple ideas-elements before the verb.

Many thanks!

May 10, 2017



the second sentence is incorrect because the conjugated verb needs to take the position 2. And how does one know how much of a sentence can be considered only one position? Well, if you understand the idea of sentence constituents (syntax), it will be way easier. Very succinctly, a constituent is an entire information.
"In der USA" is one information
"Kinder" is another one informatin
so, that's why the sentence ist incorrect

But, one could say:
Die Frau, die wir gestern im Kino gesehen haben, ist unsere neue Lehrerin.

in this case, this entire sentence "the woman that we saw yesterday in the movies" is only one information and takes only the first position. "that we saw yesterday in the movies" (or in german "die wir gestern im Kino gesehen haben") is the so called Relativsatz (relative clause) and it all works as if it was an "adjective" for the noun "Frau"


Thank you! The "information" concept is very helpful!

Looking at it this way, "In der USA" makes sense on it's own, but "In der USA Kinder" leaves me wanting to know more, and is not a complete "information". "Kinder" however is a plural noun on on it's own would be information.


With your help I think I have figured it out.

I looked up "sentence constituents" (a term I had not heard before ... or perhaps forgot). I found the following webpage on Canoo:


From these, I understand a sentence constituent to be one of four things. A predicate (aka verb ), a subject, an object, or an adverbial phrase. Because the predicate occupies position 2, only a single item from the others can come before it.

"In der USA Kinder müssen ..." is incorrect because it has both a subject and an object (der USA + Kinder) in position one, violating the rules.

Many thanks


Yeah, you got it!
The idea of 'sentence constituents' and looking at a sentence as if it was formed by constituents is a Linguistics stuff that we study in syntax. If you don't study Languages (in a linguistic perspective), then you've probably never heard of it.
Unfortunately most teachers and teaching materials don't take linguistic researchs into account.


A prepositional phrase as well, I'd say, which is what in den USA is (it's not a subject -- that would be Kinder -- nor an object, since gehen is intransitive and doesn't have a direct object).


IMO it needs to be "In den USA", not "In der USA": German uses plural, the United States is plural.


für zwölf Jahre is an Anglicism; you may hear or see it, especially in translated things (I heard it just the other day, für fünfhundert Meter, from Google Maps), but it sounds like bad German to me.

zwölf Jahre lang is better, I think.


You've got me thinking. Would this apply to activities? For example: I listened to the radio for 15 minutes. Would that be:

Ich habe fünfzehn Minuten lang das Radio zugehört.

Also what do you think of the word order, and placement of "das Radio"?

Thanks again for the help!


Ich habe fünfzehn Minuten lang Radio gehört sounds fine to me.

(The activity is Radio hören, like fernsehen -- we don't listen to / watch but rather hear / see those things, if there is no specific object.)

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