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German grammar question

When asking a question in German, does the subject always immediately follow the verb?

June 11, 2018



Hi Marco, the subject follows the verb unless you ask for the subject.

Geht er nach hause? = Does he go home?

Wann geht er nach hause? = When does he go home?

Wer geht nach hause? = Who goes home?

The last question wants to know "who" the person is that does something.


Not quite true. Questions with verbs that take dative objects generally have a different word order when this object is a pronoun, sometimes even when it is a noun. And this word order is not only true for questions, but also when something else - e.g. an adverb - is at the start of a sentence, which also requires inversion of subj - verb.

  • Warum kann mir keiner sagen, wie spät es ist? - Keiner is the subject, but does not immediately follow the verb. (Why can’t anybody tell me what time it is?)
  • Gestern fiel ihm das viel leichter. (Yesterday, it was much easier for him.)
  • Heute gab ihm seine Freundin einen Korb. (Today, his girlfriend turned him down.)
  • Aufgeregt liest ihm seine Frau den Brief vor. (Excited, his wife reads the letter to him.)
  • Warum hilft dem Mann niemand? (Why doesn’t anybody help the man?)

It is not necessarily a grammatical error to place the subject before the dative pronoun, but the standard German word order prefers to put the objects in the order from least informative to most informative, i.e. the most informative/important/new information is often at the end of the sentence. Therefore, this order V Dativ/indirect Obejct S can also occur whem the dative object is a noun as in the last example above.

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