https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025

Word order in sentences

angus390025
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When I get an English-to-German translation wrong, it is usually because of the word order. I thought I had it figured out, but I missed one in Verbs: Conditional 2 today due to word order. Observe the following sentences:

  1. Ich würde es euch erklären.
  2. Er würde die Post für mich sammeln.
  3. Würdest du uns die Zeitung schicken?

In the first two, the order is:

subject + aux.verb + direct object + indirect object + verb

In the third, the order is:

aux.verb + subject + indirect object + direct object + verb

My question concerns the order of direct and indirect objects. I thought direct preceded indirect, and that was working well for a while, but then I found one with indirect before direct object (#3). Is that because it is an interrogative statement? Is this a general pattern?

Thank you.

1 week ago

20 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Yves88541

Hammer's German Grammar offers this basic framework to help students shape acceptable German sentences, and your three sentences do seem to fit the pattern:

bigger version

Ich - würde - es - euch - erklären.

Topic - Bracket - Pronoun Acc - Pronoun Dat - Bracket

Er - würde - die Post - für mich - sammeln.

Topic - Bracket - Acc noun obj - Complement - Bracket

Würdest - du - uns - die Zeitung - schicken?

Bracket - Pronoun Nom - Pronoun Dat - Acc noun obj - Bracket

But of course, as all the previous posters agree, in reality there is much more freedom to re-order for the sake of emphasis and effect, and Hammer's adds the same cautionary note:

This order reflects general guidelines for the English-speaking learner, and it should not be taken to represent rigid rules of German word order. However, following these guidelines will almost always produce an acceptable German sentence, although they can be varied in certain ways for reasons of emphasis. Details on the position of each of the groups of elements are outlined in sections 19.4 to 19.8. However, English-speaking learners need to be aware of the effect, in terms of emphasis and presentation, of changing the position of elements in a sentence. It is quite possible to end up saying something rather different to what you intend.

I think, though, that having such a rule-based structure to start with can be quite useful even when going on to break it.

6 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025
angus390025
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rules are meant to be broken. I appreciate the chart. I'll bookmark that.

I have played around with the order since I made the post and found that in some sentences, duolingo accepts the change and in others they do not. Based on Robert-Alexan's post I'm beginning to think that there are some omissions on duolingo's part.

Vielen Dank.

6 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Yves88541

rules are meant to be broken.

Agreed. But then there are more and more (unspoken and unspeakable) rules about how and when you can and cannot break them :-)

Bear in mind when you think about all the possible emphatic or presentational re-orderings of standard sentences, that the list may be endless, while many examples may require ultra-specific context to make sense.

From a student of English, this would generally look like a mistake with the past tense:

"The dog did bite the postman"

But we can certainly imagine a context where there's an argument about what the dog did or didn't do, and I protest like Tweetie-Pie "Oh but he did! The dog did bite the postman!!

I think it's clear that doesn't mean Duolingo should accept "The dog did bite the postman" as a valid answer in a lesson on the past tense in English. Similarly "The postman the dog bit." A whole new parallel Duo-universe could be invented composed of variations on sentences that in some situation or another made sense :-)

--

As regards the table above, what's interesting when you look at the behaviour of native speakers of complex inflected languages is that, to a certain extent, the whole utterance is prepped in advance by the brain before the conscious mind is really aware of what's coming out and going to the ear. The message is not just being constructed brick-by-brick as the throat, tongue and lips work along it, but an outline has already been framed that will allow even the last words of a long sentence to drop like pegs into the right place and grammatical form at the same time.

So, in short, I've found templates like this to be handy on several occasions. It's an articulated skeleton that can be twisted into shape a millisecond beforehand, and then get fleshed out into a proper sentence as needed.

Of course, native speakers don't think about their speech this way, but only because they acquired that program very early on, and have been pre-loading and running it so long they don't know it's there.

6 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025
angus390025
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Alright, I think I have found an answer to one of my two questions by experimentation.

duolingo accepts both "Würdest du das Thema mit mir diskutieren?" and "Würdest du mit mir das Thema diskutieren?"

So then the answer is No. Which of course brings up a different question. I'll have to try to formulate it. Maybe it's very specific to the question asked:

Würdest du uns die Zeitung schicken?

When I tried to write "Würdest du die Zeitung uns schicken?" it was counted incorrect. I cannot figure out why.

6 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rolfi_Popolfi
Rolfi_Popolfi
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UPDATE: damn I tried to put the pronouns inside brackets and DL interpreted it as HTML markup :/

now again in UPERCASE


As I already told you pronouns replacing objects have a special oder:

Kann Petra dem Nachbarn das Ding schicken?

-Kann Petra das Ding dem Nachbarn schicken?- *

-Kann SIE das Ding dem Nachbarn schicken?- *

Kann SIE dem Nachbarn das Ding schicken?

Kann SIE ES dem Nachbarn schicken?

Kann SIE IHM das Ding schicken?

Kann SIE ES IHM schicken?

SIE = Petra Subject
ES = das Ding accusative=direct object
IHM = dem Nachbarn dative = indirect object

non questions:

SIE kann ES IHM schicken!

Sie kann IHM das Ding schicken.

Sie kann ES dem Nachbarn schicken.

So I'd guess pronouns are bundled in the order Nominativ, Akkusativ, Dativ right after the verb.

And I think order is obligatory to avoid ambiguity because pronouns of different cases sometimes overlap.

Please note that for instance in French accusative and dative pronouns sometimes switch their place, which is very confusing.

Not so in German.

My trick was to learn all pronoun combinations as fixed expressions like one word.

=== Update

*) according to

https://www.lsa.umich.edu/german/hmr/Grammatik/Wortstellung/wortstellung.html this is wrong

Which is another proof of how living languages may vary from the spoken language. ;-)

6 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025
angus390025
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And I think order is obligatory to avoid ambiguity because pronouns of different cases sometimes overlap.

Yeah, I think that make sense as well. That's what I always thought about Spanish.

Please note that for instance in French accusative and dative pronouns sometimes switch their place, which is very confusing.

Except for the affirmative imperative. But there's a pattern to them for the other tenses and moods, and order which must be memorized. In fact, I think the Tips and Notes in duolingo describes that fairly well. I tend not to make mistakes in the word order in Spanish or French, though, only in German. This seems particularly odd since German generally has a more flexible order for nouns, although not with pronouns.

In any case the pronoun order makes sense at this point. The German Tips & Notes may talk about this, but I guess I don't always read them.

Thanks for the comments and for the link.

6 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/fehrerdef
fehrerdef
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Have a look at my longer comment above. There are hard rules for ordering objects, but they are somewhat more tolerant when prepositions are involved.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Robert-Alexan
Robert-Alexan
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You analyzed that well and got the difference between direct and indirect objects right. But you see a pattern for the objects that doesn't exist. German is very flexible in word order because of the case system. So, as you stated,

Ich würde es euch erklären.
Er würde die Post für mich sammeln.
Würdest du uns die Zeitung schicken?

is correct. But

  • Ich würde euch es erklären.
  • Er würde für mich die Post sammeln.
  • Würdest du die Zeitung uns schicken?

is also correct. In a perfect world, Duolingo should accept both. In most cases the difference is a question of the intended emphasis. The earlier the object is mentioned the more you would like to emphasize this part of the sentence. Würdest du die Zeitung uns schicken? sounds maybe a bit awkward. What's that supposed to mean? Does that mean that we demand exactly the newspaper we are pointing at right now rather than a random German newspaper so that we can practice German?

However, most of the time Germans prefer the word order that you have so nicely described. When you apply the standard order and thus the expected stress pattern, Germans don't try to look for a hidden intention of the phrase - it remains just a plain, simple, innocuous statement or question. So....

  • subject + aux.verb + direct object + indirect object + verb is kind of the standard for normal sentences
  • aux.verb + subject + indirect object + direct object + verb is the standard word order for questions. I guess we switch the two objects because we also move the the verb when asking questions.

By the way, if you are still confused, don't you realize that this object order is very much like alike in English? I would explain it to him or I put the newspaper on the table or he would collect the mail for me. It's exactly the same word order! Even in questions this holds true: Are you sending us the newspaper?

6 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/fehrerdef
fehrerdef
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Sorry, but at one point I have to strongly disagree. Though German is rather flexible in word order in many places, there are hard rules for the order of accusative and dative objects. So your proposed sentences "Ich würde euch es erklären" and in most contexts "Würdest du die Zeitung uns schicken?" (here there exist exceptions, but they are very rare and depend on specific contexts) are definitely plainly wrong.
The rules are a little complex, but manageable.
Note, that in the following I first talk about naked accusative and dative objects, i.e. the ones not preceded by any preposition.
1.) if both accusative and dative object are pronouns, the accusative has to come first: "Ich würde es euch erklären."
2.) If none of the two is a pronoun, then it is exactly the pother way round: dative object first: "Ich würde dem Briefträger den Sachverhalt erklären."
3.) If only one of the two is a pronoun, then this one goes first:
"Ich würde ihm den Sachverhalt erklären."
"Ich würde es dem Briefträger erklären"
Ordering the objects differently is not admissible and sounds rather weird.

Things are less strict if there are prepositional objects. Their position is rather free. Here e.g. both "Er würde die Post für mich sammlen" and "Er würde für mich die Post sammeln" are correct.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025
angus390025
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Thanks for the detailed reply. I usually don't get the vocabulary, conjugations, or declensions wrong. When I miss them it is almost always either wrong word order or wrong gender. (The gender thing haunts me in the Romance languages as well, but in German it's particularly troublesome because there are more genders to remember. I guess that's just a matter of memorizing the definite article.) As for the word order, there seems to be a logical pattern, albeit somewhat complex.

1.) if both accusative and dative object are pronouns, the accusative has to come first: "Ich würde es euch erklären." 2.) If none of the two is a pronoun, then it is exactly the pother way round: dative object first: "Ich würde dem Briefträger den Sachverhalt erklären." 3.) If only one of the two is a pronoun, then this one goes first: "Ich würde ihm den Sachverhalt erklären." "Ich würde es dem Briefträger erklären"

This is from the tips&notes in Dative Case:

"Generally, the dative object comes before the accusative object."

That comes below two examples that do not use pronouns. So I guess that's the case you mention in the last paragraph

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/fehrerdef
fehrerdef
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I have come across the given sentence in the "tips and notes" already and must say that stated as a general rule it is wrong. But it is a section where there were no pronouns in all the examples yet, so I think it is stated that way in order not to confuse learnes at that stage. Maybe we should add a sentence in the tips & notes, to announce that there is more to come later. The examples given there all fall into "my" category 2.), where "dative before accusative" is obligatory.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jsiehler
jsiehler
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^ This gets it right.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025
angus390025
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Yes, this is helpful. I also have noticed some flexibility in word order in German. In fact, in the duolingo exercises often the suggested alternative answer differs from mine only in word order. It seems that in this regard there is more flexibility in German and English than in Romance languages. Nevertheless, several times when I was incorrect it was due to word order only.

You have made an interesting point above all: the sentence in question should have been counted correct. I wish I had reported it. There is a discussion thread for that one but it's stale and no moderators have taken the time to comment on it. If it comes up again I will report it.

In general, I think I'll formulate them in the order I listed unless there's some reason to emphasize the indirect object.

Thanks for your comments.

6 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rolfi_Popolfi
Rolfi_Popolfi
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I'm not aware of an order of dative and accusative, but I'm only a native speaker. ;-)

"Ich gebe dem Mann das Buch" or "Ich gebe das Buch dem Mann" differ only in emphasis.

Anyway "uns" is a pronoun substituting the object and word order is special for such pronouns in nearly all languages I saw so far.

1 week ago

https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025
angus390025
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word order is special

Indeed, that seems to be the case, which is precisely the motivation for my question. In Spanish, for example, you will place the indirect object pronoun before the direct object pronoun. For example, consider Él me lo muestra. Here, the order is subject + indirect + direct + verb. This will be the case for all such sentences, even when they're connected as in Mi madre está comprándomela.

In French, the word order is special as well. Like Spanish, in the vast majority of tenses and moods, the pronouns precede the verbs but the order is different than Spanish. And, in French there is a special case, the affirmative imperative mood, in which the order is always direct + indirect (+ y/en if they exist).

I am trying to figure out the pattern in German. I have had great success using direct before indirect, whether the nouns were common, Proper, or pro--well, it seems that in german all nouns are Proper--but today I noticed that in two interrogative statements (the one I posted, then another after I posted), choosing that order resulted in an incorrect answer. Moreover, the correct answer given by duolingo had the indirect object immediately preceding the direct object. Thus I'm wondering if that is the case for interrogative statements in general. I will continue to try that pattern to see if it holds.

1 week ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rolfi_Popolfi
Rolfi_Popolfi
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I'm afraid Duolingo is not a good place to learn grammar, it doesn't provide clues about the lessons and often alternative translations are missing.

Duolingo is more about learning by (repeated) doing than anaylzing the language.

If grammar matters I'd strongly recommend searching the internet for a good compilation.

I'd also recommend to stick to the basics instead of getting lost in details, far too many people are treating German like Latin instead of just communicating.

1 week ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Nancy783127

Direct and indirect objects.

Er gab meinem Freund das Buch. Er gab ihm das Buch. Er gab es meinem Freund. Er gab es ihm.

With one pronoun and one noun object, the pronoun comes first. Two nouns, the indirect object comes first (dative). Two pronouns, the direct object comes first (accusative).

There's probably exceptions, but you don't care about that now, y ou're just looking for a set of guidelines that sound natural.

Does not apply to objects of prepositions.

5 days ago

https://www.duolingo.com/fehrerdef
fehrerdef
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Yes, that's exactly what I wrote above.

5 days ago
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