A useful explanation - why the verb takes 1st position after clauses

I was just reading a helpful German grammar guide and can't believe I didn't realise this before, so I thought I'd share it.

Put simply (for those who've probably wondered about this already):

When a subordinate clause is placed before the main clause in the sentence, it acts as a single unit taking first position. This is why the verb in the main clause is rearranged to come straight afterwards - so that it (the main-clause verb) is still in a standard, second position.

Simple! And to think I thought that having to move the main-clause verb in such situations was just a random German quirk!

More detail (for absolute beginners):

You possibly know that in standard German sentences the verb always takes 'second position'. This doesn't mean 'second word', because a noun phrase like 'der hund' acts as a single unit. (In other words, both

'Jane isst den Apfel'... and ... 'Der Hund isst den Apfel'

have their verb, 'isst', in second position, even though in the second example it is the third word).

You might also know that in a subordinate clause, the conjugated verb always comes at the end of the clause, regardless of whether the subordinate clause is placed before or after the main clause of the sentence. But you may have been as confused as me to hear that if the subordinate clause comes first in the sentence, then the main-clause verb has to get moved to first position in that main clause, so that it directly follows the comma after the subordinate clause. Why?

Originally I didn't see the reason, but it's simply because the subordinate clause is taking first position, and the main-verb clause has to be rearranged so that it's still in second position.

Thus, (to use an actual Duo example which you can look up in discussion board if you like), we get:

Sofern du rennst, brauchst du Wasser.

The main-clause verb 'brauchst' (need) has been placed right after the subordinate clause 'sofern du rennst', so that it is still in second position.

I hope that makes sense and you find it as useful as I did! Kat

October 11, 2014


Another useful thing that someone pointed out to me is that when the subordinate clause comes first you always get a pattern of "verb-comma-verb". From what I understand, in German, a comma is always used to make the break between clauses clear. In the example given in the original post you can see the "... rennst, brauchst... " forming the verb-comma-verb pattern.

I hope that helps; it helped me a bit :)

October 11, 2014

That's a good point, thanks!

October 11, 2014

Yes it does. One needs to remember so that our answer does not become wrong because we used english way and not the German.

October 11, 2014

Thanks. That makes so much sense.

On the other hand, why do verbs take second position in the first place?

October 11, 2014

I'm not sure - but I study linguistics and spend a lot of my spare time researching German linguistics so I will keep an eye out for an answer and post it if I find it!

October 12, 2014


October 12, 2014

This might be interesting reading for you:

October 12, 2014

Thank you for this presentation. It matches my understanding. However, at I present a sentence where the subordinate clause is first but the verb of the main clause does not immediately follow. Why?
One possible reason: I read somewhere that there are a few words which do not count as taking a "position": so that we could have subordinate clause, one of these "no-position" words, then the main clause verb. Can anyone say more about this?
Vielen Dank.

February 15, 2017
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