Help in German sentence structure
Can someone help me understand why German sentences have words all over the place randomly i can't find a way to remember. Does it follow a certain noun? it's driving me crazy!
"Simple" answer: You cannot go wrong if you use:
"Subject-Verb-Object" in clauses of statement (Ich mag Kinder. - I like children.)
"Interrogative particle-Verb-Subject" in interogative clauses (Wer ist Duo? - Who is Duo?)
"Verb-subject-object" in interogative clauses without an interrogative particles (Mag Duo mich? - Does Duo like me?, literally: Likes Duo me?)
"Verb-dative object-accusative object" in commands (Gib mir das! - Give that to me!, literally: Give me that)
"(Conjunction)-subject-object-verb" in subordinate clauses (Ich glaube (main clause),dass du lügst - I believe, that you lie)
as you can see, there are two exceptions: commands and questions without interrogative particles. The rest is exactly like in english
If any sentence requires an auxiliary, in the main clause the auxiliary takes the "usual place" of the verb and the infinitive goes to the very end of the sentence. (Ich will helfen. - I want to help, Willst du helfen? - Do you want to help?). In a suborndinate clause, the infinitive goes directly in front of the auxiliary. (Ich hoffe, dass du helfen willst)
Complicated answer: While some sentence structures, like the ones mentioned above, are more popular than others, german sentence structure isn't as fix as english sentence structure. The reason is that in german subject and object are not determined by word order. Instead the cases are clearly distinguishable, because the words change depending on their case.
For example "Die Frau küsst den Mann" und "Den Mann küsst die Frau" would both be correct, since "den Mann" is clearly recognizable as the accusative object.
Here are the german cases: http://www.udoklinger.de/Deutsch/Grammatik/DekNomen.htm
However the word order is not completely random either. Words that form one subject or one object go together and verbs have fixed places that I mentioned above. One more thing that you might not use yourself, but that you might come across: If a sentence starts with a subordinate clause, the verb of the main clause will be on first position: (Weil er die Farbe Gelb mag, malt er die Sonne)
Which verbs go with accusative and which ones go with dative is unfortunately quite random in german, you will have to learn it with every verb, like you have to learn the gender with the nouns. Rule of thumb is that dative can often (but not always) translated by adding a "for" or "to". (Ich male dem Mann ein Bild - I draw a picture for the man. Ich gebe das Bild dem Mann - I give the picture to the man)
If you come across a sentence that uses unusual word order or is very long, it can help to ask questions that split up he sentence into smaller Parts.
Das Haus meines Vaters erbten vor 10 Jahren meine Frau und ich.
First it's important to distinguish between main clause and the subordinate clause. In this case there is no comma anywhere, so there is no subjunctive clause. If there was a comma, it would be important to check the position of the verbs. As I sais, in subordinate clauses the verb is always last. Don't forget the possibilty of two main clauses connected by a comma either!
Verbs are pretty easy to identify, so I reccomend starting with the verb of the main clause. In this case it is "erbten". the "t" signalises that we're dealing with a verb in the simple past, since all regular verbs have t before the ending in simple past. The ending "-ten" means that were either dealing with 1st person plural or 3rd person plural. We also know that it is a regular verb, which means it's easy to look it up in the dictionary: Just remove the t and everything that comes after it and instead add an -en, then you'll have the infinitive. erbten - ten + en = erben. You can now look up the word: "Erben" means "to inherit"
The next step should be to look for the subject. In this case "ich" is a pretty obvious nominative, but watch out: A subject can consist of more than one word. So let's look at the words surrounding it. The the sentence ends after "ich", infront of it we have the word "und". "und" always connects two things, so that is a pretty good clue that the subject consists or more words. The "und" connects "ich" with "meine Frau". So the subject is "meine Frau und ich".
That means the verb "erbten" in this case is 1st person plural.
So far we have "My wife and I inherited..."
Now you probably wanna know what the two inherited, which means you are looking for the object.. The accusative object to be exact, because "erben" goes with accusative. "Das Haus" means "the house", so that seems like a pretty good guess. Let's look at the words next to "das Haus" to make sure that we don't miss any parts. The following words are "meines Vaters". Nouns that ends in s are usually genitive and the "meines" is genitive too, which means we have "my father's". That means the accusative object is. "my father's house"
"My wife and I inherited my father's house"
The only missing part in the main clause is "vor 10 Jahren". "Jahr" is a obvious term of time. That means "vor 10 Jahren" is an adverbial phrase of time (just adding that for better understanding, you don't need to know all the special terms just to translate a sentence, but if you're interested in learing more about german adverbials, you can go here: http://online-lernen.levrai.de/deutsch-uebungen/grammatik_5_7/12_adverbiale_bestimmungen/00_adverbiale_bestimmungen_regeln.htm).
"My wife and I inherited my father's house 10 years ago"
Now I'll give you some sentences that you can practice on. There will be words that you don't know, but I'll mke sure they are easy to look up. I don't have much time at the weekend, but I'l try to correct your sentences till monday if you want to post them (the offer is up for anyone who stayed with me through all that rambling):
Den Tisch habe ich im Baumarkt gekauft.
Gerne mögen meine Freunde Apfelsaft, Orangensaft aber noch lieber.
Weil er mich liebt, küsst er sie nicht.
Trotz des Wetters ging er spazieren.
Kein Auto habe ich, aber einen Führerschein.
Hello, your explanation is very good, but there is one thing I can add:
In most of German sentences, the noun is used at the beginning, for example: "Ich habe den Tisch im Baumarkt gekauft", and "Ich habe kein Auto, aber einen Führerschein" Sentences like "Kein Auto habe ich, aber einen Führerschein" are grammaticaly correct, but sound bad in the ears of a Native German.
I hope that's usefully for you.
I think you mean "subject" instead of "noun", because the subject doesn't have to be or include a noun. However, it is actually not unnatural at all to not start a sentence with the subject; it's just that it should fit in context. In German (and usually in English as well), the first position of a main clause is usually occupied by the so-called "topic", that is, the main idea of what the clause is about. In a "normal" sentence, the subject is also the topic and thus appears in the first position. However, if you want to stress something else, it is completely natural and normal in German to change word order to express this. Compare for example "Ich gehe morgen zur Arbeit." and "Morgen gehe ich zur Arbeit.", which are semantically equivalent (i.e., they have the same meaning), but stress something else, as I'm sure you as a native speaker will instinctly understand. (This works similarly in English, where the topic apparently also takes the first position in a clause. Compare e.g. "I will go to work tomorrow." and "Tomorrow I will go to work.", where topic works in more or less the same way as in the German, but the word order is different (subject-verb-object in English versus verb-second in German)).
Well, I mean the subject. And yes, it is correct to don't start with the subject, but the most time people start sentences with the subject, and that sounds best in the ears of a Native Speaker. I know that because I am a Native Speaker.
The point I was trying to make is that whether or not it sounds "best" depends heavily on context. If the topic is something that is not the subject it is actually preferred to change the word order (e.g. "Morgen gehe ich nicht zur Arbeit, aber übermorgen."). This is done all the time in German, not only with regard to the topic of the sentence, in order to create stress or emphasis, or in order to contrast things against each other. If you pay active attention to this you might be surprised how often native speakers don't use the "normal" or "expected" SVO-order and how often deviations are used to achieve a certain effect. I am also a native speaker by the way (so based on this my authority on the subject matter is the same as yours), but I don't think it's helpful to tell learners that SVO (though "normal" and always grammatical) always sounds better or is more appropriate.
I think you're right. It's not always so that the subject is at the first position, but often. There are sentences where other kinds of words at the beginning sound good. And in the colloquial language it's often not the subject which is at the beginning, i think.
A german nativ speaker say: "Ich habe kein Auto, aber einen Führerschein." (that sounds normal) or you can say: "Ich habe einen Führerschein, aber kein Auto." (that sound normal). or You can say: "Ein Auto habe ich nicht, aber einen Führerschein." (that sound normal). or You can say: "Einen Führerschein habe ich, aber kein Auto." (that sound normal).
"Kein Auto habe ich, aber einen Führerschein." Sounds not good and is wrong, because the word order is not "normal". You use it in special poetic sentences.
It's not random at all. When it comes to word order, the main rule in a normal German main clause is that the finite (conjugated) verb comes (usually) in the second position (not necessarily the second word), while the rest of the predicate is at the very end of the sentence. In a subordinate clause, German uses subject-object-verb order, i.e. the predicate is at the end with the finite verb as the very last word. This website is very helpful regarding German word order.
Another important difference between English and German is that (since English has lost so much of its case markers) Gernan is a bit more flexible because the function of words can more easily be marked by case endings, while English relies more on their position in a sentence. (It's still not random though, and it's very easy to construct ungrammatical sentences if one is not aware of the basic rules).