chapter  21
Word order
Pages 25

German word order is different to English and it has a different role in determining how sentences are constructed. English uses word order to identify the subject and the object(s) of the verb. In English, the subject must come fi rst, before the verb, and the objects after it, in the order indirect object + direct object. In a sentence like

My father lent our neighbour the old lawnmower

we cannot move the elements round without saying something quite different, so that, for example, Our neighbour lent my father the old lawnmower has another meaning. In German, various permutations are possible without changing the essential meaning:

(i) Mein Vater hat unserem Nachbarn den alten Rasenmäher geliehen (ii) Unserem Nachbarn hat mein Vater den alten Rasenmäher geliehen (iii) Den alten Rasenmäher hat mein Vater unserem Nachbarn geliehen (iv) Mein Vater hat den alten Rasenmäher unserem Nachbarn geliehen

In German it is the case endings, not the word order, which tell us who is doing what to whom, i.e. what is the subject and what are the objects (for explanations of these, see Chapter 18). The order of the words and phrases can be changed round to give a different emphasis to the elements without altering the basic meaning. Sentence (iv), for example, stresses who is being lent the lawnmower. In German, the position of the verb is relatively fi xed, and the other elements can be moved in order to show different emphases. Nevertheless, the various elements do tend to come in a particular order – but this is a tendency rather than a rule of grammar. This chapter shows fi rst this ‘neutral’ basic order, and then how it can be varied to give a different emphasis:

• the three basic clause structures, with the fi nite verb in different positions (section 21.1) • the use of fi rst position in main clauses to highlight an important element (section 21.2) • the position of the other elements in the clause (sections 21.3-21.8) – the position of pronouns (section 21.4) – the position of noun subject and objects (section 21.5) – the position of adverbials (section 21.6) – the position of nicht and other negative elements (section 21.7) – the position of other verb complements (section 21.8) – placing elements after the verb at the end of the clause (section 21.9)

Although we usually speak of ‘word order’, what is involved is often a phrase of some kind rather than a single word. For example, time adverbials tend to come in a particular place whether they are single words, like heute, or phrases like den ganzen Tag or am kommenden Dienstag. In order to cover these possibilities, we refer to these segments of the clause as elements. In German they are called Satzglieder.