Main Clauses and Word Order

What are Main Clauses?

Main clauses are grammatically correct full sentences that can stand alone.

Subordinate clauses, on the other hand, can't stand alone. They are missing something that is required in a full sentence.

Because German uses cases, word order is more flexible than in other languages. There are some rules you need to follow, though.

Where Does the Verb Go?

In German, the verb always has to go in a specific position.

In main clauses, the conjugated verb goes in position 2.

Hauptsatz Wortstellung

Exceptions are yes/no-questions and the imperative: the conjugated verb goes in position 1.

Wortstellung Imperativ Ja Nein frage

What about when there's more than one verb? Look at the lesson on sentence brackets.

What Goes in Position 1?

You can put almost anything in position 1 in German:

* the subject is marked in green

Where Does the Subject Go?

In German the subject should be as close to the beginning of the sentence as possible. However, if something else is more important and should be emphasized, that should go in position 1.

Unlike in English, the subject does NOT have to come before the verb.

Example:

A: Ich habe mein Handy verloren.“

(The subject is the most important thing.)

A: Wo ist mein Handy?“

(The question word is the most important thing.)

B: Auf dem Bett liegt es doch!“

(The answer to the question is the most important thing.)

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Summary

  • Main clauses are full sentences that can exist on their own.
  • The conjugated verb goes in position 2 in most sentences. The exceptions are yes/no-questions and commands (then it goes in position 1).
  • The subject goes towards the front of the sentence, but doesn't have to be in position 1 or even in front of the verb.

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