Subordinate Clauses

What are Subordinate Clauses?

Main Clause: a grammatically complete sentence that can stand alone.

Subordinate Clause: a phrase that is not grammatically complete. It is missing some part and can not stand alone.

Normally, a subordinate clause is combined with a main clause and gives extra information about it. Subordinate clauses are joined with main clauses with conjunctions („dass“, „wenn“, „weil“) or relative pronouns. In subordinate clauses, the conjugated verb goes at the end.

Word Order in Subordinate Clauses

Subordinate clauses must be separated from the main clause with a comma.

Word Order: Main Clause + Subordinate Clause

In the main clause, we follow the normal rules of word order for a sentence - i.e. the verb in position 2.

In the subordinate clause, the conjugated verb goes to the end.


Word Order: Subordinate Clause + Main Clause

The entire subordinate clause is position 1 of the main clause. This is followed by the conjugated verb (in position 2), and then comes the rest of the main clause.

  • The entire subordinate clause is position 1 of the main clause.
  • In the subordinate clause, the conjugated verb goes at the end.
  • The subject of the subordinate clause stays at the front.
  • The conjugated verb of the main clause goes, as usual, in position 2.
  • The main clause is separated from the subordinate clause by a comma.

Word Order: Separable Verbs

For separable verbs we must also follow the rule: conjugated verb at the end.

That means the verb stem is also at the end, so we no longer separate the prefix.

  • Wenn ich das Fenster aufmache, wird es kalt.“
    In comparison to: „Ich mache das Fenster auf.“

Word Order: More than One Verb

For modal verbs, the perfect tense, the passive voice, etc., there‘s more than one verb in the sentence.

The rule still applies: conjugated verb at the end of the clause. This means the other verbs go in the second to last position (and third to last position, if necessary).

  • „Ich habe keine Zeit, weil ich noch einkaufen gehen muss.“
    In comparison to: „Ich habe keine Zeit.“ „Ich muss noch einkaufen gehen.“

Exceptions

For perfect or past perfect, there is an exception to the rule about the conjugated verb going at the end.

Modal verbs and other verbs that are used with a 2nd verb in the infinitive form (i.e. „lassen“, „sehen“, „hören“) have an irregular word order in perfect and past perfect tenses. The conjugated helping verb "haben" goes IN FRONT of the two other verbs (main verb + modal verb):

As main clause:

  • „Ich habe meine Mutter vom Bahnhof abholen müssen.“

As subordinate clause:

  • „…, weil ich meine Mutter vom Bahnhof habe abholen müssen.“

Modal verbs always use "haben" as the helping verb in the perfect tense.

Besides the modal verbs, „lassen“, „sehen“, „hören“ CAN be used with a second infinitive verb. If they are used in this way, the helping verb goes before the main verb as well

Now you know why Germans, when possible, use the simple past tense instead of the perfect tense with modal verbs!

Exceptions

For perfect or past perfect, there is an exception to the rule about the conjugated verb going at the end.

Modal verbs and other verbs that are used with a 2nd verb in the infinitive form (i.e. „lassen“, „sehen“, „hören“) have an irregular word order in perfect and past perfect tenses. The conjugated helping verb „haben“ goes IN FRONT of the two other verbs (main verb + modal verb):

As main clause:

  • „Ich habe meine Mutter vom Bahnhof abholen müssen.“

As subordinate clause:

  • „…, weil ich meine Mutter vom Bahnhof habe abholen müssen.“

Modal verbs always use „haben“ as the helping verb in the perfect tense.

Besides the modal verbs, „lassen“, „sehen“ and „hören“ CAN be used with a second infinitive verb. If they are used in this way, the helping verb goes before the main verb as well

Now you know why Germans, when possible, use the simple past tense instead of the perfect tense with modal verbs!

Interesting Fact:

Now you know the reason why Germans always use the Past Tense and not the Perfect Tense for Modal verbs in the past.

Because: The exception only applies to the perfect + modal verbs or when „lassen“, „sehen“ and „hören“ are used with two infinitives.

How do I recognize a Subordinate Clause?

Basically, you can tell if it's a main clause or a subordinate clause by the position of the verb. If the conjugated verb is at the end (before the period or comma), it is a Subordinate Clause. If it is in the second position, it is a main clause!

How do I know when the verb goes to the end?

Basically, can the sentence stand alone without leaving a question unanswered? Yes - Main clause / No - Subordinate clause

Example: „Kann der Satz allein stehen, ohne dass eine Frage offen bleibt?“

  • Main Clause: „Kann der Satz allein stehen?“ - Can stand alone, no information missing here.
  • Subordinate Clause: „..., ohne dass eine Frage offen bleibt?“ - Cannot stand alone because the sentence makes no sense without the Main clause (or context).

More Subordinate Clauses: 

  • „..., weil ich gestern Abend zu Hause war.“
  • „..., obwohl du immer nett zu ihm warst.“
  • „..., dass du bald gesund wirst.“

Here you should see that these sentences alone don't make sense or some information is missing. 

If you have problems understanding the sentence, then memorizing the so-called Subordinating Conjunctions will help you:

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Which words introduce a Subordinate Clause?

Words that introduce a subordinate clause are called Subordinating Conjunctions or Subjunctions. 

The most important are:

Indirect questions are also always a combination of a main clause with a subordinate clause. In the case of W-questions, the subordinate clause is introduced by a question word („wer“, „was“, „wo“, „wem“, „warum“, „womit“ ...). For Yes/No questions by the conjunction: „ob“.

  • „Ich weiß nicht mehr, ob ich den Herd ausgemacht habe.“
  • „Ich wüsste gern, was bei der Prüfung abgefragt wird.“ 
  • „Weißt du, warum wir alle warten müssen?“ 

Types of Subordinate Clause

Here you can find a short overview of all Subordinate Clauses. For more detailed information on usage and meaning, please click on the linked (green) names of the individual Subordinate clauses.

Relative Clauses

Relative Clauses give additional information without starting a new sentence. They are introduced by Relative Pronouns or „wo“.

Example: 

  • „Das ist der Mann, der einen Ferrari hat.“
  • „Gehen wir in das neue Restaurant, in dem es Sushi gibt?
  • „Das ist das Bestewas ich jemals gemacht habe.“

Contemplementary Clause („dass“ Clauses)

„Dass“ Clauses sentences are subordinate clauses. The subordinate clause with „dass“ describes a fact or an action which is necessary for the sense of the Main Clause. It stands in place of other Complements (grammatically obligatory parts of the sentence) that are absolutely necessary for the meaning of the sentence.

Example: 

  • „Ich weiß, dass du gestern bei Maria warst!
  • „Ich finde, dass ihr mehr Deutsch lernen solltet.“
  • „Ich habe Angst, dass du mich verlässt.

Causal Clauses

A Causal Clauses is a subordinate clause that states a reason or cause. The question words are: „Warum?“, „Wieso?“, „Weshalb?“, „Aus welchem Grund?“, „Weswegen?“ The conjunctions „weil“ and „da“ introduce causal sentences.

Example:

  • „Ich habe keine Übungen gemacht, weil ich keine Lust habe.“
  • „Stefan arbeitet nicht, weil er krank ist.“
  • Da er krank istarbeitet Stefan heute nicht.“

Concessive Clauses

With a Concessive Clause one expresses a contradiction or not logical consequence to the statement of the main clause. The concessive clause is a subordinate clause and formulates a condition and the main clause a non-logical consequence (= different than expected, or consequence does not occur.) The conjunctions are: „obwohl“ or „obgleich“.

Example:

  • „Ich habe die Prüfung nicht bestanden, obwohl ich viel gelernt habe.“
  • Obgleich ich viel Geld habekaufe ich mir kein neues Auto.”

Final Clauses

Final Clauses are used to describe an intention, purpose, or goal. The question words for these are: „Wozu?“, „Wofür?“, „Zu welchem Zweck?“, „Mit welcher Absicht?“, „Mit welchem Ziel?“
You can form final clauses with the Infinitive construction „um… zu…“ or a normal subordinate clause with the conjunction „damit“.

Example:

  • „Ich arbeite so viel, damit ich mir den Urlaub leisten kann.“
  • China baut einen großen Staudamm, damit die Menschen Strom nutzen können.“
  • „Ich brauche viel Geld, um viel reisen zu können.“

Conditional Clauses

A Conditional Clauses specifies a condition or circumstance (=condition) that must be fulfilled for the realization of an action. Conditional sentences (=conditionals) are Subordinate clauses. The interrogative words for them are: When? Under which condition? The conditional sentence can be introduced with „wenn“, „falls“ and „sofern“.

Example:

  • Wenn das Wetter schön istgehe ich morgen spazieren.“
  • Falls ich keine Zeit habegebe ich dir Bescheid!“
  • „Bitte sage es mir rechtzeitig, sofern sich etwas ändert.“

Consecutive Clauses

A consecutive clause is a subordinate clause with which one expresses consequences (consequence ⇒ consecutive) from an action that already lies in the past. The conjunction so dass“ is used to form consecutive clauses. The main clause must precede the consecutive clause, otherwise one would describe the reason (Causal Clause) for something and not the consequence of something.

Example:

  • „Es regnete zu wenig, so dass viele Menschen kein Wasser zum Trinken hatten.“
  • „Es war zu kalt, so dass ich nicht spazieren gehen konnte.“

Modal Clauses

A modal clauses is a subordinate clause that describes the way something is done or happens. The question words are: Wie? Wodurch? Auf welche Art and Weise? The conjunctions are „indem“ and „dadurch/ohne/anstatt dass…“. A modal sentence can also be formed with the Infinitive Constructions „ohne… zu…“ and „anstatt… zu…“.

Example:

  • „Man kann Millionär werden, indem man im Lotto gewinnt.“
  • „Man kann Millionär werden, dadurch dass man hart arbeitet.“
  • „Ich gehe an den Strand, ohne dass ich eine Badehose trage.“
  • „Ich schwimme im Pool, anstatt im Meer schwimmen zu gehen.“

Temporal Clauses

Temporal clauses are subordinate clauses that are always introduced with a temporal conjunction and provide information about the beginning, end, and duration of an action. They can also show whether something is happening at the same time or at different times. There are numerous conjunctions with different meanings.

Example:

  • „Ich lerne Deutsch, seitdem ich in Deutschland wohne.“
  • „Ich bleibe hier, bis ich mit meiner Arbeit fertig bin.“
  • „Ich gehe einkaufen, während du die Wohnung aufräumst.“

Infinitive Clause (=Infinitiv mit zu)

Infinitive Clauses (=Infinitiv mit zu) are also subordinate clauses in which the verb is at the end. The verbs from the subordinate clause (=Infinitive Clause) always refer to the action / state in the main clause. (More information under: Infinitiv mit zu)

Example: 

  • „Ich versuche, am Wochenende mit meiner Familie mehr Zeit zu verbringen.“
  • „Er hat mir versprochen, jeden Tag mit mir zu lernen.“
  • „Morgen fange ich an, den Aufsatz für meine Abschlussarbeit zu schreiben.“

Infinitive Constructions

Subordinate clauses can also be introduced by so-called Infinitive Constructions. Here a conjunction is connected with the infinitive with to, without the verb in the subordinate clause / infinitive clause having to have a direct reference to the verb in the main clause. (=Condition for the normal infinitive with to.)

There are three different Infinitive constructions:

  • „um... zu...“  - „Ich lerne jeden Tag, um am Montag die Deutschprüfung zu bestehen.
  • „ohne... zu...“ - „Ich habe die Prüfung bestanden, ohne auch nur einen Tag zu lernen.“
  • „anstatt/statt... zu...“ - „Er bleibt zu Hause, anstatt mit seinen Freunden an den Strand zu fahren. “

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