I. The Disorientating German Word Order (Wortstellung)

April 13, 2016


Many are of the opinion that English and German have a lot of commonalities. While that may be true (at least to some degree) in terms of lexicon, the differences between the two languages are significant especially when it comes to syntax. 


To English speakers, ⎯ especially those who are at the early stages of learning German ⎯ the German word order may come across as chaotic. I certainly was disorientated for a while. All the words and the verbs looked all jumbled to me, as if in disarray. Below are some examples.


I would like to buy his car

(auxiliary/       (verb 2)

verb 1)


Ich möchte sein Auto kaufen 

      (auxiliary/             (verb 2)  

       verb 1) 


At first glance the two sentences seem to be almost identical, in terms of the place of the subject and the verbs. Now let us add a conjunction to the mix. Conjunctions, as some of you might know, connect two sentences together.


 (I have to speak to him) because I would like to buy his car

(auxiliary/   (verb 2)

verb 1)


Not much has changed here; the verbs remain where they are. Again we will do the same in German, which will change the order of things quite a bit:


(Ich muss mit ihm reden), weil/ da ich sein Auto kaufen möchte

        (verb 2) (auxiliary/verb 1) 


Phew! Conjunctions in German disrupt the standard word order and can be quite confusing at first. And if you think this is complicated, wait until you see what happens when a third verb is added into the sentence. Speaking from my own experience, and others I have taught, I would put this down to our tendency to translate everything word for word. My tip for beginners would be to let go of English grammar when studying German. Try to differentiate German grammar from English and feel the difference! Before you know it… voilà! You will always remember to locate the verbs accordingly when constructing German sentences. Have fun practising!





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