Word order in German is stricter than in many other European languages. So students in our beginner German courses get introduced to German syntax just a few lessons into their course. In this blog post, I explain the basic rules you need to learn.
When it comes to structuring a basic German sentence, the golden rule is that the conjugated verb must be in second position, irrespective of whether you start the sentence with a subject or- for reasons of emphasis- with an adverb of time or location. Let's look at some examples.
Subject conjugated verb other information
Ich spiele gern Tennis.
(I like to play tennis)
Er liest jetzt ein Buch
(He is (now) reading a book)
Sie wohnt in Deutschland.
(She lives in Germany)
Emphasis conjugated verb subject other information
Jetzt liest er ein Buch.
(Now he is reading a book)
In Deutschland wohnt sie.
(She lives in Germany)
There is no difference in meaning between the sentences that begin with a subject and those that begin with either time or location. The same word order is used in questions with a question word.
Question word conjugated verb subject other information
Wie heißen Sie?
(What is your name)
Was sind Sie von Beruf?
(What is your profession)
Woher kommst du?
(Where do you come from)
As you can see, since question words are in position one and the conjugated verb must be second, the subject in in third position in questions with a question word.
Let's revisit the golden rule we mentioned above. We said the conjugated verb must be in second grammatical position. Now we can look at the only exception in simple German sentences, which are yes/no questions. In such questions, the conjugated verb goes first.
Conjugated verb subject other information
Sprichst du Deutsch?
(Do you speak German?)
Wohnen Sie in London?
(Do you live in London)
Arbeitet ihr in Berlin?
(Do you all work in Berlin)
Taking yes/no questions as exceptions into account, we can summarise by saying:
The conjugated verb in German must be in second position, unless it's a yes/no question where the conjugated verb goes first.
Of course, things will get a bit more complicated at higher levels. So if you're already at A2 level or beyond, check out my complete guide on German word order.