When using a clause as a subject, does one need to use a comma to delimit the clause? And should the verb be conjugated in plural or singular? Or is it preferable to use another kind of construction?

Wenn man einen Teilsatz als Subjekt benutzt, braucht man dann ein Komma, um den Teilsatz abzugrenzen? Und sollte das Verb im Plural oder Singular stehen? Ist es vielleicht besser, den Satz anders zu formulieren?

Was wir während dieser Phase machen, ist die Dateien prüfen und die Programme installieren.

  • There also a comma is missing between "ist" and "die". :)
    – ladybug
    Jun 7, 2011 at 14:48
  • I don't see a clause as a subject. Subject is 'wir', isn't it? Jun 7, 2011 at 18:26
  • @user unknown: it isn't, the subject ist "What we do" and the verb is ist followed by a description of what is done.
    – Eldros
    Jun 8, 2011 at 5:59
  • Didn't I learn in school, that I find the subject asking "Wer oder was?" Ah, I see! "Was?" "Was wir machen". Verb: "ist". Similiar: "Der Abschluß ist, die Dateien zu prüfen." Jun 8, 2011 at 12:20

3 Answers 3


You need the comma there, yes. The sentence sounds a little odd to me. I would probably rather write:

Während dieser Phase prüfen wir die Dateien und installieren die Programme.

  • The sentence in the version from Eldros looks like a bit like a "Rohfassung" (concept?), the way some Germans initially write down there thoughts before they polish them for the "Reinschrift" (fair copy).
    – bernd_k
    Jun 7, 2011 at 13:33
  • Abgesehen von der Zeichensetzung, die ich meist falsch mache: Ist dies nicht eine typische Gelegenheit für die Verwendung des Infinitiv mit zu? Was wir während dieser Phase machen, ist, die Dateien zu prüfen und die Programme zu installieren.? I ask, whether this isn't a typical case to use some zu in the infinite form (while warning about the way I put the commas - a weakness of mine). Jun 7, 2011 at 18:24
  • @user: Yes, see thei's answer. Jun 8, 2011 at 9:19
  • @bernd_k: Well I seem to only be able to write in Rohfassung until now, even after 4 year living in Germany.
    – Eldros
    Sep 19, 2011 at 15:03

There is something wrong with the example sentence because you cannot put disconnected phrases as a subject like that.

I propose as the nearest correct equivalent (not necessarily the stylistically best way to convey the message):

Was wir während dieser Phase machen, ist das Prüfen der Dateien und das Installieren der Programme.


Was wir während dieser Phase machen, ist (es), die Dateien zu prüfen und die Programme zu installieren.


Technically, it’s not a (subordinate) clause as a subject. A better analysis of the sentence is to note:

  • that a demonstrative pronoun das has been elided; and
  • this demonstrative pronoun was further clarified in a relative clause.

The relative clause in itself is not the subject of a sentence, it is just adding further information to the elided subject. Naturally, as per § 74 of the official spelling rules, subordinate clauses (which includes relative clauses) are separated by a comma.

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