I often see sentences like

Allerdings ist mir der Begriff nicht total unbekannt


Hier werden euch neue Ideen präsentiert

I know the rule that an indirect object pronoun always goes before the direct object if this is not itself also a pronoun (eg "Ich gebe dir das Geschenk", but "Ich gebe es dir"). But in this case "der Begriff" and "neue Ideen" are the subjects of those sentences, so my understanding is that they should read

Allerdings ist der Begriff mir nicht total unbekannt


Hier werden neue Ideen euch präsentiert


Obviously I'm wrong, but I'd like to know what is it that I'm missing.

  • 1
    I strongly recommend to forget the idea that there is a rule. There are absolutely no rules when it comes to order of components.
    – Emanuel
    May 6, 2014 at 15:55
  • 1
    I wouldn't go that far. It's just that there are no rules without exceptions (including this one).
    – Ingmar
    May 7, 2014 at 6:08

4 Answers 4


There are basically two "rule of thumbs".

  1. Belebt vor unbelebt(animate before inanimate)

    Damals ist meinem Vater[animate] das schwere Unglück[inanimate] passiert.

    But canoo.net says:

    Das Belebtheitsprinzip gilt nur für Nomengruppen (Subjekt, Dativ- und Akkusativobjekt), nicht aber für Pronomen.

  2. Pronomen vor Nomen(pronoun before noun)

    Das Unglück, wann ist es[pronoun] deinem Vater[noun phrase] passiert?

That is, in your examples rule two is the reason.

That said, also note

Die Tendenz 'Pronomen vor Nomen' ist weniger stark, wenn die Nomengruppe Subjekt ist.

For that reason you can also put the subject precedent to the object, which is quite common in oral communication.


German allows to heavily change the positions of clause elements. In spite of English, where you have a fixed SPO word order, this is possible because nouns are flected and verbs are conjugated. So it's always clear which word belongs to which clause element.

So both versions you mention are possible. The last used clause element usually is the most important. If you want to emphasize to whom something is not unknown or ideas are presented, use mir or euch at last. If you want to put weight on what is not unknown or presented, use der Begriff or neue Ideen at last.

In speech, you put a stress on the important clause element. This way you even can redefine the most important clause element.

  • "The first used clause element is the most important" This is wrong. Most important things tend to move toward the end.
    – Emanuel
    May 6, 2014 at 16:00
  • @Emanuel: hmm... sure?
    – äüö
    May 6, 2014 at 22:02
  • @falkb... yes. "Gestern habe ich das Buch meiner Mutter gegeben" vs. "Gestern habe ich meiner Mutter das Buch gegeben." The focus is on the element that comes later. You might want to check out "Thema" and "Rhema" if you want to dig deeper.
    – Emanuel
    May 6, 2014 at 22:05
  • @Emanuel: you're right, I'll change it
    – äüö
    May 6, 2014 at 22:07
  • it's a bit confusing since you can overrule it by setting a stress when speaking it :)
    – äüö
    May 6, 2014 at 22:08

The change is in Emphasis.

Allerdings ist **mir** der Begriff nicht total unbekannt.

Allerdings ist **der** Begriff mir nicht total unbekannt.

Hier werden euch neue Ideen präsentiert.

 Hier werden neue Ideen euch präsentiert. **It needs one more word.**

Hier werden neue Ideen für euch präsentiert.

  • You cheated when you said "für euch" instead of "euch" in the last example.... without the "für" the "euch after "Ideen" would sound pretty wrong. Also, I think that if anything then "mir" gets an epmhasis if it comes AFTER the noun...because emphasis occurs where there is something out of the ordinary.
    – Emanuel
    May 6, 2014 at 15:59

As a native German I have no rules but your sentence 1 sounds natural. If you place mir after Begriff it is not wrong, but I think that speakers prefer the first variant. The same is true for sentence 2. Obviously you have to make a rule that in inverted sentences a mir etc can stand before the subject.

  • OP is asking for exactly this rule or explanation WHY it's natural to put the subject behind the object and not vice versa.
    – Em1
    May 6, 2014 at 13:54
  • Honestly, I think about it, but it is difficult to explain. I' m sure that Duden Grammatik has it somewhere but they can only say it is in this way, they won't give you a reason. I compare it in some way with French where the 'light'pronouns stand before the verb: Il m'est connu.
    – rogermue
    May 6, 2014 at 14:04
  • @rogermue... actually the Duden Grammatik offers detailed reasoning about this.
    – Emanuel
    May 6, 2014 at 16:02

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