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So I learned about TMP (time, manner, place) in order to correctly position my adverbs, and then went through Pimsleur I.

However, I came across a sentence that annoys me because it didn’t follow what I had learned. It was:

Kann ich in Berlin etwas kaufen?

But I feel like I should say:

Kann ich etwas in Berlin kaufen?

As far as I understand, etwas is a pronoun, and those usually come before location. So why is it flipped? Is it because it was a question? I’m confused.

  • Für mich sind beide Sätze in Ordnung. IMHO ist im ersten Satz in Berlin ein wenig stärker betont und im zweiten etwas. – Karl Apr 9 '15 at 7:31
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    If there is anything to add to Wrzlprmft's answer it is: TMP or whichever other rule you heard is like the Pirates' Code as set down by Morgan and Bartholomew. And the code is more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules. Welcome to German language's Black Pearl! – Jan Apr 9 '15 at 9:49
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    TMP is a guideline that coveres probably half of all sentences. The other half is NOT TMP but MTP and PTM and TPM and PMT. – Emanuel Apr 9 '15 at 10:24
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Both word orders are correct and only slightly differ in emphasis: Whatever you put first in this case, is slightly more focussed by the question (at least that’s my impression, even native speakers can disagree over this). Some examples in context:

Ich kann in Hamburg, München und Köln einen Hut kaufen. Aber: Kann ich in Berlin einen Hut kaufen? [emphasis on Berlin]

Ich kann Schuhe, Krawatten und Röcke in Berlin kaufen. Aber: Kann ich einen Hut in Berlin kaufen? [emphasis on Hut]

If you do not want to emphasise either, both word orders are correct. This has nothing to do with the sentence being a question. However, if the sentence weren’t a question, you could put whatever you like to emphasise to the very front:

In Hamburg, München und Köln kann ich keinen Hut kaufen. In Berlin kann ich es.
[es replaces einen Hut kaufen to avoid repetition.]

I do not see, how TMP plays into this, as etwas is the object in your sentence and not an adverbial. (However, I am no expert on such rules, as I am a native speaker.) But even when talking about adverbials, it’s correct to swap their orders for emphasis. For example you all permutations of the following are correct, as long as einen Hut comes after heute or directly after ich (though this restrictions seems to only apply to me – see the comments):

Kann ich [in Berlin] [heute] [einen Hut] [mit Dir] kaufen?

So the following are correct (all with slightly different emphasis):

Kann ich in Berlin heute einen Hut mit Dir kaufen?
Kann ich in Berlin heute mit Dir einen Hut kaufen?
Kann ich in Berlin mit Dir heute einen Hut kaufen?
Kann ich heute in Berlin einen Hut mit Dir kaufen?
Kann ich heute in Berlin mit Dir einen Hut kaufen?
Kann ich heute einen Hut in Berlin mit Dir kaufen?
Kann ich heute einen Hut mit Dir in Berlin kaufen?
Kann ich heute mit Dir in Berlin einen Hut kaufen?
Kann ich heute mit Dir einen Hut in Berlin kaufen?
Kann ich einen Hut in Berlin heute mit Dir kaufen?
Kann ich einen Hut in Berlin mit Dir heute kaufen?
Kann ich einen Hut heute in Berlin mit Dir kaufen?
Kann ich einen Hut heute mit Dir in Berlin kaufen?
Kann ich einen Hut mit Dir in Berlin heute kaufen?
Kann ich einen Hut mit Dir heute in Berlin kaufen?
Kann ich mit Dir in Berlin heute einen Hut kaufen?
Kann ich mit Dir heute in Berlin einen Hut kaufen?
Kann ich mit Dir heute einen Hut in Berlin kaufen?

And incorrect are (to me):

Kann ich in Berlin mit Dir einen Hut heute kaufen?
Kann ich in Berlin einen Hut mit Dir heute kaufen?
Kann ich in Berlin einen Hut heute mit Dir kaufen?
Kann ich mit Dir in Berlin einen Hut heute kaufen?
Kann ich mit Dir einen Hut in Berlin heute kaufen?
Kann ich mit Dir einen Hut heute in Berlin kaufen?

TMP is more a guideline on how to position components, when you do not want to put a special emphasis on something. from the above the following order is perceived as rather neutral with respect to emphasis:

Kann ich heute mit Dir in Berlin einen Hut kaufen?

Putting the object (einen Hut) in front would emphasise it, though I cannot attribute this to a particular rule.

Note, that while in all the above examples, something was emphasised by putting by putting it earlier in the sentence, this is mostly a coincidence and what is more important is the deviation from the “neutral” order. For example in the following sentence, einen Hut and heute are emphasised:

Kann ich einen Hut mit Dir in Berlin heute kaufen?

Also, in most cases, spoken epmhasis overrides emphasis by word order.

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    I don't completely agree with the notes on emphasis; while in "Kann ich in Berlin einen Hut kaufen?", the emphasis could lie on either Berlin or the hat, in "Kann ich einen Hut in Berlin kaufen?", the emphasis seems to be definitely on Berlin. "Ich kann in Hamburg, München und Köln einen Hut kaufen. Aber: Kann ich einen Hut in Berlin kaufen?" As we already know we're talking about the hat, that is placed in the beginning, along with the other not so interesting parts of the sentence; the crucial modification, Berlin, that we're actually inquiring about, is placed near the question mark. – O. R. Mapper Apr 9 '15 at 9:17
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    I agree with @O.R.Mapper... it is difficult to read these sentence in a neutral way and not have the inflection override what's there but usually the later the element the more crucial. The earlier elements are usually the protagonists of the sentence and stuff we already know. The jargon term is "Rhema" and "THema". The emphasis created by word order is not very strong in this case so you just have to raise your voice a little at "Hut" and you've masked it, but it's there. For a scientific treatment check the Dudengrammatik, for a "Bild"-Zeitung version you can check out my blog – Emanuel Apr 9 '15 at 10:34
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  • @Emanuel: Fascinating - after reading so often that in German, whatever comes first is most emphasized, and always feeling this does not completely reflect what the language actually works like (I'm a native speaker), your blog, in particular the explanation "The more unusual a spot is for a box, the more tension is created because we’re going against the natural tendencies there are." exactly nails it. Very relieving to know that my own impression of emphasis is shared by others rather than completely twisted. – O. R. Mapper Apr 9 '15 at 11:03
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    This post was flagged to be moved to chat for having too many comments. Please avoid lengthy comment discussions. If an issue was resolved you should delete your comment. For an elaborate discussions on a topic use German Language Chat. – Takkat Apr 12 '15 at 6:08
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Both are grammatically correct, but the emphasis is different, as pointed out by Wrzlprmft. The result is that to me, at least, the two questions are quite different.

Kann ich in Berlin etwas kaufen?

This question asks whether it is possible to buy something in Berlin at all (emphasis is on Berlin). A possible answer would be "No, since the great comet strike of 2049, all shops in Berlin are closed".

Kann ich etwas in Berlin kaufen?

This is a more natural question that might be asked by somebody who is traveling to Berlin and is asking whether (s)he should buy something special there.

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