In Duolingo, I faced the following sentence:

Er ist schön, obwohl er alt ist.

What I don’t understand is why the verb is before the adjective in the first part of the sentence (ist schön) and behind it in the second part (alt ist). Is it correct? What is the reason for such a reordering?

Can I use the same word order in both parts of the sentence? For instance:

Er ist schön, obwohl er ist alt.

Or is this word order totally wrong in German or changes the meaning?


1 Answer 1


In German, the position of the (conjugated) verb has a grammatical function:

  • In regular sentences, the verb is at the second position.
  • In subclauses, the verb is at the end.
  • In questions or commands, the verb is in first position – possibly preceded by a question or politeness particle.

In your example, er ist schön is the main clause and obwohl er alt ist is the subclause, hence the different word order. The alternative word order you are suggesting is wrong.

Something similar still exists in English (though it is somewhat archaic, if I am not mistaken):

Had I not studied all night, I would have failed the exam.
Had I not swapped had and I at the beginning of this sentence, I would have had to use an if.

Note that beyond the position of the verb, word order is used for emphasis in German – though this does not apply here.


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