Roman muss zurückfahren nach Basel. Blinder Passagier, Andrea Maria Wagner

Aren’t verbs combined with modal verbs supposed to be placed at the very end of the clause? I would have said

Roman muss nach Basel zurückfahren.

Just read this in a book for learners of German, that’s why I can't believe it’s a mistake.

  • 1
    I'd rather say "Roman muss zurück nach Basel fahren"... while all three versions are valid - it's just the written language sometimes appears strange when spoken (sometimes there are minor variations).
    – user15822
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 2:41

2 Answers 2


Neither sentence is wrong. German word order is rather flexible, and while there is a tendency to have the second part of a split verb at the end, it isn't always the case. Possible reasons for pulling it to the front include improved understandability (when the intervening part would be long) and putting emphasis on a specific part of the sentence.

In this particular case, it might be that the speaker thinks the important information is that Roman must return and not the specific place; perhaps the one spoken to already knows that Roman came from Basel.

There was a related question recently (Any flexibility in the predicate word order here? Multiple prepositions); I am not that convinced of the answers, but in a comment, Emanuel gave a link to a (longish) blog post of his that is an interesting read: https://yourdailygerman.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/german-word-order/

  • 3
    I would consider the sentence to be wrong. It might happen in spoken language, when you have to think of the place he should return to an want to buy some time, but it still would be a weird construction to me. But then again, I always put the second part of a splittable verb at the end, no matter how long the part in between is...
    – Gerhard
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 9:17
  • 3
    @Gerhard... there are millions of examples in the press where something is put after the verb. It's a trend that, by now, has reached the main stream. Calling it wrong is highly prescriptive and I have to disagree. Let me know if you want some examples.
    – Emanuel
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 20:22
  • @Emanuel: I am well aware that this has been used for quite a while - predominantly in the press. And each time I read one of those sentences, I cringe and have to read the sentence a second time - it simply sounds very wrong to me. That's why I wrote that "I would consider it wrong", not that everyone considers it wrong (as obviously is not the case). But to be fair, I cannot come up with anyone who really talks that way, seems to me that it is mainly a thing used in papers and the news.
    – Gerhard
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 21:02
  • 2
    @Gerhard.. politicians and other guests in talk shows do it in spoken and people around us do it. Of course I can't give you an example for that but at least in my experience... it is WAY more common that one might think. "Ich war sauer auf meinen Chef." This is kind of an example, too.
    – Emanuel
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 20:42
  • If you think that "ich war sauer auf Ihn" were a) a recent trend, and b) comparable to "Ich fahre nach Basel", "Ich muss zurück", "Ich fahre nach Basel zurück" or "Ich muss zurück, nach Basel fahren" (which is equivalently v. zurücknachhausefahren in my mind); Then I can only hope you are wrong. It seems perfectly natural to me anyway. I can't write any more, I must away.
    – vectory
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 21:32

The sentence is correct. While it is much more common to have the verb at the end, in this particular case there is an emphasis on the need to return, while the destination is rather a side information. This can be expressed by using this word order.

You can find some background information on canoo.net. The technical term that applies here is that of a "prepositional group in the Nachfeld". "Nach Basel" is made up of a preposition and a noun (so it is a very short group, which is a bit unusual for this construction), that is situated in the Nachfeld of the sentence, i.e. after the part that is limited by the finite verb on the left side and the rest of the predicate on the right side (again, this Mittelfeld is very short in this example).

The construction in general is not unusual at all in German, and one can also find examples of its usage with zurückfahren nach on Google books, e.g. here and here. It looks like even Goethe used it.

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