German is very strict about putting the verb in the second position in a sentence. So in a simple sentence like, "Ich kam später", if I put spater in the first position, ich has to go in the third position: "Später kam ich."

But this does not appear to be true for certain words (particles?) such as "und" and "aber."

So I can use "Und ich kam später," or "Aber ich kam später" without changing the word order. It is as if "Und" and "aber" were placed in the "zeroeth" position of a sentence, so the rest of the sentence is not disturbed.

For which words in German is this true, and what is the grammatical term for these words?

Edit: A commenter answered the second part of the question by calling these words "coordinating conjunctions." What are the coordinating conjunctions in German (besides "und" and "aber")?

Second edit: On the list provided by another commenter, both "aber" and "sondern" (which mean "but") are on the list. "Oder," which means "or" is on the list, but "sonst" doesn't seem to be. Is that an oversight on my part, or is "sonst" really treated differently from "oder?" Also, it seems that "weil" and "denn" are treated differently even though they both mean "because." Could it be that one out of each pair oder/sonst, denn/weil is considered a coordinating conjunction and one is not?

  • 3
    You’re looking for conjunctions that occupy the zeroth position. All coordinating conjunctions do that; if they don’t, they aren’t strictly a conjunction (probably an adverb instead).
    – Jan
    Dec 31, 2016 at 18:23
  • Just look them up.
    – dirkt
    Jan 1, 2017 at 8:22
  • 1
    "Weil" appears on the subordinating conjunctions list. "Sonst" is a conjunctional adverb. But I wouldn't compare "sonst" with "oder". They're quite differently. I'm not sure why you consider them a pair, to be honest.
    – Em1
    Jan 1, 2017 at 12:59
  • @Emi: So it seems that coordinating conjunctions don't need to be followed a word inversion because they produce coordinate clauses, but subordinating conjunctions produce subordinate clauses that do need to be inverted. is that right?
    – Tom Au
    Jan 1, 2017 at 17:48
  • Coordinating conjunctions connect two main clauses. Both follow the word order of a main clause. Both clauses are full sentences and you could, technically, drop the the conjunction altogether and replace it with a period. However, you'd lose the meaning of that conjunction (e.g. contrast, causality etc.) These conjunctions are just standing between two sentence, so to say, and do not occupy any position in neither sentence.
    – Em1
    Jan 3, 2017 at 11:18

1 Answer 1


This is a compendium of comments that others posted on the question. I am "answering" it, since others preferred to comment, rather than answer.

The types of words in question are called "coordinating conjunctions." They precede coordinate clauses, and therefore occupy the "zeroth" position in a sentence, leaving the other words undisturbed. A list of them is in the link.

These are contrasted to "subordinating conjunctions", which precede subordinate clauses, where the words have to be inverted, because the subordinate clause occupies the first position in a sentence.

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