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I recently found the following sentence:

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred ohne zu fragen mitgenommen zur letzten Wache.

The meaning of the sentence is clear:

As the captain of the ship, he had taken Fred along, without asking, to the last watch.

However I don't understand what is going on with the sentence structure.

The prepositional phrase 'zur letzen Wache' comes after the verbal bracket rather than inside it, and the infinitive clause 'ohne zu fragen' comes within it, both of which I thought were supposed to be substandard.

In other words, shouldn't this sentence be written

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred zur letzten Wache mitgenommen ohne zu fragen.

?

I'm sure it has something to do with emphasis or something like that, but any help would be appreciated.

  • Possibly already answered here (though in a different context). – dirkt Mar 14 '17 at 15:00
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The canonical form is this one:

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred ohne zu fragen zur letzten Wache mitgenommen.

Adverbials of space and time should come last within the bracket or sentence.

The following has all parts within the bracket, but already emphasis on ohne zu fragen mitgenommen.

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred zur letzten Wache ohne zu fragen mitgenommen.

Your example

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred ohne zu fragen mitgenommen zur letzten Wache.

also puts emphasis on the phrase ohne zu fragen mitgenommen, but has the odd word order which also puts emphasis on zur letzten Wache. You can mark this in writing or speech by placing a hiatus there.

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred ohne zu fragen mitgenommen. Zur letzten Wache.

EDIT:

It's also possible to put the infinitive phrase at the end as you did in your last example.

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred zur letzten Wache mitgenommen, ohne zu fragen.

The comma is not optional because the infinitive phrase starts with ohne. The reason why this form isn't canonical is ohne zu fragen is a rather short insert and things in the Nachfeld tend to become clunky as soon another clause follows. Consider

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred ohne zu fragen zur letzten Wache mitgenommen, auf der der alte Hein am Steuer stand. (Good!)

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred zur letzten Wache mitgenommen, ohne zu fragen, auf der der alte Hein am Steuer stand. (Clunky!)

Als Kapitän dieses Schiffes hatte er Fred zur letzten Wache, auf der der alte Hein am Steuer stand, mitgenommen, ohne zu fragen. (Okay, but hard to understand.)

  • That's great thanks for the answer. I don't suppose you could explain why the infinitive phrase "ohne zu fragen" comes within the bracket rather than after it though, like in my final example. In my grammar book it suggests that infinitive phrases almost always go at the end of sentences. – advert2013 Mar 15 '17 at 11:46
  • 1
    I've edited my answer to address this. – Janka Mar 15 '17 at 12:59

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