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I came across the following sentence:

Das war von Historikern schon länger entdeckt worden, wurde in der Öffentlichkeit aber erst Mitte der 1990er Jahre bekannt.

The meaning is clear:

This had already long been discovered by historians, but only became publicly known in the mid 1990s.

However, I'm not sure why wurde gets to go in the first position in the second sentence. It seems more intuitive for aber to go first:

Das war von Historikern schon länger entdeckt worden, aber (es) wurde in der Öffentlichkeit erst Mitte der 1990er Jahre bekannt.

Is it that the subject is only implied in the second sentence and so you can be a bit more free with word order? Or can conjunctions always change position like this?

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    "Is it that the subject is only implied in the second sentence and so you can be a bit more free with word order?" - Yes, that's the correct explanation. – jonathan.scholbach Apr 4 '17 at 5:48
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I would analyze this as a coordination of two full sentences, where in the second one the subject (a relative pronoun like es) is elliptic. You could use a semicolon here:

Das war von Historikern schon länger entdeckt worden; es wurde in der Öffentlichkeit aber erst Mitte der 1990er Jahre bekannt.

They are coordinated in this way because while "es wurde (...) bekannt" can stand alone, the es refers the same anaphoric subject as das in the first sencence, and it is preferred to avoid repeating das, so either one can use the weaker es, or leave it out completely (which seems the most natural construction to me).

The aber here works by modifying how the wurde, and is to be understood as an adverbial adjunct, I'd say, given that it is quite freely movable as a phrase: you can say any of "aber es wurde dort bekannt", "es wurde aber dort bekannt", "es wurde dort aber bekannt", without changing much of the meaning (which is "as opposed to the fact in the first sencentce").

  • Thanks, yeah I understood the leaving out of the subject. I just don't understand why aber gets to go in the middle of the sentence, but I take from your answer that conjunctions needn't go after the comma in German (though I'm guessing that only applies in some cases – presumably weil can't be placed in the middle for instance). – advert2013 Apr 4 '17 at 21:54
  • The aber here works more like however in English, which you can also use "later" in a sentence. – phipsgabler Apr 5 '17 at 7:25
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For me, you are completly wrong, as this is not a conjunction as you know it, but a Abtönungspartikel (I don't know the English name for this). It is crucial, that you could change the position of aber:

Das war von Historikern schon länger entdeckt worden, aber wurde in der Öffentlichkeit erst Mitte der 1990er Jahre bekannt.

Das war von Historikern schon länger entdeckt worden, wurde in der Öffentlichkeit aber erst Mitte der 1990er Jahre bekannt.

Das war von Historikern schon länger entdeckt worden, wurde aber in der Öffentlichkeit erst Mitte der 1990er Jahre bekannt.

Each time the meaning is slightly different. With aber you express your surprise concerning either the fact that it was made public at all, or the fact that it happened so late :)

You should ask a native*speaker for more detailed explanation.

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