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The title pretty much says it all: is there a difference between Das brauche ich and Ich brauche das?

I thought I was getting the grip on structure on simple statements, and Duolingo popped this one — Das brauche ich — in front of me without explanation. My first reaction was to think that this particular sentence had some special order because of something I'd get further along the line, but then I was able to test that the system accepted the other option — Ich brauche das — as a correct translation for I need this/that.

So is there some difference in emphasis or something of the sort between those two options?

  • The last word in the sentence is emphasized in German, then the first word, then words prefixed by a marker word. – Janka May 4 '17 at 20:10
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German is a language that has grammatical cases. We use this cases to identify the grammatical function of a word. In other languages (like English) you have to analyze word order to identify grammatical functions.

This makes it possible, to rearrange parts of speech in German sentences much more free than in English without changing the meaning:

Der Jäger erschießt den Hirsch.
Den Hirsch erschießt der Jäger.

Both sentences are in English:

The hunter shoots the dear.

In German the article clearly identifies »der Jäger« as part of speech in nominative case, which makes it the subject, independent of its place in the sentence. Also »den Hirsch« can be clearly identified as part of speech in accusative case, which makes it an object.

In English, you can not let the hunter and the dear swap places without changing the meaning.

And this all is true also for your example:

Ich brauche das.
Das brauche ich.

Mean both the same, because »ich« clearly is in nominative case, i.e. the subject. The case of »das« might be interpreted ambiguous, but since »ich« is clear, the meaning of the whole sentence is clear. It is:

I need this.


This freedom, that you have in German can be used to set a focus on that part of speech that you want to be highlighted. Simply move it to position 1:

  • Who needs this? I need this.
    Wer braucht das? Ich brauche das.

  • What is needed? I need this.
    Was wird gebraucht? Das brauche ich.

| improve this answer | |
  • Oh, I just now got why »das« might have an ambiguous interpretation, but »ich« is clear: the sentence could only mean »it needs me« if it were »Das brauche mich« instead, right? – Bonnibel May 9 '17 at 11:59

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