7

Nach dem Aufstehen esse ich ein leckeres Frühstück.

The thing is: I'm a bit concerned about "esse ich". Should it be so, or one doesn't need inversion here. And why?

3 Answers 3

8

German is not a SVO-language (SVO = subject - verb - object) like English, although SVO ist the most common word order for German statement sentences. German is a V2-language, which means verb at position 2.

In contrast to English, German makes use of grammatical cases (four of them in German) to identify the grammatical function of a part of speech. In English you use word order to identify which part of speech is subject and which is object.

To give you an example, take this English sentence and let's translate it into German:

The hunter shoots the rabbit.

There are two ways to translate this into German:

  1. Der Jäger erschießt den Hasen.
  2. Den Hasen erschießt der Jäger.

Note, that »der Jäger« in both sentences is in nominative case, while in both sentences »den Hasen« is accusative case. Since the subject always has to be in nominative case, it is absolutely clear, that in both sentences »der Jäger« is the subject, i.e. the one who pulls the trigger, while »den Hasen« is the object of the shooting in both sentences. (And both sentences are active voice, like the English sentence.)

Both sentences mean exactly the same, just in #2 there is an extra focus on the fact that is is a rabbit (not a deer or a pheasant or something else) who is killed.

So in #1 the word order is SVO (like in English, which also is the most used word order in German), but in #2 it is OVS, which is ok in German too. Important is only, that the verb is in position 2.

You can't build an OVS sentence in English, because you don't have cases to identify subject and object. The sentence ...

The rabbit shoots the hunter.

... still would be interpreted as a SVO-sentence with the meaning that the rabbit holds the gun, pulls the trigger and kills the hunter, which of course is not the same meaning as the original sentence. (But if you want, you can let the rabbit pull the trigger in German too: »Der Hase erschießt den Jäger« or even »Den Jäger erschießt der Hase«)


Lets take another example (your example):

In english:

I eat a delicious breakfast.

  • I
    In position 1 and therefore the subject.
  • eat
    verb at position 2.
  • a delicious breakfast
    Object at position 3

In German this can be:

  1. Ich esse ein leckeres Frühstück.
  2. Ein leckeres Frühstück esse ich.

In both sentences:

  • ich
    a part of speech in nominative case, therefore the subject.
  • esse
    verb at position 2
  • ein leckeres Frühstück
    a part of speech in accusative case and therefore an object.

But you also can add a prepositional object like »nach dem Aufstehen«, and you can even place it at position 1. You just have to take care, that the verb stays at position 2.

  • Derived from »Ich esse ein leckeres Frühstück«:

    1. Ich esse ein leckeres Frühstück nach dem Aufstehen.
    2. Ich esse nach dem Aufstehen ein leckeres Frühstück.
    3. Nach dem Aufstehen esse ich ein leckeres Frühstück.
  • Derived from »Ein leckeres Frühstück esse ich«:

    1. Ein leckeres Frühstück esse ich nach dem Aufstehen.
    2. Ein leckeres Frühstück esse nach dem Aufstehen ich.
    3. Nach dem Aufstehen esse ein leckeres Frühstück ich.

The sentences #1 - #4 are all absolutely correct and high quality standard German. Just #5 and #6 are wrong, but the reasons why they are wrong (or at least very bad style) are a little bit more complicated.
It is, because the V2-word-order is in fact a re-arranged version of a SOV-word-order (like in Japanese or Turkish); for details read the paragraph Transformationsgrammatik in the German Wikipedia article about V2-word-order. For this reason the subject can not stand after the accusative object if both of them come after the verb.
One more word about the verb: In German the verb often ist separated or comes with an auxiliary verb. In this cases only the finite part (the part that inflects together with the subject) stands in position 2, the infinite parts (the not inflected parts) remain at the last position in respect of the V2's derivation from the SOV word oder.

(here is the end of my answer to your question)


addendum:

There is even another trick that you can do in German if the subject is in 3rd person (i.e. neither "I" nor "you"). In this case you can put all parts of speech behind the verb, which would leave position 1 empty. But it can't stay empty. To fill it you can use the expletive pronoun »es«. This »es« has no semantic meaning and don't refer to anything. It is there just for the only reason to have something to fill position 1.

I replace ich (1st person) with Hubert (3rd person). This gives this already known possibilities (if the subject is in 3rd person also the verb has to be in 3rd person, i.e »esse« has to turn into »isst«):

  1. Hubert isst ein leckeres Frühstück nach dem Aufstehen.
  2. Hubert isst nach dem Aufstehen ein leckeres Frühstück.
  3. Nach dem Aufstehen isst Hubert ein leckeres Frühstück.
  4. Ein leckeres Frühstück isst Hubert nach dem Aufstehen.

But as announced, you can put all parts of speech behind the verb if you use »es« to fill position 1:

  1. Es isst Hubert ein leckeres Frühstück nach dem Aufstehen.
  2. Es isst Hubert nach dem Aufstehen ein leckeres Frühstück.
  3. Es isst nach dem Aufstehen Hubert ein leckeres Frühstück.

This is a little bit outdated and is not very common in modern german, but you still find this construction in sentences like:

Es fährt ein Zug nach Nirgendwo. (Title of a German song from 1972)
Es ziehen Wolken übers Meer.
Es sitzen viele Leute im Café.

This usage of the expletive pronoun »es« is different from (but still related to) the usage in a construction that also exists in English:

Es regnet. - It is raining.
Es ist kalt. - It is cold.

This es/it also is an expletive pronoun, but in the last two examples sentences it is the subject of the sentence, i.e. it has a defined grammatical function. But in the sentence »Es ziehen Wolken übers Meer« the word »Wolken« (clouds) is the subject, and the only function of »es« is to have just anything before the verb, so that the verb can stand on position 2.

1
  • Ich lösche meine Kommentare, da sie nichts zur Sache beitragen. Gruß!
    – Carsten S
    Jun 14, 2017 at 11:14
6

These are the six ways to arrange those four parts of the sentence.

  • nach dem Aufstehen
  • esse
  • ich
  • ein leckeres Frühstück

Nach dem Aufstehen esse ich ein leckeres Frühstück.

Nach dem Aufstehen esse ein leckeres Frühstück ich. (valid, but very uncommon)

Ein leckeres Frühstück esse ich nach dem Aufstehen.

Ein leckeres Frühstück esse nach dem Aufstehen ich. (valid, but very uncommon)

Ich esse ein leckeres Frühstück nach dem Aufstehen.

Ich esse nach dem Aufstehen ein leckeres Frühstück.

See the pattern? The finite verb has to be in second position.

The difference between the four common arrangements is emphasis. Beginning of the sentence gets most emphasis, then end of the sentence. Parts inbetween are of lesser importance (besides the finite verb, of course).

5
  • The first part does not always get more emphasis, often quite the opposite.
    – Carsten S
    Jun 13, 2017 at 11:13
  • 4
    Please provide references for the second and fourth example. As a native speaker, those sound very, very wrong to me.
    – Polygnome
    Jun 13, 2017 at 11:18
  • 1
    Mein Frühstück esse ich. Mehr tue ich nicht. Das Subjekt ans Ende zu setzen ist nicht falsch, bei komplizierteren Sätzen aber nicht üblich.
    – Janka
    Jun 13, 2017 at 11:48
  • 2 and 4 sound like sentences from a song (from a bad rhymer), being mangled to fit the rhythm. "valid but very uncommon" seems an euphemism. 3 is OK from a grammar point of view, but makes little sense otherwise, in this context. 1, 5, 6 are completely fine, with mild and varying degrees of stiltedness.
    – AnoE
    Jun 13, 2017 at 16:20
  • 2 and 4 are not uncommon, they are bad (except maybe in poems that start "Kaum zu glauben, es ist wahr, der Franzi ist schon 40 Jahr'") Your example Mein Frühstück esse ich. does not prove the correctness of Nach dem Aufstehen esse ein leckeres Frühstück ich. Don't believe everything your primary school teacher told you: Not all permutations of constituents form a valid sentence. Also both 3 and 4 sound very very odd to me because of putting ein leckeres Frühstück first, which is something I don't believe you usually do with indefinites. (Mein Frühstück esse ich sounds way better.)
    – sgf
    Jun 14, 2017 at 23:43
5

I would avoid inversion as a term in German, it is an inversion with respect with another language(s). Inversion would mean that there exist a preferred order, which in German there is not. It's rather just keeping the position of the verb in the second place (not second word) in the sentence. It'd be also valid to begin with "Ein leckeres Frühstück esse ich..." or "Ich esse ..." if you want to emphasize that you do something different to what people said before.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.