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So, one thing that’s puzzled me in my studies of German (and other languages) is the order of adverbs. Explanations are all over the place; emphasis on X, emphasis on Y, “this order sounds unnatural”, “usually this happens”, “sometimes you do this”, I haven’t been able to find any specifics and I really wish to get this down. What should I know about placing adverbs in a sentence, and what orders are unnatural?

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The order of any complements (not just adverbs) of a verb normally is:

  1. temporal (when?)
  2. causal (why?)
  3. modal (how?)
  4. local (where?)

Or in German: temporal, kausal, modal, lokal (T-K-M-L)

Walter arbeitet heute deshalb ausnahmsweise zuhause.

  • Walter = Subject
  • arbeitet = Verb
  • heute = temporal complement of the verb
  • deshalb = causal complement of the verb
  • ausnahmesweise = modal complement of the verb
  • zuhause = local complement of the verb

In the example above I used only adverbs as complements, but it also can be longer phrases, like in this example:

Walter arbeitet an kalten Tagen wegen der Erkrankung seines Sohnes mit viel Elan in seiner Wohnung.

  • Walter = Subject
  • arbeitet = Verb
  • an kalten Tagen = temporal complement of the verb
  • wegen der Erkrankung seines Sohnes = causal complement of the verb
  • mit viel Elan = modal complement of the verb
  • in seiner Wohnung = local complement of the verb

But the order T-K-M-L is not a hard rule. You are always on the right side, if you follow this rule, but you very often will find other orders. Just the local complement is always the last.

K-T-M-L is also often used:

Walter arbeitet deshalb heute ausnahmsweise zuhause.

Such complements (only one of them) even can occupy position 1 of the sentence, which causes the subject to move to position 3 (The verb always must stay at position 2):

Deshalb arbeitet Walter heute ausnahmsweise zuhause.
Wegen der Erkrankung seines Sohnes arbeitet Walter heute ausnahmsweise zuhause.

Modal complement on position 1:

M-T-K-L: Ausnahmsweise arbeitet Walter heute deshalb zuhause.
M-K-T-L: Ausnahmsweise arbeitet Walter deshalb heute zuhause.

  • Very nice and comprehensive Explanation ;-) – EFrank Nov 20 '17 at 10:28
  • Thank you for explaining! TMP is a thing I was confused on since I saw an example (can’t find the link right now) that said the TMP order would sound unnatural with the sentence “Ich arbeite dort deshalb nur noch selten allein”. The main thing, though, is that the wordorder itself (where you place these adverbs) confused me. I get the principle of putting it behind the thing you want to affect/having it at the end if you want to affect the verb, but I’ve seen some orders that some call “unnatural” when they don’t violate the V2 rule; could someone explain where adverbs shouldn’t be placed? – user30697 Nov 20 '17 at 16:14
  • @AndreasBinneboese: Unnatural ist not wrong. There are situations where you want to emphasize a certain part of speech, and the best way is to put it to a place where it normally wouldn't stand (most often to the very beginning or to the very end of a sentence). Then you get an unnatural word order, which still ist the perfect choice for this situation. Sometimes you even split a sentence into two fragments, where one of then even isn't a complete sentence: »Deshalb arbeitet Walter heute zuhause. Ausnahmsweise.« This is a perfect way to emphasize, that this happens exceptionally. – Hubert Schölnast Nov 21 '17 at 14:40
  • (cont.): But this is a trick you normally use only in spoken language. In written German you use such incomplete sentences only in direct speech, i.e. to reproduce spoken German. – Hubert Schölnast Nov 21 '17 at 14:42
  • Thank you! The sentence I was curious about, specifically, was an example from yourdailygerman.com/2016/06/23/position-nicht-german : the subordinate clause form “..., dass Thomas gestern mit Maria im Zoo nicht war”, that is “pretty much wrong”, jn the article’s words. What do they mean, and is it really “wrong”? if so, why? – user30697 Nov 21 '17 at 16:20

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