Is there a situation in which the infinitive comes in position 1 in the sentence before the modal verb?

  • 1
    You give yourself an example for such a situation. You can put the infinitive at first position of the sentence in order to emphasize the word. So what would be the actual question? Nov 26 '17 at 19:36
  • I encounter this sentence just like that, I did not create the example and did not know about the emphasize .... thanks
    – Millen
    Nov 26 '17 at 19:42

Putting an element of a sentence (here: the verb zwingen) at first position is a means of laying emphasis on that element.

Unmarked word order:

Es kann dich niemand zwingen.

Niemand kann dich zwingen.

Emphasis on zwingen:

Zwingen kann dich niemand.

This implies some additional thought like

... bitten jedoch kann man dich schon.

where also bitten is emphasized.

Various elements can be put in first position:

Dich kann niemand zwingen (ihn jedoch schon).

Zwingen kann dich niemand (bitten aber schon).

Niemand kann dich zwingen (jeder aber kann dich bitten)

With können it is rather difficult - only perhaps in slightly ironic oral language like here:

Können tut dich niemand zwingen (wollen aber schon).

Note that this is not acceptable by the norms of standard grammar and style. It is rather like playing with words.

Other examples for emphasis through first position

Else hat gestern wie eine Wilde Zwiebeln geschält.

Well, that's the most "natural" word order, so Else would not be sensed as emphasized unless you put emphasis on the name through pronunciation. >

Gestern hat Else wie eine Wilde Zwiebeln geschält.

This is also still rather without special emphasis unless you create it through pronunciation.

Wie eine Wilde hat Else gestern Zwiebeln geschält.

Wie eine Wilde Zwiebeln geschält hat Else gestern.

Zwiebeln geschält hat Else gestern wie eine Wilde.

Geschält hat Else Zwiebeln gestern wie eine Wilde.

Geschält hat Else gestern wie eine Wilde Zwiebeln.

Zwiebeln hat wie eine Wilde geschält gestern Else.

Note that those sentences would not appear as such. They need necessarily a context where such emphasis makes sense. Especially the last ones are so distorted that they could naturally appear only in a very specific context.

Note also that also last position is a bearer of emphasis, although usually less so than first position. In the last three examples the strongest emphasis is on last position (wie eine Wilde, Zwiebeln, Else). I suppose this is because it is so utterly uncommon to have these parts of the sentence at the very end.

Last but not least, note that all the above examples are "correct" (in the sense of acceptable, well-formed) by what is perceived as the "rules" of German language. This distinguishes them sharply from sentences like

*Zwiebeln hat geschält Else eine Wilde wie gestern.

*Hat wie eine Zwiebeln Else geschält gestern Wilde.

These make no sense at all, and even the most fancyful playwright would not be able to imagine a context where these could be used. Well, yes: a broken computer perhaps.

  • 2
    Another example for infinitive-first order, from German comedian Karl Valentin: Mögen hätt ich schon wollen, aber dürfen habe ich mich nicht getraut
    – RHa
    Nov 26 '17 at 20:09
  • @RHa - Indeed, that's a famous example. It is also an example that should be used in an answer on this question (about Perfekt mit Ersatzinfinitiv): german.stackexchange.com/questions/40348/… Nov 26 '17 at 20:15

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