4

Sentences like "object verb subject" are legal in German. But in this case I'm slightly confused if it's applicable to 'sein'.

Also, it's not clear if I can emphasise something by changing word order this way.

1
  • 6
    Nett is not an object.
    – c.p.
    Jan 5 '18 at 7:08
9

The sentence sounds good, especially in a context where the 'nett' is to be emphasized. 'Nett' is often needed when no other positive trait comes to mind. It seems to be a ironic response to a reckless use of the word 'nett'. E.g.

Person A: Deine Schwiegermutter ist doch so nett.
Person B: Nett ist jede kleine Katze.

Person B is trying to express that her mother-in-law looks only nice to strangers.

5

On a more theoretical note, I'd just point out, just for the sake of clarification, that there is indeed no object in your sentence, but a subject predicative (nett), as usual with copula verbs.

[Jede kleine Katze] ist [nett]

German is more flexible than many other languages, including English, with the order of sentence constituents. One key rule to obey is that only exactly one phrase is allowed in the position ahead of the finite verb (pre-field). So you couldn't say

*[Jede kleine Katze] [nett] ist. / *[Nett] [jede kleine Katze] ist.

However, you can switch around [jede kleine Klatze] and [nett]. The result, though, is somewhat unusual, to the extent that listeners would be rather puzzled to hear you say

[Nett] ist [jede kleine Katze]

as a declarative statement without further context. It's non-trivial to see why that is the case as there is no "hard" reason why it would necessarily be wrong. However, note the following two observations:

  1. The subject tends to be placed ahead of all complements (Agensgefälle).
  2. In sentences involving a predicative and a predicand, we usually place the predicand ahead of the predicative.

Both of these "rules" dictate that [Jede kleine Katze] rather than [nett] should occupy the pre-field in your example. Similarly (predicative in curly brackets, predicand in italics): Ich bin {ein Berliner}. Er arbeitet {als Bäcker}. Ich glaube, dass er {als Bäcker} arbeitet. Arbeitet er {als Bäcker}?

But, as often the case, there might be reasons why we might prefer your suggested order over the common one. For instance, if you stress "Nett" and "jede" (secondary stress), people would understand you to imply that there's nothing unusual about a cat being nice (and they would wait for context explaining what sets the cat you are talking about apart). E.g.:

Nett ist jede kleine Katze - aber so zuverlässig (ist) nur meine.

All small cats are nice - but only mine is so reliable.

Here, you stress the nett - to contrast it with zuverlässig - not only with your voice, but also by dragging it into the pre-field for added emphasis.

4

It is correct that German can play (within rules) with the word order of sentences. From that point of view your sentence is correct.

Keep in mind that moving about sentence components from their classical place needs to mean something. Otherwise your sentence will sound weird. The listener will assume that you intend to say something by deviating from classical [SPO] word order, and a native speaker would only deviate from that if he would indeed want to put some stress on the sentence parts he moved about to express something.

In case you simply want to say that kittens are nice, you would use standard word order:

Kleine Kätzchen sind nett

Expressing the exact same fact with changed word order as in

Nett sind kleine Kätzchen

would earn you some raised eyebrows and maybe a "But?".

In case you want to say something like

Nett? Nett sind kleine Kätzchen, kleine Hunde und kleine Hamster. Kleine Haie sind eher nicht so nett.

Because someone found sharkies "nice" and you don't. The change of word order expresses your "but".

The flexibility of the German word order does offer some means to express opinions and stress certain facts. It's not an excuse for building sloppy sentences.

0

This is the big advantage, if a language has grammar cases - it's always clear what is object and subject, and you can change the word order as you want. This is mainly used to set accents on words. In your example the speaker wants to talk about what "Nett" is, and that is why the sentence starts with it. This language feature is a cool thing and we love to use it.

Also, "nett sein" is something one does, and "nett" is something one is. So the sentence is OK without "sein".

2
  • 1
    Correct in principle but not applicable to the sentence in question since there are no meaning-distinguishing cases (indeed, the only case present is nominative). And I’m not sure what is supposed to be correct about the sentence without sein — ‘Nett jede kleine Katze’?
    – Jan
    Jan 5 '18 at 15:05
  • "Nett sein kann jede kleine Katze". So hatte ich das mit dem sein verstanden.
    – äüö
    Jan 5 '18 at 20:09
0

English is an exception within the group of germanic languages. English is a SVO-language, which means, that Subject, Verb and Object(s) have to appear in this particular order within a sentence (with some rare exception, which is normal for almost all grammatical rules).

SVO word order
Subject, Verb and Object(s) must appear in exactly this order within a statement that is a main clause.

All other germanic languages (Dutch, Swedish, Afrikaans, Yiddish, ...) are V2-languages, and German is one of them. The term "V2" just means:

V2 word order
The Verb must be the 2nd part of speech in a statement that is a main clause.

As you might notice, SVO is a subset of V2, wich means, that SVO is a valid word order in German too (because it is valid in all germanic languages), and in fact SVO is even the most common word order in German, but: Many other word orders are allowed too in all germanic languages except English.

So in German, you literally can put anything onto the first position of a statement that is a main clause, except the verb. Just the word order of the parts behind the verb can be a little bit tricky, if there is more than just one part of speech.

Note, that there are also other types of sentences, like questions (»Schläfst du?«) and commands (»Reden Sie!«), where other rules apply. Also relative clauses and subclauses have their own rules.

As already implied, »Verb on position 2« is not the only rule about German word order. Not everything is allowed, especially not behind the verb. To tell apart correct and wrong word orders, a good way is to think of V2 as transformed SOV word order:

SOV is the word order of dependent clauses in German:

Ich esse Äpfel, weil ich Äpfel mag.
I eat apples, because I apples like. (in German word order)
I eat apples, because I like apples. (SVO order in English for main clause as well as for dependent clause)

You can transform this SOV-order into V2 in two steps:

Step 1:
Move the finite verb from the last position to the first position:

Mag ich Äpfel.

What you have now is the typical word order of closed questions in German. (A question is closed, when you expect the answers "yes" or "no". It is open, when full sentences are expected as answers.)

Mag ich Äpfel?
Like I apples? (in German word order)
Do I like apples? (again a version of SVO in English, just with an auxiliary verb before the subject)

Step 2:
Chose any part of speech, that stands somewhere behind the verb, and move it onto position 1:

Either move the subject:

Ich mag Äpfel.
I like apples. (SVO is an allowed word order in German)

Or move (one of) the object(s):

Äpfel mag ich.
Apples like I. (in another valid German word order)
I like apples. (only SVO is allowed in English)


So, with this knowledge in mind, lets look closer to your sentence.

  • Subject (who is nice?): jede kleine Katze (every little cat)
  • Verb: ist; a form of sein (is; a form of to be)
  • "Object": nett (nice)

Well, the adjective nett (nice) is not really an object (that's why I put this term in quotes). It is a predicative expression. But here, when talking just about word order, without focusing on any other grammatical details, we count everything as an object, that is neither the verb nor the subject.

The SOV-order of this sentence is:

Jede kleine Katze nett ist.

You find this order in dependent clauses:

I liebe Katzen, weil jede kleine Katze nett ist.
I like cats, because every little cat nice is. (German word order)
I like cats, because every little cat is nice. (SVO in English)

Step 1: Move the verb from the last position to the first position.

Ist jede kleine Katze nett.

You find this word order in closed questions:

Ist jede kleine Katze nett?
Is every little cat nice? (This is one of the exceptions, where also in English an order works that is not SVO) (VSO)

Step 2: Chose one part of speech from behind the verb and move it to position 1.

You have two parts of speech standing behind the verb: The subject »jede kleine Katze« and the "object" (predicative expression) »nett«. So you have two possibilities to build a correct German statement:

2a. Move the subject:

Jede kleine Katze ist nett.
Every little cat is nice. (SVO is valid in German and English)

2b. Move the "object":

Nett ist jede kleine Katze.
Nice is every little cat. (a valid German word order)
Every little cat is nice. (Nothing else allowed in English but SVO)

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