It's said in phonetic books that some word classes are stressed (i.e. lexical words: nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs) and some are not (particles, conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, auxiliary verbs...). It's also said that Germans speak in intonational phrases, and each intonational phrase has one nucleus and the nucleus occurs normally on the last lexical word in an intonational phrase, unless that word is a verb. In the following examples the stress occurs on 'Deutschland' in both sentences:

  • Er schreibt ein Buch über Deutschland.

  • Er hat ein Buch über Deutschland geschrieben.

But where would the stress naturally occur in case we do not have a last lexical word or that the last lexical word is a verb? Examples:

  • Sie hat ihn vergessen.

  • Sie sah um sich.

  • Es ist recht still um ihn geworden.

  • Darum habe ich nicht schreiben können.

P.S. Of course we can stress any word at all in any sentence contrastively to point it out, but my question is all about natural speaking.

  • My instict tells me that the stress on: vergessen, sah, still, schreiben accordingly?
    – user34137
    Sep 6 '18 at 4:39

You book on standard intonation is correct. The usual stress is put on the beginning of the last lexeme in a sentence or a subordinate clause. The emphasis may be put on another lexeme in case the logic of context demands this.

Because a lexeme is not a word but a logical unit we have to cut down a sentence to these units rather than to single words. For your examples this would then render as (units in bold, stress indicated by '):

  • Er schreibt ein Buch über 'Deutschland.

  • Sie hat ihn ver'gessen.

  • Sie sah 'um sich.

  • Es ist recht 'still um ihn geworden.

  • Darum habe ich nicht 'schreiben können.

  • Thanks a lot. Usually only one word ist particularly stressed, and we stress the stressed syllable in this word. Why did you choose 'um' but not 'sich' Or why 'still' instead of 'geworden'. Is this because that 'sich' and 'geworden' do not have a meaning of their own in these sentences and thus not considered lexemes?
    – user34137
    Sep 6 '18 at 8:36
  • 1
    @Abdullah entirely correct... um sich (sehen) is one unit, and still werden is the unit that counts (um ihn is just for further precision but ihn may be stressed if context puts the emphasis on him - um usually will not be stressed here but in other sentences it may also occur, see other example).
    – Takkat
    Sep 6 '18 at 8:52

Your book about phonetics gave you good rules of thumb, but there is one more rule, that may overrule the others: context.

You stress words if you want to put the focus of perception on it. In other words: You stress those words that are important.

I take your first sentence as example:

  • Erika und Martin hatten einen gemeinsamen Termin bei dem Notar, aber sie hat ihn vergessen, daher kam der Vertrag nicht zustande.

    Erika and Martin had an appointment together with the notary, but she has forgotten it, so the contract was not concluded.

    Here it was important to highlight, that it was her (not him) who forgot the appointment, so »sie« has to be stressed.

  • Alina hat nur ihr Meerschweinchen mitgebracht, weil Anna es so gern sehen wollte. Ihrem Bruder Leon hatte Alina versprochen, auch ihren Tretroller mitzunehmen, aber das hat sie nicht. Sie hat ihn vergessen und nur an Anna gedacht.

    Alina just brought her piggy because Anna wanted to see it so much. Alina had promised her brother Leon to take her scooter, but she did not. She has forgotten him and thought only of Anna.

    Alina had to think about Anna and Leon. But she thought only about Anna. So the author wants to highlight, that Alina forgot him (not her).

  • Es gehörte zu den Pflichten von Roswitha, den Beamer mitzubringen, was sie für gewöhnlich auch tat. Aber heute nicht. Sie hat ihn vergessen.

    It was Roswitha's duty to bring the projector, which she usually did. But not today. She has forgotten it.

    Here the author wants to highlight, that she has fogotten (not brought) something.
    (If a word has more than one syllable, you only stress the stressed syllable more. You don't stress the whole word.)

Other sentences:

  • Er schreibt ein Buch über Deutschland.

    Georg Hanse, Maria Klinger und Doris Klein schrieben jeweils einen kurzen Aufsatz über Deutschland. Nicht so Martin Gruber. Er schreibt ein Buch über Deutschland.

    Georg Hanse, Maria Klinger and Doris Klein each wrote a short essay about Germany. Not so Martin Gruber. He writes a book about Germany.

    Here you want to highlight, that is wasn't just an essay, but a book.

  • Er hat ein Buch über Deutschland geschrieben.

    Maria und Erwin Hofstätter sind mehrere Jahre lang durch Deutschland gereist. Sie hat ihre Erlebnisse in Bildern festhalten. Er hat ein Buch über Deutschland geschrieben.

    Maria and Erwin Hofstätter traveled through Germany for several years. She captured her experiences in pictures. He has written a book about Germany.

    Here you want to highlight, that it was him (not her) who wrote the book.

  • Er hat ein Buch über Deutschland geschrieben.

    Martha und Rudolf Schuster haben insgesamt vier Bücher über Deutschland herausgebracht. Er hat ein Buch über Deutschland geschrieben. Sie hat die übrigen drei verfasst.

    Martha and Rudolf Schuster have published a total of four books about Germany. He has written one book about Germany. She wrote the remaining three.

    Here the focus is in the number of books.


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