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I have a little confusion about how changing the usual/normal/common word order in a sentence would affect its meaning. My grammar book says Elements which are more heavily stressed and convey important new information tend to follow elements which are less stressed as well as The element nearest the end of the bracket is typically the most important piece of new information and typically carries the heaviest stress. However my teacher has once said that if we want to emphasize an element and give it more attention as important information, we have to assign it to be the first element in the sentence. Both arguments seem plausible, and if I want to compare this to Arabic, I would go with my teacher's opinion. But I don't think my grammar book is wrong and here seems to be a misunderstanding which I hope you can clarify.

  1. Das Konzert findet heute Abend im Rathaus statt.

  2. Heute Abend findet ein Konzert im Rathaus statt.

  3. Im Rathaus findet heute Abend ein Konzert statt.

As an example, in my second sentence, what should I understand?

  1. The concert was yesterday evening (new important information, not in the afternoon, not two days ago..)

or

  1. The concert was in the town hall (new important information, not in the town theater, not in some other place)
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As a general rule, the first item in a clause gets most emphasis, followed by the last item of a clause.

Ein Konzert findet heute Abend im Rathaus statt.

Ein Konzert findet im Rathaus heute Abend statt.

Heute Abend findet ein Konzert im Rathaus statt.

Heute Abend findet im Rathaus ein Konzert statt.

Im Rathaus findet heute Abend ein Konzert statt.

Im Rathaus findet ein Konzert heute Abend statt.

(For emphasis, the separable part of the verb counts to its core at V2.)

That item next to the end of the bracket rule is about the emphasis order of the items between findet and statt. The last one in the bracket wins.

This rule comes in handy when brackets are nested:

Heute Abend findet im Rathaus nach einer Rede des Bürgermeisters ein Konzert statt.

Heute Abend findet nach einer Rede des Bürgermeisters im Rathaus ein Konzert statt.

  • Thank you very much for the beautiful answer, that clears the missunderstanding up. Your analysis is logical. I always wondered why Germans use such constructions like 'Das verstehe ich nicht' instead of 'Ich verstehe das nicht'. I agree totally with your explanation and that is how we in Arabic do as well. – user34137 Sep 8 '18 at 21:15
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    When studying languages, I always wondered how many patterns I know showed up everywhere. It's just English which is totally oddball with its strict rules (no, there's only one way to do it.) – Janka Sep 8 '18 at 21:25
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Unfortunately, it's not so easy to find a simple rule, because in spoken language you can put emphasis on each part of the sentence. Without context you can interpret a lot of things into it.

1) Das Konzert findet heute Abend im Rathaus statt. I would read this as: The concert normally is in the opera, but this eve in the townhall.

2) Heute Abend findet ein Konzert im Rathaus statt. I would read this as: Normally, there are debates in the townhall, but this eve there' a concert. Anyhow, I could also read it as in 1).

3) Im Rathaus findet heute Abend ein Konzert statt. I would read this as: There is nothing special, there is a concert this eve in the townhall.

  • @Herald Lichtenstein Thank you a lot. I completely agree with you that context plays a major rule, not to mention that in spoken language, using the stress on some words could dramatically change the meaning. Your reading is extremely helpful to me in that you as a native speaker do not find a big difference in meaning out of the context. So, maybe I as well should not be concerned a lot to such subtle differences in meaning. – user34137 Sep 8 '18 at 21:08
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The meaning doesn't change when you mix up the order in the sentence. This is also supported by the grammatical cases.
The only thing you can change by changing the order is the emphasis on a certain part of the sentence, which is normally the first part. Why you would emphasize a part of the sentence usually becomes clear with the context.

It is a difference though if you use "ein Konzert" or "das Konzert". If you say "das Konzert" then you are speaking about a particular concert, not just any.

  • Thank you. Of course the original factual meaning does not change, only the emphasis. I totally agree with you that the first element gets the most emphasis. – user34137 Sep 8 '18 at 21:18

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