I am studying about the weather in german class and I wanted to translate the sentence:

In winter, it snows very often.

I thought it would be

Im Winter es schneit sehr oft

but for some reason the order of the verb and personal pronoun "it" is reversed so the actual translation I found is

Im Winter schneit es sehr oft.

even though using "es schneit" where the pronoun is before the verb, the meaning of this is "it's snowing"

Why is this the case?

  • 2
    "Im winter es schneit sehr oft" sounds like Yoda. – πάντα ῥεῖ Dec 4 at 21:07
  • 2
    @πάνταῥεῖ Das wäre „Schneien sehr oft im Winter, es tut.“ – Philipp Dec 5 at 20:29
  • @Philipp WasAuchImmer :P – πάντα ῥεῖ Dec 5 at 20:34
  • @πάνταῥεῖ ‘Im Winter es schneit sehr oft’ sounds like a typical English or French foreigner, not Yoda. – Jan 22 hours ago

In German statements the verb always must stand on position 2 of the sentence. So either the subject or an object or any other part of speech can stand before the verb, but not two or more of them.

The sentence has four parts of speech (here in no special order):

  • es
    Subjekt
    subject
  • im winter
    adverbiale Bestimmung
    adverbial determination
  • schneit
    Verb (Prädikat)
    verb
  • sehr oft
    Prädikativum
    predicative expression

The Verb must stand on position 2, so this sentences are correct (I put brackets around each part of speech, and I use bold letters for the verb:

(Es) (schneit) (im Winter) (sehr oft).
(Es) (schneit) (sehr oft) (im Winter).
(Im Winter) (schneit) (es) (sehr oft).
(Sehr oft) (schneit) (es) (im Winter).

There are also some more complicated rules for the positions of the other parts of speech, so not everything is allowed. But everything is forbidden that leads to an other position than 2 for the verb.

  • 1
    Regarding the position of es: Pronouns usually are placed at the beginning of a sentence, that's why es is at position 1 or - if that position is already taken - at position 3. – RHa Dec 6 at 8:31
  • There is an exception for the rule »verb always at position 2 in German statements«: Jokes. In jokes (only in jokes, in no other texts) statements often start with the verb (which normally is characteristic only for closed questions): »Kommt eine Blondine zum Arzt.« »Treffen sich ein Deutscher, ein Österreicher und ein Schweizer.« »Geht ein Musiker an einer Kneipe vorbei.« – Hubert Schölnast Dec 7 at 8:23
  • This is called an ellipsis - the first part of the sentence has been omitted. This also occurs in other forms of spoken language. – RHa Dec 7 at 9:10
  • 1
    @Rha: Worauf bezieht sich dein letzter Kommentar? Falls er sich auf die Witze bezieht: Ellipsen sind dadurch definiert, dass etwas weggelassen wird, z.B. das Prädikat in den folgenden drei Beispielen: »Alles Walzer!«, »Erst die Arbeit, dann das Vergnügen«, »Was nun?«. In den zitierten Sätzen aus den Witzen ist aber alles vorhanden was in eine Aussage gehört. Nur die Reihenfolge entspricht nicht der von Aussagesätzen, sondern der von Fragesätzen. – Hubert Schölnast Dec 7 at 9:24
  • ... Ersetze einfach den Punkt am Ende des Satzes durch ein Fragezeichen, und du hast eine grammatisch vollkommen korrekte Frage, bei der nichts fehlt. »Kommt eine Blondine zum Arzt?« »Treffen sich ein Deutscher, ein Österreicher und ein Schweizer?« »Geht ein Musiker an einer Kneipe vorbei?« Oder schiebe das Subjekt vor das Verb, und du hast einen vollständigen und grammatisch korrekten Aussagesatz: »Eine Blondine kommt zum Arzt.« »Ein Deutscher, ein Österreicher und ein Schweizer treffen sich.« »Ein Musiker geht an einer Kneipe vorbei.« – Hubert Schölnast Dec 7 at 9:25

You have discovered a basic difference between English and German.

In English declarative sentences, the verb is always preceded by the subject.

It snows often in the winter.
I can answer that question.

English also allows a constituent to be put in front of the subject. This is sometimes called topicalization (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topicalization).

In the winter it snows often.
That question I can answer.

In German declarative sentences, the verb is preceded by exactly one constituent. The constituent is not required to be the subject.

Es schneit oft im Winter.
Im Winter schneit es oft.
Oft schneit es im Winter.

Er hat gestern diesen Kuchen mitgebracht.
Gestern hat er diesen Kuchen mitgebracht.
Diesen Kuchen hat er gestern mitgebracht.

The position in front of the verb is known as the Vorfeld (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feldermodell_des_deutschen_Satzes).

German has no equivalent to English topicalization and, since any constituent may precede the verb, has no need for it.

  • One could argue the item in front of the verb in a German declarative sentence is the topic. As it gets most emphasis. – Janka Dec 4 at 21:54
  • I was using the term topicalization purely syntactically, as putting a constituent in front. – David Vogt Dec 4 at 23:13

My grandfather used to say:

When your sentence starts neither with the verb nor with the subject, swap the verb and the subject

Example:

In winter, it snows very often.

This sentence starts neither with a verb nor with a subject. Therefore in German verb and subject shall be swapped so that the sentence becomes:

In winter, snows it very often

in German

Im Winter schneit es sehr oft.

So the wisdom I quoted refers to the fact that standardwise in German its subject + verb + sth. else, however when you want to start a sentence with something else than subject/verb swap subject and verb.

Other Example:

[Das Wetter] [ist] [so schön.] // [subject] [verb] [adjective] (the weather is so nice)

but

[Nicht immer] [ist] [das Wetter] [so schön.] (not always is the weather so nice)

The sentence changed so that it begins with Nicht Immer which is neither a verb nor a subject, therefore we had to swap verb and subject.

There's a fallacy in respectively your question and description, Bob, namely: "the order of the verb and personal pronoun "it" is reversed".

Nothing is being reversed. In a declarative sentence, the verb is always on position 2. It stands there like a rock. It's other elements that can wander around - to a certain extent. Hubert Schölnast has given you examples. By the way, forget about that grandfather's "swapping". That's something that causes confusion rather than adding clarity.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.