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I was reading about Ordinalzahlen and the following sentence appeared:

Wenn wir über das Datum sprechen, etwas aufzählen oder über Reihenfolgen sprechen, nutzen wir Ordinalzahlen.

This is a relatively simple sentence to translate:

When we talk about the date, list something or talk about orders, we use Ordinal numbers.

However, the sentence structure confuses me.

I assume that the part

Wenn wir über das Datum sprechen, etwas aufzählen oder über Reihenfolgen sprechen

is a subordinate clause as it cannot make sense on its own (unless I'm otherwise wrong)

but why is the verb placed after this clause immediately:

nutzen wir Ordinalzahlen

and not

wir nutzen Ordinalzahlen

My interpretation was that the verb came second so the first element was the subordinate clause, followed by the verb and then the rest of the sentence, but I haven't found any information regarding this on the internet. I would like to be sure about it before I move on and advance my German further.

Why is nutzen placed before the pronoun "wir"?

  • 1
    This may not help, but it is the same as "..., dann nutzen wir...". – Carsten S Jan 22 at 9:56
  • Your interpretation is absolutely correct. – Volker Landgraf Jan 24 at 10:20
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This is a pretty unexceptional case. The matrix clause with "nutzen" is in verb-second position like most main clauses. Whether the first position is filled by a short adverb as in "Heute gehen wir in den Zoo" or by a long subclause makes no difference.

The point to remember is that English subjects go in front of their verbs unless special circumstances arise; German subject's don't. Instead, German main clauses put the verb second, and everything else follows from that.

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I think that the 'rule' is much simpler: "Wenn wir ..." is a Nebensatz, that's evident, the "wenn" tells us.

The major 'rule' that governs all, is: Im Hauptsatz steht das Verb immer auf Position 2. Now look:

Wenn wir über das Datum sprechen, etwas aufzählen oder über Reihenfolgen sprechen [= Position 1] , nutzen [= Position 2] wir ...

How come that you missed the most essential 'rule' of all essential 'rules'?

  • Replace the subclause with "Heute" and it becomes clearer: "Heute benutzen wir Ordinalzahlen". – Rudy Velthuis Jan 23 at 10:54

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