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1. Einmal hat sie mich zum Kaffee eingeladen.
2. Plötzlich guckten mich alle an.

Can you explain why the nominatives in both sentences have changed positions? "Sie" came just after the verb "hat" in Sentence number 1, while "alle" did not come after the verb "guckten" in sentence number 2.

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German does not have fixed positions for subjects and objects. Nevertheless, there are some regularities that can be observed as far as neutral word order is concerned. An overview is given by canoo here.

The word order in your first sentence can be explained by the fact that the subject is a personal pronoun. These often appear immediately to the right of the fronted finite verb, with subjects preceding accusative objects preceding dative objects.

In the second sentence, alle behaves just like a noun and appears to the right of the personal pronoun. Interestingly, the neutral order for nouns (and pronouns that are not personal or reflexive pronouns) is subjects before dative objects before accusative objects.

A more complete exposition is given by the page I linked. Also, don't forget that word orders contradicting these regularities are nearly always possible (given the right circumstances). Your second sentence could be rewritten as Plötzlich guckten alle mich an just fine.

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The neutral word order for subject and objects of the Mittelfeld is

… nominative pronoun – accusative pronoun – dative pronoun – nominative noun – dative noun – accusative noun …

As long as there aren't ambiguities, you may deviate from that neutral order to create special emphasis.

Einmal hat sie mich zum Kaffee eingeladen. (neutral)

Einmal hat mich sie zum Kaffee eingeladen. (Yes, that person!)

Plötzlich guckten mich alle an. (neutral)

Plötzlich guckten alle mich an. (Yes, me!)

  • But the second sentence sounds pretty weird, even if it is meant to stress sie. I don't think I would change the word order here. – Rudy Velthuis Apr 15 at 19:05
  • Yes. But this is mostly because of the simple example. A real sentence would have modal particles dropped in: Einmal hat mich dann doch sie zum Kaffee eingeladen. – Janka Apr 15 at 19:43
  • even then, I would say (write): "Einmal hat sie mich dann doch zum Kaffee eingeladen". I would use a second sentence to stress that it was her who invited me, or when speaking, I would use intonation. – Rudy Velthuis Apr 15 at 19:45
  • But that means a different thing. The item dann doch sie is different from mich dann doch. – Janka Apr 15 at 19:46
  • no, the stress is still on sie: "sie mich dann doch" == "mich dann doch sie" – Rudy Velthuis Apr 15 at 19:51

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