Knowing very little German I remember learning about how German word order is a bit like boxes where every "box" can be moved in different positions when and where appropriate.

One sentence that I was reading today was

Einen blauen Fleck bekommt man schnell

In this sentence I can see that the verb bekommt is clearly second, but the subject and the "direct object" or I like to say the thing that is affected have swapped places.

Is this allowed in German?

  • 2
    If you mean "Man bekommt schnell einen blauen Fleck." This kind of swapping is legit and allowed, yes. – πάντα ῥεῖ May 3 '19 at 22:17

The categories direct object and indirect object will only confuse you when it comes to German. Forget about them and think about accusative, dative, genitive objects.

Word order in declarative sentences in German pivots around the fact the conjugated verb always comes second. This becomes clear to English speakers as soon English topicalization is involved:

Im Sommer fahren wir ans Meer.

In summer we go to the seaside.

By this simple example without any object at all, you can already see an important difference between German and English word order. In English, the subject always precedes the conjugated verb, while in German, there is only ever one item in front of the conjugated verb.

German declarative sentences have their topic always in front. And this item may be anything. The subject. An object. An adverbial. A list. A whole clause. Whatever is in front of the conjugated verb is one single item. And the topic. That's the whole idea.


German is indeed pretty flexible with regards to word order - Subject and object(s) can swap places, the only condition that must be met is: The verb must be in position 2.

The following sentences are all valid German sentences (although the meaning is different depending on the overall position of the adverbial) - Not all possible permutations listed:

  • Man fängt am besten Elefanten mit Mausefallen
  • Elefanten fängt man am besten mit Mausefallen
  • Am besten fängt man Elefanten mit Mausefallen
  • Mit Mausefallen fängt man am besten Elefanten
  • Mit Mausefallen fängt man Elefanten am besten
  • ...

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