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This phrase was taken from the fiction book called "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time". I'm trying to read the German version of the book ("Supergute Tage oder Die sonderbare Welt des Christopher Boone"). In the chapter 11 there's this first phrase:

"Dann kam die Polizei."

I'm looking for the subject. Is there a subject in this phrase? Would "Die Polizei" be the object? What is the structure here? I'm a very beginner in German.

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  • Welcome to this site! The title of your question indicates you are asking about dann, while the body asks about die Polizei. Would you please edit your question and clarify, what exactly you want to know? This might help us to help you :) – Arsak Oct 24 '19 at 11:31
  • Speaking about the title: dann isn't a conjunction, but an adverb. There's a conjunction denn, though. – DonHolgo Oct 24 '19 at 13:12
  • @Dimitri: If the verb is kommen, do you really expect an object? – DonHolgo Oct 24 '19 at 13:13
  • Sorry guys! I didn't express myself very well! The questions are: 1 - Is "Die Polizei" the subject or the object? 2 - Are "Kam Die Polizei" and "Die Polizei kam" the same thing? Is there some rule here for this word order? 3 - Do i need a subject after "dann" and before a verb (kam)? Ex dann Die Polizei (subject) kam (verb) – Dimitri Oct 24 '19 at 13:37
  • I don't expect an object. Thanks @DonHolgo! – Dimitri Oct 24 '19 at 13:50
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There is, the subject is die Polizei.

In German, the subject in declarative sentences is often found in the position to the left of the finite verb (pre-field): Die Polizei kam. Sie spricht Deutsch. These are the sentence structures that one would typically encounter in a beginners' class.

However, that is not a necessity (there are studies suggesting this is only true in about 50% of the cases). Many connectors can take this pre-field position as well, the reason typically being that this allows them to more clearly express the relation of the internal ("the statement that follows") to the external connect ("the previous statement"). Take your example sentence: Clearly dann directly refers to a previous statement. There must be some context, presumably some sequence of events (First x happened. Dann kam die Polizei.). On a purely intuitive level, you would perhaps even expect in such a sequence of events that the dann wants to be as close as possible to the preceding event, just to better serve its "structuring" function. And, indeed, dann in this sequencing function is mostly found in the pre-field. (Die Polizei kam dann would be fine in terms of grammar, but for the foregoing reasons, speakers would clearly prefer the other version.)

With dann in the pre-field, you immediately know that die Polizei must move somewhere to the right of the finite verb. There's just no other place to go, you can't squeeze it in between the dann and the finite verb. (This sounds technical but in practice it will become intuitive at some point.)

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  • Thank you @johnl – Dimitri Oct 24 '19 at 13:53
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In the sentence

Dann kam die Polizei.

die Polizei is the subject. You can rearrange the sentence like this:

Die Polizei kam [dann].

It's just the other way because dann refers to something that happened before and is obviously mentioned just before that phrase.

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  • Interesting. So... in this case the word order doesn't matter. Is it correct? – Dimitri Oct 24 '19 at 13:39
  • Thanks @Olafant – Dimitri Oct 24 '19 at 13:52
  • @Dimitri You wouldn't say Die Polizei kam dann. . Even though it's not wrong nobody would say or write that. – Olafant Oct 24 '19 at 14:05
  • Erst kam die Feuerwehr. Die Polizei kam dann. – This focuses on the fact something about die Polizei is different than about die Feuerwehr. Die Polizei is the topic of the second sentence. This isn't that unusual. – Janka Oct 24 '19 at 18:27

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