I encountered the following texts in my reading:

Meistens kommen pro Folge nur zwei Schauspieler vor.

Oft spielen hier sehr bekannte deutsche Schauspieler mit.

In both of these sentences something is between the verb and the subject, in the first it is a time element and in the second it is a position or place element. Dartmouth explains German word order such like these would appear to be wrong (https://www.dartmouth.edu/~deutsch/Grammatik/WordOrder/WordOrder.html). Why were these sentences written with this order?

  • 2
    These sentences are correct. Nothing dictates the subject to follow the verb in the first place anyway Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 15:59
  • 1
    Browsing through your link, I couldn't see it stated directly, so: German only has strict rules for the position of verbs. Everything else is flexible, but there's a "natural" word order (with complicated rules). When you deviate from that word order, you emphasize parts of the sentence, sometimes unnaturally so.
    – dirkt
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 17:00
  • In the given link under the section titled, "The position of the Nominative subject", it is stated, "But the speaker always has the option of emphasizing some other element of the sentence (except for the verb) by putting it in the first position. In that case, the subject follows the verb (in third position)". I take it this rule is not correct, then.
    – user40290
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 17:54
  • 1
    There are very few word order rules in German. Most rules are only tendencies.
    – Janka
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 19:48

2 Answers 2


Maybe you should look at the question a bit differently. The elements your question is concerned with are all in the mid-field of their respective sentences (the mid-field is the part enclosed in square brackets):1

  • Meistens kommen [pro Folge nur zwei Schauspieler] vor. (The verb is vorkommen.)
  • Oft spielen [hier sehr bekannte deutsche Schauspieler] mit. (The verb is mitspielen.)

So, in essence, you are asking why the subject is at the end of the mid-field rather than at the beginning. That is a fair question. Since your second example is a bit ambiguous (see below), I'll focus on the first.

There is no fixed position for the subject within the mid-field. However, under the principles governing the unmarked order of the mid-field, the subject (if present) usually comes quite early. That is largely because the subject comes before other nominal complements and because the very first position within the mid-field (which might be empty, though) is reserved for non-nominal complements (including a pronominal subject) or a nominal subject. In practice, this is also frequently where you find it. But there is no rule saying that it must be the first element of the mid-field.

Your example contains one slight difficulty, which is the focus particle nur. Focus particles have long been known for their in some way rather restricted syntagmatic behaviour. The basic pattern - not completely without exceptions - is that unstressed focus particles in the mid-field immediately precede their domain if that domain is realised in the mid-field as well (see Sudhoff 2010:60). The domain here is the nominal phrase zwei Schauspieler, hence we should expect to find nur zwei Schauspieler. (Unlike in English: only two actors / two actors only.)

There is quite some liberty in positioning adverbials like pro Folge. A guiding principle is that items that are closer functionally or cognitively tend to be placed closer in the linguistic code (adjacency principle). Accordingly, if their scope is broad, supplements tend to be farther to the left of the mid-field; if their scope is narrower, they tend to be farther to the right. Here, placing pro Folge ahead of nur zwei Schauspieler underscores that it refers to/modifies the whole sentence; a position to the right would tend to narrow the scope down to the verbal expression. (This is not particularly important in the case of pro Folge. I would have difficulty even identifying a preferred order here.)

Your second example is ambiguous as hier may or may not be part of the nominal phrase. This has implications for any positional analysis since you cannot "rip apart" nominal phrases.

1 You write that in your examples there are certain elements "between the verb and the subject". That is not entirely correct as the vor and mit are part of the verb; the verbs are used in Distanzstellung ("distance position"), with the finite part before and the infinite part after the mid-field.


Dartmouth explains German word order such like these would appear to be wrong

No they aren't. Your resource is probably wrong about that, or you misunderstood.

You could rephrase these sentences as well as

Pro Folge kommen meistens nur zwei Schauspieler vor.
Meistens kommen nur zwei Schauspieler pro Folge vor.


Sehr bekannte deutsche Schauspieler spielen hier oft mit.
Hier spielen sehr bekannte deutsche Schauspieler oft mit.

Does that meet your expectations of word order better?

German language is quite flexible about putting correct word orders. General rules don't apply well with it.

  • Yes, those sentences have the word order I would expect. But I gather that I cannot, in fact, rely upon any word order rule at all, and simply must look at how the meaning is effected by the word order. That appears to be the most useful strategy with respect to this question.
    – user40290
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 18:01
  • @anonymous As mentioned there's no general rule. Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 18:17
  • 1
    The subject can appear at the end of the sentence: Hier brüten im Sommer oft Vögel. This is a perfectly valid word order.
    – RHa
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 19:24

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