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I was studying some of Bach's chorals and I came across this title:

Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh' darein

According to the grammar rule: after the name, follows the verb, and then everything else, i.e. it should be:

Ach Gott, sieh' vom Himmel darein

What is the difference? Is there something else I'm not getting here?

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    Bachs choral texts are far from todays German - see this question - and have to be considered as verses where word order is handled quite freely. No, there is no difference in meaning.
    – guidot
    Feb 6, 2020 at 8:57

3 Answers 3

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First, the address ach Gott is not part of the sentence. This can easily be seen from the following examples, where an address has been prepended to the major sentence types of German.

Hans, hast du einen Augenblick Zeit? (yes-no question)
Hans, wann hast du denn Zeit? (wh-question)
Hans, ich wollte dich etwas fragen. (declarative sentence)

Second, although the imperative is commonly taught, at least to beginners, to have the verb in first position, German actually allows the verb to be in second position in imperatives as well.

Komm jetzt her! (V1)
Jetzt komm her! (V2)

Sieh' being the imperative of sehen and ach Gott being an address, the sentence in question is an ordinary imperative with the verb in second position.

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    "German actually allows the verb to be in second position in imperatives as well." And poetry uses it to the full - especially if it's a song text, which additionally has to comply with music.
    – Ben A.
    Feb 6, 2020 at 12:30
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The only thing you "are not getting here" is the commented fact that this sentence is part of verses. A text that has to fit into a greater frame with contraints on rhythm and lenght and pronounciation.

That means, the author is quite free in arranging & writing words and might stick less to grammar & spelling - only so much that the text can be understood by (targeted) audience. (sometimes authors don't care).

Second part might come with linked question: nowadays it is considered old German.

In conclusion: This sentence is just fine for its purpose.

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The phrase vom Himmel is an adjunct/adverbial phrase, specifying a location in this case. These are generally flexible with regards to their position in the sentence, and don't affect the relationship between subject/verb/object.

David's answer shows another example, with jetzt being an adverb of time. You could combine the two (and more!) to come up with something like

Ach Gott, vom Himmel jetzt gütlich sieh' auf uns herab!

It is also true that this sounds a bit antiquated and 'poetic', but there is nothing wrong with it from a grammatical perspective.

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  • This is an interesting point. I would argue that despite their flexibility in declarative clauses, PP adjuncts are not well-fomed in a preverbal slot prefacing an imperative regardless of their semantics.
    – Nico
    Feb 6, 2020 at 16:43
  • @Nico So you would argue Jetzt komm' her! is not grammatically correct? Feb 6, 2020 at 17:07
  • Ah, sorry, misread your comment there. How about Im Dunkeln fahr' aber nicht ohne Licht! (I'd say Zu Hause bleibst du heute is not an imperative but a declarative (though pragmatically imperative)). Feb 6, 2020 at 17:14
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    The verb form bleibst is not an imperative, but 2nd Sg -- that would be bleib(e), as in Bleib' heute zuhause. I agree that Zu Hause bleib' heute sounds weird, but I wouldn't go as far as calling it ungrammatical. Feb 6, 2020 at 17:38
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    Sorry, you are right. I merged the illocutionary force with the morphological encoding. I was multitasking... But nevertheless it would be interesting to pursue the issue as for" the semantics of the PPs that are acceptable with imperatives in a preposed slot". Maybe these PPs are mainly temporal ones ...?
    – Nico
    Feb 6, 2020 at 18:23

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