I am wondering if there is any difference between these two sentences:

Kannst du vielleicht dann meine Mutter anrufen?


Vielleicht kannst du dann meine Mutter anrufen?

I've already read --> https://www.thoughtco.com/german-sentences-in-the-right-order-4068769 but didn't find satisfying answer.

For me the most natural form is the first one, as verb is at the first place (this is a question), but for whatever reason in the course I'm doing right now (babbel) the second one is considered as valid.

3 Answers 3


Both of your versions are good and correct, but this version is what I would prefer:

Kannst du dann vielleicht meine Mutter anrufen?

German word order is much more flexible than English word order. The reason is, that in German grammatical functions often are not marked by the position of a part of speech in a sentence, but by the declension.

Der Jäger erschießt den Hasen.
Den Hasen erschießt der Jäger.

Both sentences translate to English "The hunter shoots the rabbit." But in the German sentence you can see, that only "der Jäger" is in nominative case, while "den Hasen" is not, so only "der Jäger" can be the subject who pulls the trigger and therefore "den Hasen" only can be the object that gets killed, and this is independent from the position within the sentence.

If you would do that in English, you would get "The rabbit shoots the hunter", but now you have nothing to identify the hunter as the one who pulls the trigger. Only the position tells you who is who, and when in an English sentence the rabbits appears before the hunter, then the hunter will die, so you can't do this in English.

In German sentences you find this flexible word order also when declension doesn't help to identify the grammatical function, but sometimes it's just the kind of the part of speech itself, that tells you what's its function.

The rules that tell you, what is best practice, what is allowed and accepted, what is allowed but bad style and what is forbidden are complicated, and the average German native speaker is not able to phrase this rules. This is like you would try to explain how you move your legs when you walk. You can do it, but you can't explain.

Resources like the site you linked are helpful. But they are as helpful as a written instruction of how to move your legs. You will only learn if you do it. This means: Use the language. Watch German movies, listen to German podcasts, speak German and write German. You could start with asking your next question here on German Stackexchange in German language.


Emphasis, time, manner

This is mostly my native intuition, based on your linked article. Remember, this is a rhetorical question, it is a veiled requirement. Depending on context and spoken stress, your partner may interpret each variant (and react to it) differently!
Using the 'emphasis' pattern, another valid variant is

Dann kannst du vielleicht meine Mutter anrufen?

If you do not use emphasis, the natural german form should be:

Kannst du dann vielleicht meine Mutter anrufen?

'Dann' specifies time, 'vielleicht' is manner. Hope this helps to clarify.


While I don't disagree with @HubertSchölnast above, in spirit, I certainly would never expect the former example vielleicht-dann in any of the variants that I am familiar with. It is not so much true that word order is flexible, but rather variable. It's possible that other dialects that I am not familiar with do allow such word order, but it is generally the case that grown dialects settle on one fixed collocation for one meaning. That's maybe similar to the rigid ordrr of adjectives in English (big green dragon vs ?green big dragon).

My understanding of Kannst du dann vielleicht X-en is explained easily. Dann is an adverb of place and time and directs the addressed subject, equivalent to a dative pronoun du mir. Whereas vielleicht is adverbial and modifies the verb, putting the temporal aspect into perspective.

The opposite, vielleicht intervening between du and dann is thinkable, more so if vielleicht-mal is current, where mal is similarly a prepositional adverb.

Along the same line of reasoning, I would see the accusative object earlier in the clause: kannst du dann meine Mutter ...; however, shifting vielleicht that far back into th clause is suboptimal, insofar my mother is not in question. The accusative could appear even earlier, kanst du meine Mutter dann vielleicht ....

However, it's easiest to use vielleicht as a sentence adverb. The phrases du, dann, meine Mutter then appear in order of certainty, correlated with falling tone. The intonation may differ, of course, and the tone can be forced to be rising-up through-out. The requirement for raising tone in a question is maintained, nevertheless, if it peaks with du, understanding du dann VP as a joined constituent. This also means that I for one might understand mutteranrufen as a compound verb, not to be separate it. That's just an example, as other modes of intonation do exist, that loose a lot--and thus can hardly be explained--in writing--to the point that it is difficult to tell what you are really asking about.

I mean: you maybe could expose 'vielleicht' like that.

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