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I am learning German at the Goethe Institut, and in one of their questions they make the following statement:

Vielleicht sind Sie noch nie Ski gefahren, wollen es aber im nächsten Winter lernen

"Vielleicht" translates to the adverb "perhaps". I wanted to know when is it that you start a sentence with an adverb, and when/why/how does this also change the word order of the sentence?

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    I think, more useful than searching for a theoretical, abstract explanation,would be studying (and memorizing) examples of well-formed sentences (in your case: with an adverb in front). Thus you will develop a feeling for such sentences. – Christian Geiselmann Apr 28 at 15:52
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    How does it change the word order compared to what? Not starting with an adverb? You swap the adverb with something else. – David Vogt Apr 28 at 19:21
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There are no constraints regarding the fronting of adverbs in German. What you need to bear in mind is that the verb must succeed the adverb. To be more precise, there are some adverbs that tend to occur in first place, such as "vielleicht", and others that can also figure in another slot, such as "leider" ('unfortunately), as in "leider bist du zu spät" ('unfortunately you are too late") or "du bist leider zu spät". Both "vielleicht" and "leider" are so called "sentence adverbs" that express the speaker's attitude towards the described event. In contrast, if you are referring to adverbs altogether, a more fine-grained distinction and categorisation would be required. For example, adverbs of manner such as "schnell" ('quickly') would only occupy a sentence-initial slot for purposes of emphasis: "schnell rannte er weg" (literally 'quickly he ran away'). In all these cases, however, the adverb must be followed by the verb.

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  • Thank you, Nico your answer was very helpful, however I have two follow-up questions, firstly isn't it always the case the verb must be the second word in a sentence in a german sentence, secondly are there alternative gramatically correct wordings of the sentence "Vielleicht sind Sie noch nie Ski gefahren, wollen es aber im nächsten Winter lernen", and if so what are they (you don't have to give all the examples if there are too many). – Winner 28 Apr 28 at 15:46
  • @Winner28 Could you please rephrase and point out more clearly what you are looking for? To me, you are mixing several aspects... – Nico Apr 28 at 15:49
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    @Winner28 not necessarily the second word, but the second field. – phipsgabler Apr 28 at 17:06
  • @Nico, sure I will do my best to ask my question but first I need to give you an English example for instance one can write "John went to the park because it was a sunny day" Alternatively one can write "Because it was a sunny day, john went to the park". So is it possible rewrite the sentence "Vielleicht sind Sie noch nie Ski gefahren, wollen es aber im nächsten Winter lernen" in any way? – Winner 28 Apr 28 at 18:27
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    It is perfectly legal to place the subject at position 1 and vielleicht after the verb: Sie sind vielleicht noch nie Ski gefahren, wollen es aber im nächsten Winter lernen? – RHa Apr 28 at 19:23

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