Überrascht Sie etwas am Tisch?

In this sentence Sie is the object but why it is coming right after the verb. Shouldn't the subject be in that position?

  • 6
    Because this is the typical sentence structure of questions. Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 19:37
  • 5
    Please explain in your question why you doubt this is the correct structure. Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 19:46
  • 2
    @BjörnFriedrich Is it really? I'd invite you to think of many examples before you make such assumptions. What about Überrascht er das Kind schon wieder?
    – Numeri
    Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 21:40
  • 2
    If the question is about the object preceding the subject, see for instance german.stackexchange.com/q/50666/35111.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 6:40

1 Answer 1


German has three basic types of sentences. The first is:

der Konjunktionalsatz

(the subjunctive clause)

Ich frage dich, weil du gestern in dem Haus gewesen bist.
I ask you, because you have been in the house yesterday.

A subjunctive clause (marked bold in the example above) is always part of a larger sentence, and it starts with a subordinating conjunction like da, weil, als, wenn, obwohl, bevor, während, nachdem, damit, dass, ob.

A German subjunctive clause starts with the subject, followed by some objects and other parts of speech. The predicate (as defined in German grammar) stands at the very end of the sentence.

About the predicate:

German and English have different understandings about what a predicate is. English grammar prefers to claim that everything in the sentence except the subject belongs to the predicate. But German grammar says, that only the verbs are part of the predicate.

An example:

Der Mann mit dem Hut hat dich gestern gesehen.
The man with the hat has seen you yesterday.

The part »Der Mann mit dem Hut« ("The man with the hat") is the subject in both languages.
The rest (»hat dich gestern gesehen«) ("has seen you yesterday") is the predicate if we apply English grammar. But in German grammar only (»hat gesehen«) ("has seen") belongs to the predicate.

I use the German definition here.

The next type of sentence is:

die Frage (der Fragesatz)

(the question, the question sentence)

Bist du gestern in dem Haus gewesen?
Have you been in the house yesterday?

To be more precise, we should name this type of sentence »die geschlossene Frage« ("the closed question"). These are questions, that expect yes or no as an answer. There are also open questions ("Where have you been?") that start with a question-word and do not expect yes or no as an answer but something else.

You can turn a German Konjunktionalsatz into a Frage simply by moving the last word of the sentence to the beginning. The last word of a Konjunktionalsatz is always a verb and therefore always a part of the (German) predicate. And so a Frage (a closed question) always has to start with a verb.

But only one verb moves from the very end to very beginning, not all of them. The other verbs that are also part of the predicate remain where they were before: at the end. Only if the predicate consists of only one verb, there will be no verb left at the end.

Ich frage dich, weil du gestern im Haus gewesen sein wolltest.
I ask you, because you wanted to be in the house yesterday.
Wolltest du gestern im Haus gewesen sein?
Did you want to be in the house yesterday.

Ich frage dich, weil du gestern im Haus gewesen bist.
Bist du gestern im Haus gewesen?

Ich frage dich, weil du gestern im Haus warst.
Warst du gestern im Haus?

The third type of sentence is:

die Aussage, der Aussagesatz

(the statement, the statement sentence)

Du bist gestern in dem Haus gewesen.
You have been in the house yesterday.

This is the kind of sentence you normally have in mind when you talk about sentences.

To bild an Aussage from a Frage, just take any part of speech that doesn't belong to the predicate and move it to the beginning of the sentence. Very often you move the subject to position 1. But in German you also can move other parts of speech, as long as they don't belong to the predicate. In all cases, the one verb that was the last word in the Konjunktionalsatz, and that was the first word in the Frage now becomes the second part of speech, while all other other verbs that also belong to the predicate still remain at the end:

Du bist gestern in dem Haus gewesen.
Gestern bist du in dem Haus gewesen.
In dem Haus bist du gestern gewesen.

As the last example shows, being the second part of speech does not mean to be the second word. The group »in dem Haus« is a prepositional object, that counts as one part of speech.

The main word order of English sentences is SVO (Subject, Verb, Object(s)). There are exceptions, but an English statement almost always starts with the subject. This is why English belongs to the "SVO languages".

But although SVO is a very common word order for German statements, German is not an SVO language. It is a "V2 language". The term "V2" means "verb at position 2". The subject of a German sentence can be anywhere (except on position 2), and on position 1 you can have any part of speech in a German statement (except a verb).

There are also commands that are not related to the three types of sentences shown above:

Sei morgen im Haus!
Be in the house tomorrow!

But they are a topic on their own.

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