My friend and I were trying to do some kind of 'brain storming' session of the vocabulary we have learned in Deutsch so far. But he said this sentence to me:

Ich kann schneller laufen als du.

I told him the word order is wrong, the verb laufen should be in the last position because kann is a modal verb but he insisted that both sentences are correct. Is this an exception to the verb position rule when there is a modal verb in the sentence? I Googled it and couldn't find anything.


3 Answers 3


German language is much more relaxed regarding word order than other languages.

Your example sentence is absolutely correct but you could also write

Ich kann schneller als du laufen

In your example there is a thought pair of parenthesis around "schneller laufen": the term stands as a unit. The sentence is not about "schneller schwimmen" or "schneller lesen" but about "schneller laufen"

In my example the emphasis lies on "schneller als du" and "laufen" is just an additional information: I am faster than you... in running...

It's a very slight difference, but for a native German speaker it's notable (probably unconsciously).

  • 1
    Wow, I really wasn't aware of this emphasis part, so it's like a syntactic sugar, right? When you add the emphasis on the "faster running" part of the sentence you sound more "native", is that correct? Also, is it always the case that I can use adjective and verb like that when there is a modal verb present in the sentence?
    – Rickless
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 15:12
  • 1
    Yes, it is syntactic sugar, and for me the „faster running“ indeed sounds more natural. And as dar as I can think of it right now this should always be possible with an auxilliary verb, but can‘t say 100% for sure
    – Tode
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 15:42

The reason why both of the sentences are correct is that

Ich kann schneller laufen als du

is an abbreviation of

Ich kann schneller laufen, als du es kannst


Ich kann schneller als du laufen

is an abbreviation of

Ich kann schneller, als du es kannst, laufen

(This last sentence sounds very strange in German, but it is indeed grammatically correct).

This same phenomenon happens with the word “wie”. Example:

Ich kann so schnell wie du laufen

Ich kann so schnell laufen wie du


Yes, this is an exception.

You are quite right that modal verbs and their complements usually go around their complements. However, there is a number of specific exceptions where complements may go after the bracket (for instance, if the complement is a subclause).

The word als is one of those exceptions. Compare:

Ich kann schneller als du laufen.

Ich kann schneller laufen als du.

Ich kann schneller zur Schule laufen.

*Ich kann schneller laufen zur Schule.

You see that the exception is specifically for the particle als and not for other very similar construction, such as prepositions.

  • 1
    I don't think the first sentence is quite right, could you rephrase it? I take it the upshot is: (stuff) (modal verb) (other stuff) (infinitive verb). Also, I assume the asterisk means that example is incorrect. It would help if you gave an example with a subclause as well. Would Ich muss schneller laufen, um rechtzeitig zur Schule zu kommen. work? Can a subordinate clause come between the modal and infinitive verb? Ich muss, um rechtzeitig zur Schule zu kommen, schneller laufen, seems awkward at best. Sorry for nitpicking; I really do appreciate the additional detail.
    – RDBury
    Commented Sep 15, 2020 at 11:48

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