I recall hearing

"Weiß ich nicht"

from the friends around when I stayed in Germany. Recently I started to take a German course to learn the language well. The lecturer told that there is a rule where you can swap the places of the 1st and the 3rd element of a sentence, as in

"Ich komme heute nach Hause" -> "Heute komme ich nach Hause".

I heuristically associated the two situations, however the usage I ask ("Weiß ich nicht") seems to be a question format. I might recalled the usage wrong, but I think I'm sure about what I heard. Is that a correct usage or a slang usage?

In addition to those two examples, Rammstein lyrics say:

"Ohne dich kann ich nicht sein".

Is that a regular sentence? It seems like it is not to me, I'd build the sentence as "Ohne dich, Ich kann nicht sein" or based on the swapping rule I mentioned, I might have gone for "Ich kann ohne dich nicht sein" but I'm absolutely not sure that this is a correct sentence. Can you explain me the situations of the three examples I gave?

4 Answers 4


Der erste Satz ist die Verkürzung von

Das weiß ich nicht.

welches in der Tat umgestellt werden kann zu:

Ich weiß das nicht.

In der mündlichen Form lässt man in der ersten Form das Das oft weg, aber nur in mündlicher Sprache.

Ohne dich kann ich nicht sein.

kann man umstellen zu

Ich kann nicht ohne Dich sein.

aber nicht zu

Ohne dich, ich kann nicht sein.

In der Lyrik wird jedoch oft zu Formulierungen gegriffen, die man in der Alltagssprache nicht hört. Der Satz soll ja sagen, dass man es nicht aushält, allein zu sein, nachdem man den anderen kennt. Man drückt ein Abhängigkeitsverhältnis aus, eine Sehnsucht, aber keinen Sachverhalt, der auch eine Schmeichelei sein soll.


The rule you're looking for is that the verb is always in second position in an independent clause (a sentence that can stand on its own). Ich komme heute nach Haus. The verb is in second position. Heute komme ich nach Haus. Same. You could even say, "Nach Haus komme ich heute. Here, "nach Haus" is one piece (two words) because you can't separate the preposition from the following noun here.

With that rule in mind, "weiß ich nicht!" seems to break this rule, but not so. As was stated, it is a truncated form of "Das weiß ich nicht!" The verb is in second position.

For the Rammstein lyrics "Ohne dich kann ich nicht sein" this is also fine because "ohne dich" is one part, then the verb in second position, then the rest of the sentence.

Weird orders "Not subject-verb-object" are used for emphasis. Like English "I don't know." "I'm coming home today." "Without you, I can't exist (be)."


I am not sure if I understand your question correctly. But I will try to explain.

"Weiß ich nicht!" is a normal statement and it is the same as "Ich weiß nicht!". There is no "questional" meaning to it. Normally you don't ask if you don't know something. But if you like to, it would be "Ich weiß nicht?" (I don't know?). I think you can guess that it is not common to ask that.

The example with "Heute komme ich nach Hause!" is correct. I don't know the rule to swap the 1st and 3rd position but in this case it is correct.

"Ohne dich kann ich nicht sein" generally is a normal sentence. But this is not used in common language. Commonly you would say "Ich kann ohne dich nicht sein!". But that just depends on you way to talk. The first one is not wrong.

  • Thank you for your answer, and another thanks for correction:) I was thinking exactly the same thing about "weiß ich nicht!".
    – Varaquilex
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 16:51
  • 5
    "Weiß ich nicht!" is truncated from "Das weiß ich nicht!", but "Das" can be omitted because it is implied. That's for spoken German; in written German, you would not omit "Das". Same for "Ich weiß nicht!", which is fine in spoken German, but in written German you would prefer "Ich weiß es nicht!" Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 17:18
  • 1
    Rather than discussing minor typos or grammatical glitches (which usually are not the topic of the question) we should just go ahead and edit them to keep the questions and answers clear.
    – Takkat
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 19:01
  • @EugeneSeidel: make this comment an answer, I like it! Its short, snappy, and correct as always :)
    – Takkat
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 19:09
  • @EugeneSeidel thanks for the answer, its much clear now:)
    – Varaquilex
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 19:21

It seems to me your swapping rule is not formulated properly. An appropriate formulation would be:

Whenever in German a sentence begins with a sentence part that is not the subject you have inversion, i.e. the word order verb subject.

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