In conversation with 2 native German speakers I said:

Meine Mutter sah betrübt und besorgt aus, und sogar hatte meine Tante einen Ausdruck, als ob sie zu denken schien, dass ich vielleicht zu weit gegangen war.

and they corrected me to:

Meine Mutter sah betrübt und besorgt aus, und sogar meine Tante hatte einen Ausdruck, als ob sie zu denken schien, dass ich vielleicht zu weit gegangen war.

Their correction appears to me to put the verb in the 3rd position in the second main sentence, after an adverb (or modal/focus particle) and the subject. I do not understand how this could be grammatical, although Hammer's Grammar does provide several similar examples without justification.

A different, but related question, is discussed in Does the subject always follow the verb when not in first position?. But that discussion does not tell me why putting what I see is a focus particle, sogar, first and the verb second is incorrect.

Why is my sentence incorrect?

2 Answers 2


The verb is still in second position.

Sogar is a particle which modifies the subsequent part of the sentence. So it should be regarded as

[Sogar meine Tante] [hatte] [einen Ausdruck].

This is the only position that sogar can be in, if it should modify the subject. You can check this, by rearranging the sentence (although I admit, this is no help for a non native-speaker):

[Einen Ausdruck] [hatte] [sogar meine Tante].

As pointed out in the comments by mach, similar words are auch and nur, i.e.

[Nur meine Tante] [hatte] [einen Ausdruck]
[Auch meine Tante] [hatte] [einen Ausdruck]

Finally, you can also modify einen Ausdruck, which then becomes

[Meine Tante] [hatte] [sogar einen Ausdruck]

  • 1
    The speaker who initially corrected my wording also said that this arrangement was correct: "und meine Tante hatte sogar einen Ausdruck, ..."
    – user44591
    Jun 5, 2021 at 1:01
  • Nice answer, short and to the point. You could mention other words like «sogar», e.g. «auch» or «nur».
    – mach
    Jun 5, 2021 at 8:17
  • 5
    "Sogar meine Tante hatte einen Ausdruck..." and "Meine Tante hatte sogar einen Ausdruck..." are both valid, but there is a difference in meaning, because in the first sentence sogar modifies meine Tante but in the second sentence it modifies einen Ausdruck.
    – RHa
    Jun 5, 2021 at 9:25
  • Thanks for your comments, I added them to the post Jun 5, 2021 at 10:26
  • 'Sogar' can also stand alone if it modifies the verb: "Das gelang sogar." If you add "meiner Mutter" in this example the word order also impacts the meaning. "Das gelang sogar meiner Mutter." implies that the surprising character of the success is dependant on the mother doing it. " Das gelang meiner Mutter sogar." Does not imply this dependance.
    – Toscho
    Jun 7, 2021 at 22:15

In my opinion it is not absolutely false, but it sounds "bumpy".

The phrase "Meine Mutter sah betrübt und besorgt aus, und sogar hatte meine Tante einen Ausdruck" consists of two main clauses (Hauptsätze). The first part "Meine Mutter sah betrübt und besorgt aus" is correct, but the problem is the second part

(und) sogar hatte meine Tante einen Ausdruck

Although German word order is variable, everybody would expect

(und) sogar meine Tante hatte einen Ausdruck

in SPO structure. However, the problem is related to the word sogar. If we replace it by the adverb heute, we get

Meine Mutter sah (heute) betrübt und besorgt aus, und heute hatte meine Tante einen Ausdruck

and I can't see anything wrong with it. In fact,

Meine Mutter sah (heute) betrübt und besorgt aus, und heute meine Tante hatte einen Ausdruck

is definitely false.

An alternative (and indisputably correct) formulation of your sentence is

Meine Mutter sah betrübt und besorgt aus, und es hatte sogar meine Tante einen Ausdruck


"Sogar" is a grammatical particle. Quotation from English Wikipedia:

In grammar, the term particle (abbreviated PTCL) has a traditional meaning, as a part of speech that cannot be inflected, and a modern meaning, as a function word associated with another word or phrase to impart meaning. Although a particle may have an intrinsic meaning, and indeed may fit into other grammatical categories, the fundamental idea of the particle is to add context to the sentence, expressing a mood or indicating a specific action.
Particle is a somewhat nebulous term for a variety of small words that do not conveniently fit into other classes of words.

German Wikipedia says

Man rechnet zu den Partikeln – im weiteren Sinne – alle nicht flektierbaren Wörter einer Sprache (wie Adverbien, Interjektionen, Konjunktionen, Präpositionen) oder – im engeren Sinne – nur solche nicht flektierbaren Wörter, die nicht den Unterklassen Präposition, Adverb oder Konjunktion angehören.

That is, the class of particles includes adverbs, interjections, conjunctions and prepositions. It seems that the status of "sogar" is not absolutely clear-cut. Its function is to emphasize something which comes a little unexpected and may be attributed to verbs, nouns and adjectives. Examples:

  • Er kann sogar tanzen. [sogar + verb]

  • Er kann sogar hervorragend tanzen. [sogar + adjective]

  • Sogar er kann tanzen. [sogar + noun]

If it refers to a noun (as in sogar meine Tante), then the word order is determined exclusively by the noun. You can make a test by omitting "sogar" and check whether the remainder is correct. The sentence hatte meine Tante einen Ausdruck is not correct.

  • The difficulty for someone learning German is that sogar is an adverb, and adverbs, when placed first in the sentence, one then expects it to be followed by the verb, as illustrated by your "heute" example. And the explanation that "sogar" is a focus particle that modifies "meine Tante" is not helpful, because it isn't obvious that it does not modify, in fact, the final clause. One could read the sentence either way.
    – user44591
    Jun 5, 2021 at 1:39
  • 2
    The status of sogar as an adverb seems rather dubious, though I'm not sure what other part of speech it would be. It can modify nouns and appear in front of them like an adjective, but is nonetheless indeclinable like an adverb. Lately I've noticed there a few odds and ends left over after you're done putting words into the well established categories. Two others are genug and namens.
    – RDBury
    Jun 5, 2021 at 1:49
  • Would it make sense to classify it as a preposition? To me it feels quite preposition-y at least. Jun 5, 2021 at 14:49
  • @Cassiterite It is not a preposition. See my update.
    – Paul Frost
    Jun 5, 2021 at 23:20

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