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There are clear rules on where to put Subjects, Verbs in main or subordinate Clauses. But sometime I feel the positions of Objects and Adjuncts are a little bit arbitrary.

Examples (from a textbook):

  1. Finden Sie für jede Situation die passende Anzeige.
  2. Markieren Sie Ihre Lösungen für die Aufgaben 11-20 auf dem Antwortbogen.
  3. Wenn Sie zu einer Situation keine Anzeige finden, markieren Sie ein x.

Can I change the order as followed and they still sound perfectly ok? Or maybe they are grammatically correct, but don't sound natural?

  1. Finden Sie die passende Anzeige für jede Situation.
  2. Markieren Sie für die Aufgaben 11-20 Ihre Lösungen auf dem Antwortbogen.
    • Or: Markieren Sie für die Aufgaben 11-20 auf dem Antwortbogen Ihre Lösungen.
  3. Wenn Sie keine Anzeige zu einer Situation finden, markieren Sie ein x.
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  • What is the "clear rule" for the position of the subject? Only the verb has a fixed position. The order of the other elements can be changed for the purpose of emphasis.
    – Olafant
    Jul 15 at 1:18
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As a native German speaker, I do not recall having ever been taught rules for the order of this stuff. Different choices correspond to emphasizing particular words. Some orders feel to me as better respecting the logical relationship between the choices.

Concretely, for your Sentence 1 both choices feel valid to me, but the second one has the more natural emphasis on "Anzeige" (which is the more specific term, and thus should be emphasised over "Situation"). The first option is still typical advertisement speech.

In the second sentence, "Lösungen für die Aufgaben 11-20" goes together. Separating it does not feel wrong per se, but definitely odd. Putting this phrase first again seems more natural, as it is the more pertinent information. That the marking should happen on the answer sheet is kinda obvious.

For the third sentence, either option seems equally fine to me.

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  • Maybe you want to add that "Markieren Sie für die Aufgaben 11-20 auf dem Antwortbogen Ihre Lösungen." is a little odd. One could read that as "die Aufgaben 11-20 auf dem Antwortbogen".
    – Olafant
    Jul 15 at 1:24
  • I remember one rule: putting the known info to the left side, and new info to the right side. "die passende Anzeige" is a known one. Jul 15 at 19:15
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German word order is indeed very flexible.

Actually, there are no rules for the positioning of subjects and objects in German - There only is a rule for the positioning of the verb, which must occupy position 2 in main clauses (not in imperative statements as in your examples, there the verb in imperative is at position 1), and end position in subclauses.

Just because this might be a degree of freedom too much for beginners of the language who might have a background of a pure SPO language like English, they are typically taught "SPO" as the "normal" component order - this can always be applied. Everyday German might deviate, however.

The same is true for the positioning of adverbials other than "keep it close to what it relates to" - While there actually is no fixed rule for the order of these components in German, beginners are taught "TMP" (time, manner, place) to have something to hold on to. But yet again, everyday German might deviate.

The only rule that is broken in your example sentences is the "keep it close" rule in example 2: "für die Aufgaben" relates to "Lösungen" and is such not independant - The two components need to stay close to each other, otherwise they lose their relationship, and thus you modify meaning.

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    Nice answer. But now you need to explain first position of the verbs in 1 and 2. ;)
    – Olafant
    Jul 15 at 9:56
  • Yep. But that's another question.
    – tofro
    Jul 15 at 10:09

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