1

I would like to understand the below sentence structure.

I can see a man over there.

Very curious to learn why it is like following

Da drüben sehe ich einen Mann.

and NOT following

Ich sehe einen Mann da drüben.

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  • 4
    Word order is more flexible in German than in English. BOTH German sentences are correct (except da must be lower case in the second sentence). Different word order usually causes emphasis on different parts of the sentence.
    – Roland
    Aug 17, 2021 at 6:49
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    @Roland that should be an answer Aug 17, 2021 at 6:56
  • @planetmaker I believe there are already too many duplicates. This is a FAQ (and a FAQ tag might be useful for finding such duplicates).
    – Roland
    Aug 17, 2021 at 7:19

3 Answers 3

7

Your assumption, that one of these sentences is wrong, is wrong. Both sentences are correct.

English is an SVO language. SVO stands for Subject, Verb, Object(s) and this describes the general sentence structure of normal English statements. You start with the subject, then comes the verb and then the object or objects.

But among all Germanic languages only English is an SVO language. All other Germanic languages, including German, are V2 languages. V2 stands for »Verb at position 2.« So, SVO is a more strict subclass of V2.

And this means, that in a German sentence position 1 is not reserved for the subject only like it is in English. In German really any part of speech can appear at position 1, and if it's not the subject that is there, then the subject is somewhere else in the sentence (normally at position 3).

These are correct German sentences and all of them will be used by German native speakers:

Ich sehe einen Mann da drüben.
Ich sehe da drüben einen Mann.
Einen Mann sehe ich da drüben.
Da drüben sehe ich einen Mann.

In German we have grammatical cases to identify the grammatical functions of parts of speech. The subject is always in nominative case, and in more than 95% of all sentences, no other part of speech is in this case, so it's easy to find the subject. And in all sentences above only the pronoun »ich« is in nominative case, so it is very clear that it is the subject.


Here is another example: In English you identify the subject by its position in the sentence:

correct: The man eats the apple.
wrong: The apple eats the man.

In German you have grammatical cases that help you to tell subject and object apart:

correct: Der Mann isst den Apfel.
correct: Den Apfel isst der Mann.

But you can do it wrong too, but not by putting the words on wrong places, but by using wrong cases:

wrong: Den Mann isst der Apfel.
wrong: Der Apfel isst den Mann.


The usage of grammatical cases gives German a higher flexibility with respect to word order. And we can use this additional degree of freedom to put emphasis on different parts of speech by putting them on places where they won't stand in the boring standard SVO word order.

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  • "Die Katze mag die Frau" - Is there a preference towards SVO or is this sentence fully ambiguous?
    – user253751
    Aug 17, 2021 at 10:39
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    @user253751 In ambiguous sentences there is a prefence for SVO. However, it can quite easily be changed, for example by context. In the sentence "Meinen Hund kann die Frau nicht leiden, aber die Katze mag sie.", context makes it quite obvious that the second part is probably OVS like the first one.
    – HalvarF
    Aug 17, 2021 at 11:05
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    "Den Mann isst der Apfel." This is not wrong, it is a perfect valid sentence, albeit nonsense. Oct 27, 2021 at 19:13
  • @infinitezero: yes, it is syntactically correct, but semantically wrong. There are no monster apples who eat people. Also the english sentence "The apple eats the man" is syntactically correct, but semantically wrong for the same reason. Oct 28, 2021 at 6:16
-3

it is both of what you said. it's just more luxurious when you say "Da drüben sehe ich einen Mann." and confuses most people when you say "Ich sehe einen Mann da drüben." because you need to say objects and verbs first and then the noun.

-3

Most people learn German with sentences like this:

Ich besitze ein Auto

This is a correct, simple sentence, but rather an exception in German grammar. Normally, verb is before subject and what you emphasize, comes at the beginning.

Sentence                => Emphasis

Ich esse heute einen Apfel. => Ich
Heute esse ich einen Apfel. => Heute
Einen Apfel esse ich heute. => Apfel

All sentences are correct.

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    "Normally, verb is before subject" is definitively wrong. It isn't.
    – tofro
    Oct 27, 2021 at 6:26
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    Das ist diskussionswürdig: Im Deutschen ist die einzige Bedingung für den richtigen Satzbau, dass das Verb an zweiter Position sitzt - Wo das Subjekt hinkommt, ist irrelevant. Es kann die erste Position einnehmen und tut das auch oft, aber kann genauso auch weiter hinten im Satz sein und die erste Position einem anderen Satzglied (jedem außer dem Verb) überlassen.
    – tofro
    Oct 27, 2021 at 9:10
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    @tofro Und wo ist jetzt der Widerspruch genau? Vor allem: Wie hilft das dem Fragesteller? Meine Antwort hilft dem Fragesteller zu verstehen, warum die Reihenfolge ist wie sie ist. Die Aussage, wie sie sein kann, hilft nicht unbedingt weiter. Oct 27, 2021 at 15:26

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