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My textbook says "Wir gehen heute Nachmittag schwimmen" but I was wondering why we can't write "Wir schwimmen heute Nachmittag gehen". Could someone please explain why the former is correct? Thanks.

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    Wir gehen schwimmen means roughly the same as Wir gehen zum Schwimmen. Analogously, Wir schwimmen gehen would be equivalent to Wir schwimmen zum Gehen which is nonsense.
    – RHa
    Aug 18, 2021 at 6:16
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    Try building the sentence with "ich" instead of "wir". Remember the (conjugated) verb must be at position 2 in German.
    – user6495
    Aug 18, 2021 at 6:16

2 Answers 2

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Grammatically, this sense of gehen takes a subject and an infinitive verb as an object. The English "to go" does a similar thing but with a present participle (the "-ing" form), as in "He goes swimming," or "She goes dancing." (German has a present participle as well, but it's use is limited and German often uses the infinitive instead.) There is no such sense for schwimmen, just as there is no such sense for "to swim" in English; you can't say "She swims dancing." So gehen here is the finite verb, with the subject wir and schwimmen is an infinitive. Finite verbs come second in a German sentence (not counting questions, subclauses, etc.), and that's gehen in this case. Meanwhile, infinitives and other non-finite verb forms usually come last in a sentence, which puts schwimmen at the end. Flexible word order in German would allow Heute Nachmittag gehen wir schwimmen. But I think that's the only other option here. Note, as Roland pointed out in the comments, if the subject is ich, then gehen, being the finite verb, would be conjugated as gehe.

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    Also correct is „Schwimmen gehen wir heute Nachmittag“ and even „Schwimmen gehen heute Nachmittag wir“ (und nicht ihr, denn ihr wart gestern an der Reihe).
    – Carsten S
    Aug 18, 2021 at 11:38
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    Not to forget that "Wir schwimmen heute Nachmittag" without the "gehen" at the end would also work fine
    – user49310
    Aug 18, 2021 at 12:05
  • @Carsten S: Thanks, I didn't think of putting the infinitive first, but it makes sense that you can.
    – RDBury
    Aug 19, 2021 at 4:25
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The verb “gehen” in the first sentence is used like the going to future. This is why you want to use it. The second one just doesn’t make sense, it implies that you swim somewhere in order to go walking there.

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    The verb “gehen” is not related to future tense or the English "going to".
    – RalfFriedl
    Aug 18, 2021 at 8:18
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    It's definitely related, but the tempus is understood from lexical aspect.
    – vectory
    Aug 19, 2021 at 4:14

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