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So I learn German on Duolingo.

I came across this sentence: I sleep in the car during break

I enter as translation: Ich schlafe im Auto in meiner Pause, but Duo flags it as a wrong statement.

Duo shows this translation instead: Ich schlafe in meiner Pause im Auto.

I want to understand if my answer is truly wrong. If so, why/how?

I thought the German language cares less about word order!

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  • P.S: Duolingo forum on this sentence don't help much.
    – Joker
    Mar 2 at 0:10
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    Duolingo does the same alse at least in Russian and English. It rejects some perfectly valid word orders.
    – fraxinus
    Mar 2 at 14:47
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    Duolingo is well known for being rather rigid with respect to the answers it expects. Questioning this is futile. Mar 2 at 17:35
  • 3
    What's normally taught is "Order of adverbials is 'time, manner, place'". This is a rule of thumb in German, but not a strict rule.
    – tofro
    Mar 2 at 18:29
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    For me both options do not really translate to the original English sentence, because it is not stated that it is "my" break (same as for car, it is not specified if it is my car) and "during" should be "während". So I would say "Während der Pause schlafe ich im Auto" Mar 2 at 20:03

4 Answers 4

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Your sentence

Ich schlafe im Auto in meiner Pause.

is totally fine.

I really don't know, why Duolingo would flag it as wrong. You're right: there is nothing wrong with your word order since German is quite flexible with it.


Since some people called my answer wrong I want to elaborate a little:

There is a rule of thumb (as @RDBury stated in a comment). The TeKaMoLo/wann,warum,wie,wo rule (when - why - how - where). That's something to give a beginner orientation about what order would be right (or better: common) in most cases. Maybe Duolingo wanted you to follow this rule?

Usually you would deliberately trespass against it and put something in first (or sometimes even last position) for emphasis.

But consider the following dialog:

A and B meet at work in the morning.

A: Das Baby hat mich die ganze Nacht wach gehalten. Ich habe überhaupt nicht geschlafen.
The baby held me awake all night. I didn't sleep at all.

B: Ach du ...! Wie willst du denn 8 Stunden Arbeit durchstehen?
Damn! How do you want to get through 8 hours of work?

A: Ich schlafe im Auto in meiner Pause.

This is perfectly fine. There is no need to emphasize anything - neither place nor time. Maybe place came to A's mind first and then he wanted to add that he will sleep in his breaktime ... or whatever. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this sentence and it's not about emphasis.

Especially as a beginner: don't let people frustrate you by telling you that something is wrong with your grammar or your style or something because you didn't follow a (as @RDBury called it) paper rule! Language is for communication. You want other people to understand you, right!? In this case everyone will understand your sentence without any doubt.

If you ask me (as a native speaker) there is absolutely nothing wrong with your sentence - neither regarding grammar nor regarding style.

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    I suspect that Duo is going by the TeKaMoLo/wann,warum,wie,wo rule. It's a popular rule in beginner to intermediate level German courses, but as you said, deviating from it would rarely be actually wrong. As a beginner, it's not a bad rule to start with until you learn how changes to word order affect emphasis. Unfortunately German courses don't always treat it like the "paper" rule that it actually is.
    – RDBury
    Mar 2 at 5:43
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    @Olafant it's not an absolute rule but it is incorrect to ignore it without reason.
    – RHa
    Mar 2 at 7:50
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    @Olafant The rule that would make it incorrect is the one that RHa referred to. Like RDBury and RHa explained, this rule can be broken for emphasis, which explains the only situation in which OP's sentence sounds fine to me: "Wo schläfst du in deiner Pause?" "Ich schlafe im Auto in meiner Pause". Without context, though, it sounds odd and out of place.
    – Numeri
    Mar 2 at 7:55
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    It's obviously two different questions whether the answer it wrong as a German sentence or whether it's wrong as an answer to a specific duolingo exercise. The exercise could be about the standard order of prepositionals.
    – HalvarF
    Mar 2 at 8:53
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    As a native speaker I would never say Ich schlafe im Auto in meiner Pause and I would never think you are not a native speaker by saying it that way - as confusing as it might be. Saying it in that order myself does not sound "flüssig", but it does not really sound entirely wrong. Mar 2 at 21:30
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The word order

Ich schlafe im Auto in meiner Pause.

sounds odd to me as a native speaker. The reason is that if time and place are placed after the verb, time comes first. This rule applies if there are not any reasons for a different word order, like importance or emphasis. This is just the opposite of English, where place comes before time.

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    The simplest sequence seems to be: In meiner Pause schlafe ich im Auto.
    – guidot
    Mar 2 at 10:49
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    (I'm also a native speaker, and I would mostly agree with what your first sentence says - it sounds a bit odd, but not really wrong ... emphasis wouldn't really change much, at least in Austria you would emphasize by stressing the "im Auto" part, not by changing the word order)
    – xLeitix
    Mar 2 at 12:33
  • @xLeitix "Ich schlafe im Auto (nur) in meiner Pause".
    – Karl
    Mar 2 at 22:12
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Shouldn't Duolingo accept this answer?

There is a marked difference between "is this valid German" and "Should Duolingo accept this answer?". Duolingo teaches patterns and templates, which are rigidly defined due to Duolingo being a software implementation. Even if a sentence is perfectly valid German, Duolingo expects the user to use specific words in a specific order.

So yes, as a human learning German, your sentence is perfectly fine. But as a Duolingo user answering a lesson, your sentence does not contain the structure that the software is programmed to accept. Thankfully Duolingo is mostly consistent regarding the sentence structure and words, so after some time you will learn to give the answers that it expects.

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When I was taking German lessons in school, our teacher had shown us a simple in order to be sure about the sequence of every sentence. The rule is ZAO, which means that first we should consider about Zeit, after that we should consider about Art and then about Ort. So, based on this I think that the sentence right written is:

Ich schlafe in meiner Pause (Zeit) im Auto (Ort).

or it seems also fine to say:

In meiner Pause schlafe ich im Auto.

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    Little addition: if the conversation is about a single day, this wording sounds most natural to me. However, if it is about generalling spending breaks with naps in the car, it should me In meinen Pausen schlafe ich im Auto or maybe even in meinem Auto
    – marstato
    Mar 2 at 17:49
  • Totally agree with you.
    – wajaap
    Mar 2 at 18:36
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    @Jake Ich schlafe in meiner Pause immer | manchmal | tief und fest | kurz im Auto.
    – not2savvy
    Mar 4 at 0:12
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    @Jake Art stands for the way. For example: Ich fahre mit meinem Auto nach Griechenland. When someone asks: Wie fährst du?, asks in what way do I drive to Greece. So, that's the Art-->mit meinem Auto.
    – wajaap
    Mar 4 at 9:09
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    @wajapp,,, cool.... ZAO simply equates to Wann, Wie, Wo.... Danke :-)
    – Joker
    Mar 4 at 22:43

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