In the German and English versions of the same game I ran across:

Er hätte heimkommen sollen, ist er aber nicht.
He should have come home, but he didn't.

(This is said by a woman whose brother has gone missing, and she's very concerned about it.)

I'm having a hard time understanding the word order in the second clause. It seems clear that a redundent heimgekommen has been dropped, just as a second "come home" was dropped in the English version. But I would have said ..., aber er ist nicht (heimgekommen) with the verb in V2 position where it belongs. But not only is the verb in V1 position, but the conjunction aber seems to have been turned into an adverb and moved to the middle of the clause. So I'm confused about why the word order is acceptable.

My current theory for the V1 issue is that the missing heimgekommen is in the first position. So the complete second clause is ..., heimgekommen ist er aber nicht. For the issue with aber, my explanation is that it has been turned into a modal adverb (also known as Abtönungspartikel). Marcia's answer here seems relevant for this. A conjunction joining the clauses isn't really needed so none is used. Are these explanations plausible, and if not then what is the explanation?

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    Your explanation sounds plausible. A word order like "..., aber er ist nicht" would actually be wrong in my ears (though understandable and a common anglicism). I think the 2nd sentence misses a 'das' which can be and commonly is omitted: "..., das ist er aber nicht." As comment as I miss a good explanation. Apr 2, 2022 at 8:23
  • @planetmaker: That makes sense. I'm not sure why "..., aber er ist nicht" would be considered an "anglicism", but that might be a matter of me developing my ear for idiomatic German. I like your point about "das"; that does seem like the best phrasing assuming you want to keep things strictly grammatically correct. Anyway, I'm not looking for long, complicated explanations, so please feel free to paste your comment into an actual answer.
    – RDBury
    Apr 2, 2022 at 19:28
  • a typical English reply sentence is "No, he is not" while the semantically equivalent sentence in German reads "Nein, ist er nicht." Compare the word order; in German one would IMHO never use the word order in this short sentence differently. Thus using the English word order in the German sentence is an anglicism in my ears - still totally understandable to any German and an easy mistake made with an English-language background Apr 4, 2022 at 8:24
  • maybe the word 'anglicism' is wrong. It's "a grammatical anglicism", thus not in the usual sense of using a specific word, but here in terms of using word order Apr 4, 2022 at 8:34
  • @planetmaker: My understanding is that particles such as Nein and coordinate clauses, do not affect the word order of clauses that follow. This seems to be confirmed by examples I've seen: Nein, das ist unmöglich. Nein, es ist nicht. The same rule holds in English. There are cases where the verb immediately follows, but I think these can be explained, as you said in the answer, by a word being dropped. So in Nein, ist okay there is a missing subject which explains the word order. "No, is okay" would be impossible in English, but in German it's apparently possible but informal.
    – RDBury
    Apr 4, 2022 at 10:48

1 Answer 1


Your explanation sounds plausible. A word order like "..., aber er ist nicht" would actually be wrong in my ears (though understandable and a common anglicism on grounds of the word order).

To me the 2nd sentence misses an initial 'das' which can be and commonly is omitted as it just back-references the immediately preceeding statement: "Er hätte heimkommen sollen, das ist er aber nicht."

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