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Writing a practical letter I've faced with next very simple sentence:

Er liebt uns alle.

And why is the only right word order "uns alle" and can't be written as "alle uns"?

For you, to understand, my native language is Ukrainian and I also speak very fluent Russian and on both of them, if translate word for word, I can say as well "uns alle" as "alle uns", so I can't just understand it logically. Yeah, intuitively I feel that something is wrong with "alle uns", but is there a rule for that particular situation, that can explain it?

Currently I live in Germany and my German is on complete beginner level, but nevertheless even my native-German friend doesn't know why the first option is the only right one.

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    On a side note, "orthography" is about correctly spelling. Whether "uns alle" or "alle uns" is correct to say is dictated by grammar. Also, translating word by word between unrelated languages mostly leads to incorrect structures, but the question is interesting nontheless.
    – idmean
    Aug 27, 2022 at 0:14
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    @idmean: You have enough reputation to edit the post and correct the error. That's what I just did. - howrudoin: Grammar is that part of syntax that deals with joining words together to build sentences. Grammar applies to written ans spoken language. Orthography is that part of syntax that deals with joining letters(characters) to build words. Orthography applies only to written language, it does not exist in spoken language. (In spoken language you don't have letters but sounds, and we don't call it orthography but articulation). Aug 27, 2022 at 9:19
  • @idmean the thing is, Ukrainian and russian languages also have cases, and even in this sentence the same cases are used in all 3 languages. Aug 27, 2022 at 13:05
  • "alle" always comes after the pronoun, not only after declined pronouns, e.g. "wir alle wissen, dass ..."
    – Stef
    Aug 27, 2022 at 20:27
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    I don't know if questions of why one language does something differently than another are really helpful. Languages don't so much evolve as drift randomly, so there is rarely a satisfactory answer to such questions. As an English speaker, the question wouldn't even occur to me because English has the same rule; you would say "He loves us all" and "He loves all us" is incorrect. English is a Germanic language, which explains the greater similarity.
    – RDBury
    Aug 27, 2022 at 22:41

1 Answer 1

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German personal pronouns can only be described from behind, with adjectives, nouns and determiners, e.g. "ich Glücklicher", "du Selige", "wir alle", "euch Idioten", "Sie Irrer".

While these forms are mostly not seen as appositions (they also have no pause in between), they are formed like them, so this might explain why "alle" comes behind "wir".

It is common in German that some phrase can only describe in one direction because it is not always clear what case a noun has. "Alle" is confusing enough:

Take

Die nehmen uns alle.

as example: It could mean, depending on context and intonation,

  1. They take all of us (alle and uns accusative)
  2. They take everyone from us (alle accusative, uns dative)
  3. They all take us. (alle adverb, uns accusative)
  4. Everyone takes them from us (alle nominative, uns dative, die accusative)

Now imagine

Die nehmen alle uns

would also be so ambiguous. German case marking is just not strong enough to allow both variants at the same time, so it stuck to just one: "alle" behind the pronoun.

As far as I know, Slavic languages mark case better, (нам vs. нас and всех vs. все) so if "all" is describing the personal pronoun or a single object can be decided far better.

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  • This is a good attempt at analyzing a difficult phenomenon. I do not think your analysis is accurate, though. I do not think «alle» is an apposition-like accusative. Instead, it is better understood as a particle. It can be detached from «uns», e.g. «uns liebt er alle», and it can be replaced by words like «miteinander» or «aufs Mal». I do not understand why you have introduced an ambiguous example when the original example was not ambiguous at all.
    – mach
    Sep 22, 2022 at 20:31
  • @mach 1. I was arguing that at least after a personal pronoun "all" behaves as adjectives and other pronouns do, just like "schöne wir" is wrong and "wir Schöne[n]" is right. That it can detach is another argument to not allow a special case for "all". 2. miteinander and aufs Mal are not declined and more obviously adverbials, they also follow nouns. 3. Ambiguities explain constraints.
    – Dodezv
    Sep 23, 2022 at 11:02
  • Die nehmen alle uns is unambigous and means "They all take us" Oct 22, 2022 at 10:22
  • These constructions are apposition-like in that they show case agreement: Ihnen allen möchte ich herzlich danken. Also note that pronoun and alle can occur together in first position. The split variety reminds one of PP-split constructions: über das Thema gibt es jede Menge Studien, with über das Thema modifying Studien (Studien über das Thema gibt es jede Menge).
    – David Vogt
    Oct 22, 2022 at 10:47

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