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On a German teaching website, the sentence Er trifft seine Mitbewohner im Café jeden Tag was marked wrong as the translation of He meets his roommates at the coffee shop every day. On the other hand, Er trifft seine Mitbewohner jeden Tag im Café was marked correct.

So my questions are:

  1. Would the first translation to German be really considered wrong?
  2. If yes, is it due to the order in the sentence?
  3. If it is due to some order-rule, do native German speakers always follow that rule? Do they ever break the rule "intentionally"? Also are there any "legal" exceptions?
  4. What would a German think -in terms of literacy and so- when they hear the sentence Er trifft seine Mitbewohner im Café jeden Tag from a native speaker?

6 Answers 6

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It's marked because of word order. In general, out of order items are allowed in German but they appear emphasised that way. So it's not wrong. Just odd.

In particular, German allows you to put one adverbial of your choice to the Nachfeld. That's the very last item in a clause, even following the separable verb prefixes, if there are any. But that adverbial is emphasized a lot at that position.

And yes, native speakers use the default word order unless they want to emphasize something.

If you put it the way you did, people would likely assume you don't know the default order. Because emphasizing jeden Tag that way had to be justified by context and it's not, at least most of the time.

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    I generally agree, but in this case the word order is so strange (unless “jeden Tag” is additionally emphasised by tone or has a pause before it) that I would start to wonder whether they all live in that café.
    – Carsten S
    Oct 15, 2022 at 19:56
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    @Carsten S - You can think of these phrases as having little magnets attached, some tend to pull them toward the start of the sentence, and some, like emphasis, tend to pull them toward the end. Time phrases tend to have a very strong pull toward the start, and it takes a great deal of emphasis to pull them the other way. The end result is that there is a default order, many plausible variations on it, and then implausible but not quite ungrammatical possibilities.
    – RDBury
    Oct 15, 2022 at 21:42
  • @RDBury Thank you for that, I never heard it put so clearly before.
    – RedSonja
    Oct 17, 2022 at 13:33
  • @Janka Thanks for So it's not wrong. Just odd.! I think that's a big difference for learners and calling a rule what in fact is just a guideline for beginners can be really confusing.
    – Olafant
    Oct 18, 2022 at 11:43
  • Why do you say a Nachfeld item is "emphasised"? I get the contrary: if we make the Nachfeld visible by inserting a clause-final verb, we find that a Nachfeld afterthought would be unstressed: "Er hat seine Mitbewohner im CaFE getroffen jeden Tag." It's because you have to have the stress before the verb then. -- I think this is not the structure that the textbook has in mind anyway.
    – Alazon
    Aug 28, 2023 at 22:15
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I was taught that the default order is "time, manner, place", so jeden Tag comes before im Cafe. A good example of all three in one sentence is Ich fahre morgen mit dem Bus ins Cafe

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    There are other mnemonics; my favorite is wann, warum, wie, wo in alphabetical order. Some teachers call this a rule though and it's really more of a guideline. Learners should follow it, but they shouldn't be surprised when native speakers don't.
    – RDBury
    Oct 15, 2022 at 21:32
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    ... zum Cafe. 'Ins Cafe' wäre einen Zeitungsbericht wert und ungesund. Oct 16, 2022 at 7:39
  • It's Café with accent acute - not putting it there is the same as not using dots on umlauts ("grune Gurkchen") - they're not optional. Sadly a lot of people do this.
    – AmigoJack
    Oct 17, 2022 at 20:08
  • @planetmaker Why don't you edit the answer then?
    – Olafant
    Oct 18, 2022 at 11:28
  • I apologise for not writing Café with an acute accent. I have my keyboard set up for both English and German layout, but not for one with acute accents. I made the (obviously mistaken) assumption that I might be allowed a bit of slack for avoiding researching how to do something where the meaning of the word was pretty obvious. In English the acute accent in this word is officially optional (see the Oxford Dictionary of English).
    – RuthMcT
    Oct 19, 2022 at 20:12
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Most of your questions have already been answered satisfactorily, but i would like to expand on your last point:

  1. What would a German think -in terms of literacy and so- when they hear the sentence Er trifft seine Mitbewohner im Café jeden Tag from a native speaker?

It has already been mentioned that word order puts emphasis on various parts of what is being said. The way it was written it would make sense if you want to point out that it happens every day and imply that this is somewhat extraordinary or unheard of. Like this:

He meets his roommates at the café - every day!

Notice there is a difference if this is spoken or written. Spoken you would mark the emphasis by a small pause before "every day" and also a change in voice. Written language doesn't have these means and hence resorts to interpunction (here the Em dash and the exclamation mark instead of the full stop) to denote the emphasis.

The same is the case in German. Therefore, the way the sentence was written it is, in fact, wrong: it lacks the necessary interpunction to go with the emphasis implied by the non-standard word order. A correct version would look (similar to English):

Er trifft seine Mitbewohner im Café - jeden Tag!

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One additional remark:

Er trifft seine Mitbewohner im Café jeden Tag.

Here, from grammar alone, it might be misunderstood as if "im Café" was there to specify which "Mitbewohner" were meant. But of course that wouldn't make sense: who lives in a café?

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German does have word order rules, but then it has additional rules that allow you to rearrange the word order if there is a special reason -- such reasons will have to do with how a sentence fits into the context, so: what is new and is the main message, what is known and unimportant and therefore remains without stress, and what is in contrast to something else.

When you rearrange your word order to indicate such things, you will always hear that as well: the intonation and stress pattern changes together with the word order. The problem is that you don't have all this information in the written language. So when you are unsure about German word order, it is always good to speak the sentence or hear it spoken. This can be very important for judging whether an order is acceptable or not.

In the case at hand: What your teaching material says is correct if the sentence is read with normal intonation, and your alternative ordering is wrong if you use the same normal intonation.

  1. "Er trifft seine Freunde jeden Tag im CaFE"
  • (Neutral order, neutral intonation: the stressed word is the one before the verb-final position, and you have no stress and falling intonation until there. Under these assumptions, with this pronunciation, the order cannot be changed)
  1. therefore "WRONG": "Er trifft seine Freunde im Café jeden TAG." (if it's also an out-of-the-blue utterance, everything unstressed until the end, falling intonation)
  • However, you might rearrange the standard word order, for instance when you want to set up a contrast. I think your alternative order indeed becomes possible if "Mitbewohner" gets contrastive stress (and the café is unstressed as old information), and if the main message is about a contrast pair. This can be a reason to have the second contrast item at the end (I think because it is a natural stressed position):
  1. "Er trifft [seine ELtern] im Café [nur SELten], aber wenigstens trifft er [seine MITbewohner] im Café [jeden TAG].
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  1. Would the first translation to German be really considered wrong?

Ja.

  1. If yes, is it due to the order in the sentence?

Ja.

  1. If it is due to some order-rule, do native German speakers always follow that rule? Do they ever break the rule "intentionally"? Also are there any "legal" exceptions?

Nein, wie Bakunin schreibt, zur Betonung kann es absichtsvoll geschehen, oder, bei unüberlegtem Sprechen kann man, nachdem man "im Café" schon ausgesprochen hat, noch auf die Idee kommen, das "jeden Tag" eine Information ist, die man hinterherschieben will.

  1. What would a German think -in terms of literacy and so- when they hear the sentence Er trifft seine Mitbewohner im Café jeden Tag from a native speaker?

Wenn die Betonung nicht, wie von Bakunin dargelegt, eine Pause vor dem "jeden Tag" enthält, würde man erwarten, dass sie sich in einem Café treffen, das "Jeden Tag" heißt. Dass das "jeden" kleingeschrieben wird, hört man ja nicht und wäre als Firmenname auch nicht undenkbar.

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  • If you are a native speaker, this is a nice answer in my opinion. Why would someone downvote this answer ?
    – Xfce4
    Oct 20, 2022 at 18:49
  • @Xfce4 I think because the reason somebody asked was because he/she is an english speaker trying to learn German and explaining it in German to the downvoter is not helpful to him/her. Although since you are the OP, you speak German already? Mar 30 at 23:44

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