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Gerade als er sich umwandte, vernahm er erneut ein Geräusch.

To me what this looks like is Gerade - i imagine used as a particle and then a Temporalsatz: als er sich umwandte. I've read online about particles being non sentence members, that they can't sit alone before the verb bracket (Vorfeld), and that removing them doesn't change the meaning of the sentence (as you could tell from removing it here but i want to know the grammatical explanation to title question). But what's the explanation in this case here? It is a matter of a particle + subjunction to begin with, right? Danke

2 Answers 2

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This is seen as one complex subjunction, according to Duden.

As such, there is no comma necessary, unless it is possible to put extra emphasis on the first part or it becomes longer than 3 words in total.

Das Licht ging an, gerade(,) als ich die Tür aufmachte.
Das Licht ging an, gerade in dem Moment, als ich die Tür aufmachte.

Dudenband 4 calls them Junktionsartige Wortverbindungen. (Duden 4 Nr. 932)

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  • This comma being optional is quite problematic IMHO, as "gerade als er sich umwandte" and "gerade, als er sich umwandte" mean different things. In "gerade als er sich umwandte", the "gerade" indicates we are talking about a precise moment, no matter when the entire action happened overall; it means "exactly when he was turning around". In "gerade, als er sich umwandte", the word "gerade" rather establishes an absolute temporal context referring to the time the narrator speaks in (gerade = just a few moments ago), and "als er sich umwandte" is just another event to further clarify the ... May 29, 2023 at 10:45
  • ... temporal context. In other words, "Gestern bin ich meinem Verfolger entkommen. Gerade als er sich umwandte, verließ ich schnell den Raum." is a meanintful sequence of events, but "Gestern bin ich meinen Verfolger entkommen. Gerade, als er sich umwandte, verließ ich schnell den Raum." sounds nonsensical, as "gerade" and "gestern" are two contradictory statements about when the events happened. May 29, 2023 at 10:47
  • @O.R.Mapper Do you have a source for this? May 29, 2023 at 18:10
  • Just my experience as a native speaker that the sentences have the described, different meanings, depending on whether or not you make a short break (as if there were a comma) after "gerade" when speaking. May 29, 2023 at 19:01
  • In the Duden page in the first example of this topic the subjunctions go together with adverbs (gerade can be both a particle and an adverb).... so this doesn't work only with particles. Adverbs as well can form a coherent unit with the subjunction to form a Multi-Part subjunction? thanks alot for both of your answers.
    – Srmuiel
    May 29, 2023 at 19:11
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From the perspective of someone who has implemented dependency grammars of German for a living: Yes, I would say that this is a case of adverbial particles grouping directly with the subordinating conjunction, which explains why they seem to usurp its first-place position (it is really the entire pair that occupies first position).

There are a number of such constructions, but only some few particles can be used, and it partially depends on the particle and the conjunction. Common examples are

  • nur damit ...
  • auch weil ...
  • immer wenn ...

The first two are quite generally applicable, while 'immer' really only goes with 'wenn'.

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