Davon betroffen wären Millionen von Menschen, besonders in Asien.

Could someone explain the word orderi n the above sentence? Why is wären the third? Shouldn't it be second place?


2 Answers 2


"wären" is the second element, because it is a declarative clause, that can usually be trusted. Therefore, try viewing "davon betroffen" as one unit in first position. It works: "betroffen" is a participle / adjective, "davon" is its complement. It's a unit.

Verb-final variant: "weil Millionen Menschen davon betroffen wären", and then:

1[davon betroffen] 2[wären] | Millionen Menschen [--1] [--2]

  • How can an adjective be after the thing it describes? Aug 17, 2023 at 19:51
  • Do you talk about betroffen? Even if you see this as an adjective, it's not declined so it is not part of a noun phrase, and internal noun phrase ordering rules do not apply to it. Instead, it's part of the copula phrase "betroffen sein". Alternatively, you may relabel the latter as static passive voice of the verb betreffen.
    – Janka
    Aug 17, 2023 at 20:19
  • The "stative passive" with participle is in fact a construction with an adjective, i.e. adjectival participle. The verb "sein" is the copula. The basic order for adjectives is always complement before adjective, although with adjectives there is more word order variation than with verbs.
    – Alazon
    Aug 17, 2023 at 20:58
  • The Duden Grammatik (2022) states this as follows: (p. 451f "Adjektivphrase"): "Wenn die Adjektivphrase die Funktion eines Attributs hat, stehen die untergeordneten Phrasen vor dem Kopf.... Wenn die Adjektivphrase als Prädikativ fungiert, können Präpositionalphrasen auch nach dem Kopf stehen -- [[Von den Tests] noch nicht ganz überzeugt] zögerte sie mit der Unterschrift. -- [Noch nicht ganz überzeugt [von den Tests]] zögerte sie mit der Unterschrift.*"
    – Alazon
    Aug 17, 2023 at 21:03
  • @Brian: "davon" is a complement that depends on the adjective, it is not the thing that the adjective describes. "Die [davon betroffenen] Menschen" -- here "Menschen" is being described by the adjective, not "davon".
    – Alazon
    Aug 17, 2023 at 21:08

You understand the V2 rule wrong. It does not say that the finite verb is the second word in the main clause.

What it says it that the finite verb is the second item in the main clause. So everything that is in front must be the first item. Regardless how many words. (Actually, this is not entirely true because there are connectors as e.g. und, oder, aber, doch, denn that are not part of the first item. They are known as zero position items.)

Let's look at your example. I have marked the V2 verb:

Davon betroffen wären Millionen von Menschen, …

It has davon betroffen as its first item. This is the topic. Let's reorder the sentence and introduce the expletive es to make it topicless. And let's mark the whole verb phrase.

Es wären Millionen von Menschen davon betroffen, …

This is the verb phrase betroffen sein von etwas — to be affected by something. Its prepositional object von etwas had been replaced by the da-adverb davon – by that.

Do you get it now?

The remaining question is why davon betroffen had been put in front. That is because it's the topic, the thing we need to talk about. (At least the author thinks that.)

In “germanized English”, all this would read:

“Affected by that, Millions of people would be.”

Of course English speakers don't talk nor write like that. But we do in German. It's an everyday thing.

  • To be fair, since both "davon wären ... betroffen" and "betroffen wären davon ..." are possible, it can seem a bit arbitrary that we just allow the two parts to combine to one.
    – Carsten S
    Aug 17, 2023 at 17:12
  • 1
    In general, you can move an arbitrary number of elements to first position but you have to start at the very end, may not leave out a single one, and have to stop at the pronoun accusative object: Ihn dir in die Tasche gesteckt hab ich.
    – Janka
    Aug 17, 2023 at 18:12
  • It's interesting that an analysis will reveal more rules in this than I would have been aware of. I'm just saying that it can seem like we make the analysis fit the rule. I'm not saying that it doesn't make sense.
    – Carsten S
    Aug 17, 2023 at 22:00
  • I have to agree, Carsten. This is a thorny problem of German syntax. The idea is that the Vorfeld is a constituent test, but you get units in the Vorfeld that would not make a complete phrase when in the middle field. Nevertheless, they are plausible constituents, like when it is a word plus its complement. The problem is whether they are "maximal" constituents, i.e. phrases.
    – Alazon
    Aug 18, 2023 at 8:54
  • "stop at the pronoun accusative object" I din't understand. Could you reexplain @Janka Aug 19, 2023 at 6:08

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