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in Duolingo, the correct translation of the sentence "Eat your ice cream slowly." is

Iss dein Eis langsam.

and the following sentence is wrong:

Iss langsam dein Eis.

I think the word order in the first sentence is more natural in English, but I always put adverbials before non-pronoun object when I construct a German sentence, and it never goes wrong. e.g. Ich esse gern Eis..

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2 Answers 2

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Word order in German is flexible, but some orders are more correct than others and a simple rule like "put adverbials first" can sometimes go wrong. The way you ordered it is probably in the "technically not ungrammatical but no one would actually say it that way" area. (I think another possible factor here is that Duo isn't always good at recognizing an alternate correct answer over what it thinks is "the" correct answer. For the purposes of the quizzes, the "correct" answer is the "best" answer, not necessarily the "only correct" answer.) Normally, an adverbial would only be placed before the object if it refers to time, so "Iss jetzt dein Eis," would be more common with "jetzt", but "Iss dein Eis langsam," would be more common with "langsam". But stress the "normally" here, because there may be situations where that's not the case. Some grammars give very specific rules for word order, which have the advantage that the results aren't wrong, but their disadvantage is that learners get confused when native speakers don't follow them, a "do as I say, not as I do" situation. Duo seems to have a more "trial and error" approach, so you're expected to get some of the quiz answers wrong as part of the learning process. The problem with that approach is that learners some up with their own rules and get confused when it turns out that the situation is more complex than expected. I don't know if there is a better alternative; German word order seems to be a more matter of "feel" than a list of rules to follow. There are often many combinations that aren't exactly wrong but just sound odd. The order a native speaker would actually use can depend the situation, for example what information the speaker thinks is most important at the time.

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Note that German word order most of all pays attention to factors like "old information earlier, new information later" etc. So definite objects like "das Eis, dein Eis" etc behave different from indefinite "ein Eis". The adverb is not to blame in this case. This is why you get "Iss dein Eis langsam" - the ice cream in your hand is given, but the message is "not so hasty!". In contrast "Er aß langsam ein Eis" is good – here the fact that someone is having some ice cream is highlighted as the new information.

Additionally, "langsam / schnell" can have different meanings, and this does mean different word order properties of the adverb. "Iss langsam dein Eis" is possible, but it means "it's about time to eat your ice cream" (before it melts), and "Er aß schnell sein Eis" does not mean "eating fast" but it means "without hesitation". So "schnell / langsam" in early position in the clause measure the time until something is being done, or similar things, not the speed of the action itself. That's also a reason why you want to stick to the different standard orders, to make clear what is meant.

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