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I was asked to translate 'The doctor cooks a pizza every day' into German and answered

Die Ärztin kocht eine Pizza jeden Tag

It was wrong and the right answer was

Die Ärztin kocht jeden Tag eine Pizza.

I still don't understand why the order of the phrases matter.

Why is my answer wrong?

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    I fixed the umlauts for you. If you're having trouble typing them on a non-German keyboard, what I often do is look up the word in Wiktionary and let it find the closest properly spelled variation. Then I copy and paste the word.
    – RDBury
    Apr 13 at 5:38
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    It's important to never simply omit the umlaut dots. That's just plain wrong. If you find no way to type or copy/paste the proper umlauts, add an 'e' after the vowel.
    – RHa
    Apr 13 at 7:15
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    Your answer isn't really wrong. It's just not the generic answer. (Apart from that, in German, you're not cooking a pizza, you're baking it), so even the "correct" solution sounds weird to native speakers.
    – tofro
    Apr 13 at 7:56
  • Who asked you to translate and checked your translation? A human or an app? Apr 13 at 10:51
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    @tofro - "Cooking" pizza sounds odd in English as well. Perhaps, since it's a beginner's text, it's allowing for limited vocabulary, and that can lead to some odd word choices.
    – RDBury
    Apr 13 at 13:06

3 Answers 3

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German word order is flexible, but it's not the same as English and your version would be, if not actually wrong, rather odd-sounding. You can liken it to order of adjectives in English. Compare

  • "I live in the big gray house."

with

  • "I live in the gray big house."

The second version sounds odd, though it might be acceptable if there was some special reason to emphasize the color.

For your example, the time something happens is normally spoken early in the sentence rather than last as you had it. So the default word order would put the "jeden Tag" next to the verb. Either

  • Die Ärztin kocht jeden Tag eine Pizza.

or

  • Jeden Tag kocht die Ärztin eine Pizza.

Keep in mind that German allows almost any sentence element to be placed before the verb, as long as the verb comes second. The second version puts emphasis on the time, when did the doctor make pizza? Meanwhile the first version emphasis the pizza, what did the doctor cook every day?

German also tends to put "new information" after "known information". In this case, we can identify "eine Pizza" as new information because it uses an indefinite pronoun. If it was a definite pronoun, "die Pizza", then it would be known information and more acceptable to put it right after the verb. (I'm not sure why the doctor would be cooking the same pizza every day, but grammatically it would work.) Similarly, pronouns are normally placed early in the sentence since we (presumably) already know who or what they refer to.

There are other guidelines for the default word order in German, and I won't go into them all here since I'm sure you teacher will cover them. They aren't really "rules" since none of them are strictly followed by native speakers in practice. But for now it's best to learn and use the default order until you know what effect straying from it will have on meaning.

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@RDBury is right. Unfortunately, I cannot add a comment due to the lack of "reputation".

I just want to mention that "Die Ärztin kocht eine Pizza jeden Tag" is possible too but it would sound naturally only with the stress on the correct word, which is "eine".

We get:

Die Ärztin kocht eine Pizza jeden Tag, nicht zwei, nicht drei, sondern eine.

(The doctor cooks one pizza everyday, not two, not three but one.)

"A pizza" and "eine Pizza" do not tell us the number of pizzas that are cooked everyday. In German, the difference between "eine" and "1" is not as clear as in English because, in German, the indefinite article happens to be the same word as the number 1 in front of a noun.

eine Pizza: a pizza, one pizza


As a side note, "kochen" in German means "cooking with water". If you do "eine Pizza kochen", you would get porridge or soup. In German, we bake (= backen) pizza.

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German word order is indeed flexible but you have a standard order and you use flexibility only when you want to accentuate something as being more important.

Standard order is (in a Hauptsatz):

Something (most often subject, but not always) - verb (always in second position) - TMKL - objects (also they have an order one to the other but can move relative to each other as in the sentence too).

Now you see that TMKL. What I mean by that is temporal, modal, kausal, lokal. That is their normal order between them, but also they normally stand between verb and objects (or whatever follows the verb). temporal: heute, morgen, nächste Woche, gestern, am Abend modal: schnell, langsam kausal: wegen der Kälte, aus Angst lokal: hier, dort, oben, unten, nach Hause, hierher, dorthin

So your "jeden Tag" is a temporal. Your (akkuastive) Object is the Pizza. Normal order would be: Die Ärztin(S) bäckt(Vb/Prädikat) jeden Tag (temporal) eine Pizza (Obj.) To exemplify further: Die Arztin bäckt jeden Tag(temporal) geduldig(modal) und mit Liebe(another modal) aus langweile(kausal) zuhause(lokal) ihrem Mann (dative object) eine leckere Pizza(acusative object).

Now everything you want to accentuate (as in being an information that is important or that is new) you bring as much in the front of the sentence as you can. (The listener is eager to hear the new/important information first.)

Geduldig bäckt .... Jeden Tag bäckt .... Für ihren lieben Mann bäckt ... (it is more important for who she bakes, not what she bakes) Eine Pizzab bäckt ... (it is important that she bakes a pizza, not something else)

What you did, you moved the local to the end of the sentence. You did not really had a motivation for it. (As opposed to move it to the beginning of the sentence.) So your examiner considered it a fault, he thought you do not know that TMKL belongs between verb and object. Now your "moving" would be still legit, if you separated it with a comma. (Just like an Ausklammerung, but I dont want to go now into the Feldertheorie of sentences.)

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