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I saw a sentence

Der Junge spielt am Wochenende Schach.

In English,

The boy plays on the weekend chess.

sounds very awkward.

Is it German grammar that the object should be at the end of the sentence?

If I say

Der Junge spielt Schach am Wochenende.

then is it completely okay? Not grammatically wrong but awkward? Or completely wrong?

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  • It's not Wochenender but Wochenende (no r at the end). I corrected that and I changed layout because quotes should not be formatted like code. Commented Apr 20 at 6:15

4 Answers 4

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English and German are siblings. They are both West Germanic languages. They had a common ancestor about 1500 years ago, and that is why these two languages are so similar to each other. But still, they are not twins, and 1500 years is time enough to develop many differences.

Not only the vocabulary is different (with many similarities), but also the grammar evolved in different ways since English and German separated from each other.

Here is a list of differences, you probably already know:

feature English German
Number of grammatical genders of nouns 0 or 1 (whether it's 0 or 1 is a matter of definition) 3 grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, neuter; the grammatical gender of a German noun is a fixed intrinsic property of the noun that does not depend on other things, it even does not depend on the thing named by the noun
Number of grammatical genders of pronouns 3 grammatical genders: neuter for things, masculine and feminine for persons depending on the biological gender for persons (with exceptions: pets, ships, ...) 3 grammatical genders; the gender of a pronoun depends on the grammatical gender of the noun to which it refers
Number of grammatical cases of nouns 2 grammatical cases: the possessive is marked with 's at the end of a noun, but there is no difference between subjective and objective, so they together appear as one oblique case for nouns 4 grammatical cases: Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ, Akkusativ, depending on the sentences main verb if the noun is in an object or on the preposition in a prepositional phrase
Number of grammatical cases of pronouns 3 grammatical cases: subjective, objective, possessive 4 grammatical cases, identical to the cases of nouns
Number of grammatical tenses 16 tenses: simple present, present continuous, present perfect, present perfect continuous, simple past, past continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous, simple future, future continuous, future perfect, future perfect continuous, past future, past future continuous, past future perfect, past future perfect continuous 6 tenses: Präsens, Präteritum, Perfekt, Plusquamperfekt, Futur I, Futur II
Number of passive voices 1 passive voice 2 passive voices: Vorgangspassiv, Zustandspassiv
Capitalization default: all lowercase, but the first letter of every word that is derived from a proper names is uppercase; the first letter in a sentence is uppercase; complicated non-standardized rules for capitalization in titles (titlecase) default: all lowercase, but the first letter of every noun is uppercase; the first letter in a sentence is uppercase; there are no exceptions for titles
Tu-vos distinction (number of singular 2ndperson pronouns) 1 form: you 2 forms: du, Sie; if the pronoun is the subject, also the verb must match
Number of letters in the standard alphabet 26: a, b, c, ... , x, y, z 30: all English letters and in addition: ä, ö, ü, ß

There are many more features that are different, and you will find similar lists on internet where maybe also some other features are listed.

But the feature, that in my opinion makes the biggest difference, but still is forgotten in most of the lists you can find on internet is:

word order

English is a SVO language. This means, that in a normal full sentence that is a simple statement, the Subject is at position 1, the Verb is at position 2 and optional Objects occupy position 3 and following positions.

But German is not a SVO language. It is a V2 language. This means: The Verb is at position 2. The rest of the words is allowed to sit where ever they like. Well, the word order is not completely free, there are still a lot of rules, but these rules are weak and it's often ok to ignore them.

This means, that you have a lot of freedom to arrange the parts of speech in a German sentence, and this freedom is used by German native speakers to add focus to parts of speech by putting them on position 1 or to the very end of a sentence.

English not only has a rather strict rule for the placement of the subject (normally always at position 1), but also for the order of other parts of speech. But in German the position 1 (the place before the verb) can be used by any part of speech, and the objects and the words that are closely connected to the verb can float around in the sentence without really hard rules, just with some guidelines.

As a consequence of this, all of the following sentences are correct standard German:

Der Junge spielt am Wochenende Schach.
Der Junge spielt Schach am Wochenende.
Am Wochenende spielt der Junge Schach.
Schach spielt der Junge am Wochenende.

Wrong are only those permutations, where the subject (der Junge) would be placed at the end, because if the subject is not at position 1, it must be at position 3.

The standard word order is the first version. But when you want to point out, that its not on a Monday or Wednesday, but the weekend when he plays chess, you move "am Wochende" to the very end or to the beginning of the sentence. This is absolutely fine. German native speakers do this all the time. And if you want to stronger express, that he's not playing football or call of duty, but chess, you move "Schach" to the beginning. That's fine too.

Why does this work in German? It works because we identify the grammatical function of a part of speech not by its position in the sentence, but by other features, mainly by the grammatical case.

Here is an example:

The man eats the apple.

This is correct, because the subject (the entity that performs the action, i.e. the man) is at position 1, while the object (the entity that is involved in the action, but doesn't actively do anything, i.e. the apple) is at position 3. You can have sentences with "the apple" being the subject and sentences with "the man" as object:

The apple falls from the tree.
They see the man.

But this is wrong in English:

The apple eats the man.

In English, anything on position 1 will be interpreted as the subject, this sentence means, that a fruit is consuming a person, which is nonsense.

But it works fine in German:

Der Mann isst den Apfel.
Den Apfel isst der Mann.

In German we do not identify the subject by its position, but by its grammatical case. "Der Mann" is in nominative case, and therefore it must be the subject, no matter where in the sentence it is located. And "den Apfel" is in accusative case, so it can't be the subject. It must be an object, and so in both versions it is absolutely clear, who is the eater and who is the food.

And for similar reasons it is absolutely clear, that »am Wochende« is a temporal adverbial phrase, while »Schach« must be an object (here it is an object in accusative case, but the case is hard to identify in this example).

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  • 1
    It seems like some variation on this question is asked every few weeks here, but this is best answer to it I've seen in a while. I have a couple nitpicks though. First, many similarities between English and German ended with the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The result is that Modern English is a kind of German-French mashup, and for a native English speaker, Romance languages are generally considered to be easier to learn than German. There are still a lot of cognates, such as "Apfel" vs. "apple", but also many false friends, for example "Gift" vs "gift". ...
    – RDBury
    Commented Apr 20 at 10:53
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    Second, it's true that the German case system helps a lot when it comes to figuring out the roles of different sentence elements, But I've found that verb conjugation and word order are also very important. For example in "Obst essen sie Heute," the fact that it's "essen" and not "isst" tells you that "sie" is plural and they are eating the fruit, not the other way around. Sometimes a sentence is grammatically ambiguous and you have to resort to common sense: "Die Katze beißt die Frau." ...
    – RDBury
    Commented Apr 20 at 11:21
  • Finally, "you" in English covers both singular and plural, so in German it could be "du", "Sie" or "ihr". And just as with "du" and "Sie", "ihr" has it's own verb conjugation. I think the main take-away here is that German is not English and you can't just apply English word order to German. There's an old joke: "It's like those French have a different word for everything." Learning another language would be so much easier (but less interesting) if that all there was to it.
    – RDBury
    Commented Apr 20 at 11:41
  • @RDBury: your "apple" vs. "Apfel" is an example of a "Lautverschiebung" which is at work even within the german speaking territory, where "pf" becomes "pp" the farther north you get. There is also "Ap(p)el" in northern dialects, there is also "Kopf"-> "Kopp" (->"cup"), "hüpfen"->"hüppen" (->"to hop") and so on. Look up "Benrather Linie" (and "Rheinischer Fächer") for more on this.
    – bakunin
    Commented Apr 22 at 1:21
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    The subject doesn't have to be at position 1 or 3! e.g. "Der Vater spielt montags Schach. Am Wochenende (1), spielt (2), es (3) der Junge (4!)."
    – bakunin
    Commented Apr 22 at 1:29
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The strict word order of English (and the relatively loose word order of German) is because English has (like most other Western European languages) removed noun declination. For this reason there is no way to detect the case anymore because, even if there are certain relationships a noun can be in, these relationships are not marked. For instance:

Der Mann trifft den Freund.
Den Freund trifft der Mann.

The object ("Akkusativ") and the subject ("Nominativ") are clearly marked by the Artikel and hence the order doesn't matter. The same in English:

The man meets the friend.
The friend meets the man.

These two sentences have different meaning because the case is not marked (any more) and therefore the position within the sentence is the only thing telling you who meets whom.

Notice that there are some remnants of the original case system:

I see him.
He sees me.

Basically this is what the Germans do, but not with only a few select words (like personal pronouns) but with every noun and pronoun. They mark the cases, which makes noun usage more complicated but on the other hand allows the more loose word order (or, rather, sentence part order) German has. With such marked cases you could say:

Him I see.

Which is awkward, but you are still able to decipher who does the seeing and who is seen, despite the messed up order.

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You can't apply English word order rules to German. Yes, the word order can sometimes be the same but that's just coincidence in that particular case.

In general, German word order is like this:

  1. topic (only in main clauses)
  2. conjugated verb of the predicate (only in main clauses)
  3. subject
  4. pronoun accusative object
  5. dative object
  6. temporal adverbial
  7. causal adverbial
  8. modal adverbial
  9. locational adverbial (not directional!)
  10. noun accusative object
  11. prepositional object
  12. directional adverbial
  13. predicate verbs
  14. comparison or an adverbial of your choice

That order isn't set in stone but most common. If you arrange the parts of speech in a different order you emphasize those out-of-order parts a lot. It takes a lot of experience to tell whether the tension is too much. I recommend you to stick to the above order unless a native speaker tells you otherwise for that particular phrasing you want to use.


Der Junge spielt am Wochenende Schach.

This is the default order as it puts the temporal adverbial before the noun accusative object. If you had a pronoun accusative object instead, it should read:

Der Junge spielt es am Wochenende.

instead. If you do the same with a noun accusative object

Der Junge spielt Schach am Wochenende.

that means you push the temporal adverbial into that position 14. This position is commonly called Nachfeld and it emphasizes what's in there. So you are saying that “in contrary to your belief, he does it on the weekend”.

Note that this Nachfeld is behind the predicate verbs. So if you put the sentence in Perfekt, it would read

Der Junge hat Schach gespielt am Wochenende.

If you said

Der Junge hat Schach am Wochenende gespielt.

it would not be a use of the Nachfeld but another permutation that moves the noun accusative object Schach out of order and emphasizes it a lot.

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Based on experience as a native speaker: The first one is the normal word order I expect and that one would use almost always. If I had to explain it, I would say that I think of playing chess as a unit and in normal word order in German all modifiers of this action go between the two words.

The second one is not strictly wrong, but feels awkward and implies a separation of the "am wochenende" or strong emphasis of it, like: Der Junge spielt Schach Pause am Wochenende!

So the second word order would happen only if you forgot to mention this part that seems important later or want to emphasise because your statement didn't achieve the expected reaction. In your example, you tell someone that the boy played chess and because the person is not shocked yet you add on: "On the weekend!"

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