1

I am studying word order for GCSE German and am confused about the position of the object relative to expressions of time.

For example, the two answers below are from my textbook:

Firstly: Ich spiele abends mit meinem Bruder Computerspiele.

And: Die Kinder haben dienstags eine Judostunde in der Schule

In the first sentence, the object (Computerspiele) comes AFTER both the time adverb (abends) and the manner (mit meinem Bruder).

In the second sentence, the object (eine Judostunde) comes directly AFTER the time adverb (dienstags).

Is there a rule that determines whether the object should come after the time adverb or not?

2
  • There are few strict rules in German concerning order, see related question. Unfortunately most depend on context as previous sentence, where you want to place emphasis etc.
    – guidot
    Commented Apr 24 at 13:56
  • Btw, is "mit meinem Bruder" really "manner"? If I ask "Wie spielst du Computerspiele?", would the answer be "Mit meinem Bruder"? To me that's the biggest flaw in the "time, cause, manner, place" system, there are so many edge cases that it's difficult to apply in practice.
    – RDBury
    Commented Apr 24 at 14:45

2 Answers 2

2

First, please check some of the other questions here on word order since they appear here every so often and the answers are very similar. (There is a link to one of these questions in the comments.) The answer here is that there are no "rules" other than verb position, but there are are "guidelines". German speakers will happily ignore the grammatical word order you learn in class in order to put emphasis on a particular phrase. So there are often several "correct" word orders depending on what the speaker feels is important.

I think the first example can be explained best by the idea of "new information", though the guideline for time adverbs plays a role too. The speaker assumes you already know he/she has a brother, so the new information is the video games. New information is (usually) pushed to near the end of a sentence, so it comes last in this case. (There are no non-finite verbs or verb prefixes in this case, but they would be last if there were.) If the speaker thought you already knew about the video games, but didn't know about the brother, then putting "meinem Bruder" last would be preferred.

If think the second example is somewhat unusual since normally an indefinite article implies "new information". If you already know about the judo lesson then it would be "die Judostunde". But for whatever reason the speaker feels that the location is more important or unexpected. For instance if the question was "Where are the children?" rather than "What are the children doing?" One of the guidelines you're probably learning in class is that location adverbials ("in der Schule") normally come after other phrases, including accusative objects, and perhaps the textbook is demonstrating that. But the key word here is "normally", since other word orders are correct as well.

The upshot is that trying to create a list of "rules" to determine word order in German is a hopeless task. The guidelines you learn in class mainly function to keep your sentences from sounding odd, but native speakers often don't follow them because of other factors including context and emphasis.

1

In addition to the excellent answer by @RDBury here is, shown with your example, the twists of possible (and grammatically correct) word orders:

Ich spiele abends mit meinem Bruder Computerspiele.

This is a somewhat "neutral" word order, no specific stress on anything, just the mentioning of a fact.

Computerspiele spiele ich abends mit meinem Bruder.

The first part of a German sentence is the "theme". This sentence has the same basic meaning as your example but with the subtext of I might play other games with other people and at different times, but computer games I play in the evening with my brother.

Abends spiele ich mit meinem Bruder Computerspiele.

Again, the "theme" is in front. This might be the answer to: "How do you spend your evenings?" Notice also that the last part gets some stress too. A slight change in word order:

Abends spiele ich Computerspiele mit meinem Bruder.

This might also be the answer to the last question but with the additional explanation to why I won't play with you: it is evening now and you are not my brother.

Mit meinem Bruder spiele ich abends Computerspiele.

This puts the stress on "with my brother" and might answer a question like "Do you spend any time with your brother?" But even this is possible:

Mit meinem Bruder spiele ich Computerspiele abends.

So, I might play computer games all the time and with different people, but when I play with my brother it is (only? mostly?) in the evening.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.