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Lesson Transcript


Michael: How are sentences structured in German?
Igor: And are the rules rigid?
Michael: At GermanPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Ben Lee is talking to his friend, Elisabeth Eichmann, about German bands and Ben says,
"I like Die Ärzte."
Ben Lee: Ich mag die Ärzte.
Ben Lee: Ich mag Die Ärzte.
Elisabeth Eichmann: Die Ärzte mag ich auch.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Ben Lee: Ich mag Die Ärzte.
Michael: “I like Die Ärzte.”
Elisabeth Eichmann: Die Ärzte mag ich auch.
Michael: “I like Die Ärzte too.”

Lesson focus

Problem Introduction
Michael: In the conversation, Ben says that he likes the band Die Ärzte. In English, Elisabeth's agreeing statement, "I like them too," differs from Ben's statement only by one additional word, "too," or
Igor: Auch.
Michael: The word order, however, remains the same. What about German? Whereas Ben says, "I like Die Ärzte."
Igor: Ich mag Die Ärzte.
Michael: Elisabeth answers, if translated word-by-word, "Die Ärzte like I too,"
Igor: Die Ärzte mag ich auch.
Michael: Why is that? While German usually follows the S-V-O, or the Subject-Verb-Object order, sentence structure does not need to be observed as strictly as in English and is relatively flexible. In English, the word order indicated the subject and the object. In German, however, nouns themselves carry a lot of grammatical information, and the way in which they are declined indicates which noun serves as a subject, and which one is an object. Rather than the word order, it is the noun endings that reveal the role a noun plays in the sentence. Almost all German words are subject to such alterations, namely declension or conjugation.
Michael: Let's take a closer look at both responses.
Do you remember how Ben says,
"I like Die Ärzte."
[Pause 4 seconds]
Igor: Ich mag Die Ärzte.
Michael: Ben decided to put the subject "I"
Igor: Ich,
Michael: first, the verb, "like,"
Igor: mag,
Michael: second, and finally, the object, a band called Die Ärzte,
Igor: Die Ärzte,
Michael: at the end of the sentence. This word order follows the most common subject-verb-object pattern and is one of many possible variations of this sentence.
Michael: Now let's take a look at our second version.
Do you remember how Elisabeth says,
"I like Die Ärzte too."
[pause 4 seconds]
Igor: Die Ärzte mag ich auch.
Michael: Elisabeth’s sentence differs from Ben's not only by one extra word, "too,"
Igor: auch,
Michael: but also by the different sentence structure, she chose to express the exact same thought. She started off with the object,
Igor: Die Ärzte,
Michael: after which, she inserted the verb, "like." The fourth word in Elisabeth’s sentence is the subject,
Igor: Ich,
Michael: and the last one is the adverb, "too."
Igor: auch.
Michael: The German sentence structure is indeed pretty flexible, isn’t it?
Michael: So far we have learned that, although the subject-verb-object structure is dominant in German, the words can be moved around rather freely. This is because German speakers alter the words themselves rather than the entire sentence.
Michael: Does it mean that the words can be moved around as freely as we like? Not exactly. Let's consider the first of two examples.
Igor: Die Katze trinkt die Milch (enunciated). Die Katze trinkt die Milch.
Michael: meaning "The cat is drinking milk." {Katze} here would be a cat. This sentence is a simple informative statement.
Igor: Die Milch trinkt die Katze. (enunciated). Die Milch trinkt die Katze.
Michael: Be careful, because this sentence means "The milk is drinking the cat." Here, the noun “cat” that served as a subject in the previous example, is put at the end, which is a typical position for the object. But don’t worry, Germany doesn’t have milk which would be able to drink a cat. Such an uncommon word order would only be used for a reason. This sentence, for example, might be in a short story, book or poem.
Igor: Eine Welt in der Bäume zu Samen wachsen und Milch die Katzen trinkt.
Michael: "A world where the trees grow into seeds and the milk drinks the cats."
Thus, you might come across building sentences like this or creating sentences that might
sound odd for native speakers while you learn German, but surely pretty soon you will develop a
feeling that will help you decide when it's okay to change the word order, and when it's not.
Michael: Changing the word order might also change the sentence focus. Imagine our protagonists, Ben and Elisabeth, are watching TV where they see a trailer for the new movie coming to
theaters and one of them says,
Igor: Ich mag diesen Film nicht.
Michael: Which translates to “I don’t like this movie.”
Igor: Ich
Michael: is the subject here, and
Igor: mag
Michael: is the verb of the sentence and means “to like.” The next word is
Igor: diesen
Michael: which is connected to the pronoun for the next word,
Igor: Film
Michael: Meaning “movie” and it is the object of this sentence. And lastly, we have
Igor: nicht
Michael: Which is the negation corresponding to “to like,” and would be translated as “don’t” in English. You can observe here the S-O-V sentence structure, and the sentence itself is just a regular
statement giving the information, that one of our heroes doesn’t like the moving which is
advertised on the TV at this moment. But what happens, if we mix the words a bit?
Igor: Diesen Film mag ich nicht..
Michael: Which, directly translated, would be, “This movie like I don’t.”
In this case, the pronoun and the object moved to the beginning of the sentence, followed by
the verb, the subject, and the negation, changing the sentence structure to O-V-S.
Not only the object moved to the beginning of this sentence, but also the focus of this sentence.
While both sentences mean exactly the same thing, the second version puts more emphasis on the
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Now, do you remember what band Ben and Elisabeth like? It’s called
Igor: Die Ärzte
Michael: And is one of the most popular bands in Germany. It started as a punk rock band in the 80’s and they worked their way up to the top of the German music charts very fast. Their greatest hits are
Igor: Männer sind Schweine.
Michael: “Men are pigs.”
Igor: Lasse Redn’
Michael: “Let’em talk” and,
Igor: Schrei nach Liebe.
Michael: “The call for love.” Listening to German songs is actually one of the best ways to get a feeling for German word order. Since the message has to fit into a limited amount of lines, match the rhythm and ideally rhyme with other verses, you might find there are a lot of unusual, but still correct word orders. Let’s take the song
Igor: Schrei nach Liebe
Michael: For instance, you will hear there the sentence
Igor: Alles muss man dir erklären.
Michael: That would directly translate as “Everything has to be explained to you.”
A more natural way to say this would be,
Igor: Man muss dir alles erklären.
Michael: But in this particular case, the author of the lyrics decided to change the word order simply to make it fit the overall rhythm of the song. We hope that this will help you in mastering the word order in German.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We’re here to answer them!
Igor: Tschüsschen!
Michael: See you soon!

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