German Word Order with Direct and Indirect Objects
This week’s episode of 3 Minuten Deutsch explains the German word order with direct and indirect objects. This includes when they are pronouns and when they are not. You can see the video and the slides below or you can just keep scrolling to get more information from me.
Hint: The images are not meant to be charts with each column corresponding to a particular part of the sentence. They are color coded so you can follow the changes across all of the versions.
Rules for Word Order with Direct and Indirect Objects
Since the example sentences in the video were pretty simple, I thought it would be fitting on this blog post to make them a bit more complicated. What happens if you have a time element? Or if you start the sentence with the time element instead of the subject? What would it look like as a question? How do modal auxiliaries affect word order? What happens if you use the future tense? All of those questions shall be answered in the images below. Each image will come with a short explanation of how the word order was decided.
German Word Order with Modal Auxiliaries
In this example, we see how to use a modal auxiliary with this type of sentence. The first one simply has the modal where the verb normally would go and “geben”, the other verb, at the end of the sentence as an infinitive. The word order rules for the objects are as they were before. When both are nouns, the indirect object goes first. If one of them is a pronoun, the pronoun goes first. When both are pronouns, the direct object goes first.
German Word Order with Time
There is a little bit of flexibility for time elements in German sentences. For this example we show that we can put the time element between the indirect and direct objects as long as the direct object is not a pronoun. When the direct object becomes a pronoun, it moves to the position in front of the indirect object. This would mean that, according to the rule book, the time part could go before the direct object behind the verb, but to my ear, it sounds a bit odd to put it there. I would prefer to put the time element at the end of the last two sentences just based on “Sprachgefühl” (the intuitive feeling for the natural idiom of a language).
As I mentioned in the 3 Minuten Deutsch episode about inverted word order, you can usually start a sentence with the time element to spice up your word order. This moves the subject to the other side of the verb and the objects get shifted over a space because of it. The first example here is normal word order. The next three sentences start with the time, which moves the subject to behind the verb. The rest of the word order follows the same rules as before. If one of the objects is a pronoun, the pronoun goes first. If both are pronouns, the direct object comes first.
German Word Order with Prepositional Phrases
If the prepositional phrase refers directly to one of the objects, the prepositional phrase should follow that object. The example above shows what this looks like if the prepositional phrase describes the indirect object. If the sentence is formed like this, the object and the prepositional phrase that follows act as one part of the sentence. If one part of it is a pronoun, the whole thing is a pronoun. It simply wouldn’t make sense to say “her of my father” in German or English.
The same thing is true of a prepositional phrase that describes the direct object. The prepositional phrase can only be used when the object it refers to is a noun and not a pronoun.
Of course, if the prepositional phrase isn’t actually describing one of the objects, then the prepositional phrase should go after the objects in the same order it normally would (time, manner, place).
German Question Word Order with Direct and Indirect Objects
If you write a question with a direct and indirect object, but you don’t use a question word, the subject is simply moved to the other side of the verb and you change your punctuation. This doesn’t change anything about the direct and indirect object.
If you do use a question word, normally this won’t affect anything with the direct and indirect object either. The subject still goes on the other side of the verb (unless the question word is “wer” or “was” and is the subject). The direct and indirect objects retain their normal word order rules.
I hope with these examples you are able to understand some of the German word order rules with more clarity. If you are still having trouble, leave a comment below and I will gladly answer your questions.