Subordinating Conjunction Rules in German
In this week’s 3 Minuten Deutsch episode, I explained the rules for Hauptsätze and Nebensätze in German as it pertains to subordinating conjunctions. This serves as an introduction to the subordinating conjunctions in German and will allow you to fully appreciate next week’s episode of 3 Minuten Deutsch, in which I will be talking about some of the most used subordinating conjunctions in the German language.
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The rules are pretty simple, if you have a main clause in German, you probably already know where the verb should go. These are the clauses that are considered normal word order. In a statement, we generally start with the subject and the verb is second. Sometimes we start with something that isn’t the subject, but the verb stays in second position and the subject comes after the verb. In a question we usually start with the verb, unless there is a question word in front of it. If the question word isn’t the subject, the subject of the question has to be after the verb.
In a dependent clause, the verb must be moved. If the dependent clause comes after the main clause, the conjugated verb is moved to the end of the sentence. If the dependent clause comes before the main clause, the conjugated verbs of both clauses are moved to the middle of the sentence next to the comma.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of main clauses before we change them to dependent clauses.
Ich habe zehn Dollar. – I have ten dollars.
Meine Mutter hat mich gefragt. – My mother asked me.
Both of those sentences are main clauses. The verb is in second position. In the second sentence, there is also a past participle, which is placed at the end of the sentence. This means that if you use that sentence as a dependent clause, you have to leap frog the form of “haben” over that past participle and put it at the end.
Meine Mutter hat mir gefragt, ob ich zehn Dollar habe. – My mother asked me if I have ten dollars.
In this example, we see that the subordinating conjunction “ob” is used in the second clause. This moves the conjugated verb “habe” to the end of the sentence. The first clause is not effected by this conjunction.
Wenn ich zehn Dollar hätte, würde meine Mutter mich nicht danach gefragt haben. – If I had ten dollars, my mother wouldn’t have asked me about it.
In this example we see that the subordinating conjunction “wenn” is used in the first clause. This moves the conjugated verb “hätte” (subjunctive mood) to the end of the clause and brings the conjugated verb “würde” (subjunctive mood) to the beginning of the second clause. Notice that the past participle and infinitive of “haben” still show up at the end of the second clause without being effected by the word order change. Let’s take a look at a few more examples.
Ich bin nach Hause gekommen. – I came home.
Mein Hund ist weggelaufen. – My dog ran away.
Ich bin nach Hause gekommen, als mein Hund weggelaufen ist. – I cam home, when my dog ran away.
Mein Hund ist weggelaufen, als ich nach Hause gekommen bin. – My dog ran away, when I cam home.
Als mein Hund weggelaufen ist, bin ich nach Hause gekommen. – When my dog ran away, I came home.
Als ich nach Hause gekommen bin, ist mein Hund weggelaufen. – When I cam home, my dog ran away.
Er ist ins Bett gegangen. – He went to bed.
Er hat sich die Zähne geputzt. – He brushed his teeth.
Bevor er ins Bett gegangen ist, hat er sich die Zähne geputzt. – Before he went to bed, he brushed his teeth.
Bevor er sich die Zähne geputzt hat, ist er ins Bett gegangen. – Before he brushed his teeth, he went to bed.
Er ist ins Bett gegangen, bevor er sich die Zähne geputzt hat. – He went to bed, before he brushed his teeth.
Er hat sich die Zähne geputzt, bevor er ins Bett gegangen ist. – He brushed his teeth before he went to bed.
Next week’s video and blog will be about the subordinating conjunctions as well, but I will be talking in more depth about each of the conjunctions and their usage.