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Currently a friend of mine is learning English (he is German, as I am) and we are trying to figure out some basic sentences where German grammar is not directly applicable to English grammar. Because in German you have something like Subject-Verb-Object and in Englisch, if I remember correctly, you have Subject-Object-Verb.

So my question is: Could you provide some typical pitfall-examples where one could see the major difference?

  • English grammar does get confusing very quickly... I've spoken BrEnglish all my life and still do google searches on a daily basis... Not trying to put you off, just saying that you don't need to know every grammar rule to get by :) – Tim Jul 15 '15 at 13:32
  • @Tim, I agree to you 100%. I was just looking for some very basic pitfalls that are common known. – ckruczek Jul 15 '15 at 13:33
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    @ckruczek I'm having a mental block right now; can you try to give an example in both languages (or at least in German)? – Blubberguy22 Jul 15 '15 at 15:07
  • Dem Schaffner zeigte sie ihre Fahrkarte. The more I think of it the less sample I am able to find. – ckruczek Jul 15 '15 at 15:11
  • Re. The request for sample sentences: This answer gives a few varieties of "I'm learning German in my spare time.", should you still need some. – Stephie Jul 15 '15 at 20:35
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I'm afraid you mixed something up - the word order in English is far more fixed than in German.

A few exceptions aside, you can assume the word order in English always to be a variety of Subject - Verb - Object (note: "Predicate" is typically used in German only) for declarative sentences:

The dog bites the postman.

This is especially important as subjects and objects can not be distinguished out of context, so "the dog" remains unchanged whether he is doing the biting or object, i.e. being bitten.

In German on the other hand the grammatical role can be distinguished by the case - either "der Hund" (=subject) or "den Hund"(=object)1:

Der Hund beisst den Briefträger.
Der Briefträger beisst den Hund.

Also, main sentences prefer, but don't require SVO. If you want to change the emphasis, it's perfectly acceptable to move the object (or other parts of the sentence) to the front. The grammar structure is called V2, meaning the finite verb goes in second position. Apart from that, almost anything goes. In our simplified example:

"Den Briefträger beisst der Hund."

For subordinate clauses German has SOV, meaning the finite verb goes in the last place. Subordinate clauses require a main clause, so let's expand our example a bit:

The dog bites the postman because it is Monday. -> twice SVO here.

In German:

Der Hund beisst den Briefträger weil es Montag ist.

For further reading on verb order I suggest browsing the sister site German SE, where this topic is frequently discussed.


1 Note that the distinction isn't always that clear, I chose male nouns for clarity. In ambiguous cases Germans tend to interpret according to SVO unless that would be complete nonsense.

  • This statement: "A few exceptions aside, you can assume the word order in English always to be a variety of Subject - Verb - Object " seems wildly inaccurate. Passive voice? Also, when I was in school in Iowa, we learned to split sentences into the subject and the predicate, with both the verb and the object in the predicate. – DCShannon Jul 16 '15 at 0:26
  • I appreciate all the help that was given here and I am seeing my lack of grammar knowledge...So thanks for all the detailed explanations! – ckruczek Jul 16 '15 at 4:03
  • @DCShannon , passive voice follows SVO: "The postman was bitten by the dog". If you are looking for different order, it's questions: "Did the dog bite the postman?", but that's identical to German. That's why I wrote "for declarative sentences". Also, it was OP that wrote "predicate", but almost certainly we are dealing with false friends here. "Prädikat" in German grammar typically means the verb only, not the object - and was used in this sense in the question and comments by OP. I explicitly used "verb", not "predicate". – Stephie Jul 16 '15 at 11:05
  • @Stephi: Ofcourse Ill do this! Thanks for the hint again. My fault. – ckruczek Jul 16 '15 at 11:44
  • @ckruczek Thanks. I hesitated to edit your question myself, because I didn't want to do so against your intentions. – Stephie Jul 16 '15 at 11:46
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A simple example is this:

Monkeys are destroying the garden.

Here the order is Subject Predicate Object, and the same

Mr. Clinton is teaching Algebra to the students

Is also the different order.


Also, my German is old, but I think the verb often comes at the end? This is quite different to English, and the main thing I had to get my head around. That and the Half to 10 not Half past 9 times.

  • Yes I found this sample too, but actually it's the same order as in german - SPO. So no difference at all right? – ckruczek Jul 15 '15 at 13:39
  • @ckruczek in this example, no difference. – Tim Jul 15 '15 at 13:40
  • Maybe I found a sample: English: You can speak to me in german. speak(Predicate), in german(Object?) And the german sentence: Du kannst Deutsch mit mir sprechen. sprechen(Predicate) is at the end. Have we found some? – ckruczek Jul 15 '15 at 13:43
  • Yeah seems like it - you should post as your own answer :) – Tim Jul 15 '15 at 13:44
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    @ckruczek, careful with your example, it is SPO - note the "kannst" (= flexed verb) on 2nd position, at the end, it's only an infinitive. – Stephie Jul 15 '15 at 15:20

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