Word order in a sentence

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Word order in a sentence involves the order of the various constituents within the sentence. For this, we must keep in mind that this order is determined by syntactic rules. There are syntactic tendencies that lead to a great variety of possible positions that a constituent can take in a sentence.

 

Word order starts with the predicate, which is the main constituent of the sentence. The predicate consists of, at least, one finite verb form. The position of this (finite) verb form in German sentences is definite and remains unchanged; according to this position, we distinguish three word order types (Stellungstypen).

 

In the first word order type (Stellungstyp 1) the verb form is in the second position, in the second word type (Stellungtyp 2) in the first and in the third word type (Stellungstyp 3) in the final.

 

  Examples
Peter kommt heute früher nach Hause. first word order type
Kommt Peter heute früher nach Hause? second word order type
..., dass Peter heute früher nach Hause kommt. third word order type

 

 

A complex predicate contains a number of constituents that stand next to the verb form. In the first and second word order types, these constituents stand in the final position of the sentence; in the third word order type, they precede the finite verb form and stand in the penultimate position.

 

  Examples
Peter wird heute früher nach Hause kommen. first word order type
Wird Peter heute früher nach Hause kommen? second word order type
..., dass Peter heute früher nach Hause kommen wird. third word order type

 

 

For each of the three word order types we distinguish a frame which, based on the predicate, divides the sentence in three or two fields.

 

In the first word order type there are three fields, the one that precedes the finite verb form, the Prefield (Vorfeld), the field between the predicate constituents, the Middlefield (Mittelfeld), and the field that comes after other constituents of the predicate, the Pastfield (Nachfeld).

 

first word order type
Examples
Sabine
verkauft
ihr altes Fahrrad
für 100 Euro.
 
 
Sabine
wird
ihr altes Fahrrad
für 100 Euro
verkaufen.
 
 
 
 
 
   
Prefield (Vorfeld)
Middlefield (Mittelfeld)
Pastfield (Nachfeld)

 

 

In the second word order type,  there is only a Middlefield (Mittelfeld) and a Pastfield (Nachfeld).

 

second word order type
Examples
Verkauft
Sabine
ihr altes Fahrrad
für 100 Euro?
 
 
Wird
Sabine
ihr altes Fahrrad
für 100 Euro
verkaufen?
 
 
 
 
 
   
Middlefield (Mittelfeld)
Pastfield (Nachfeld)

 

 

The same applies to the third word order type, in which the frame is formed by the introductory subordinating conjunction and the predicate.

 

third word order type
Examples
..., dass
Sabine
ihr altes Fahrrad
für 100 Euro
verkauft
 
..., dass
Sabine
ihr altes Fahrrad
für 100 Euro
verkaufen
wird.  
 
 
 
 
final position  
 Middlefield (Mittelfeld)
Pastfield (Nachfeld)

 

 

As a general rule, the Prefield (Vorfeld) and the Pastfield (Nachfeld) can be occupied only by one constituent; the Middlefield (Mitterfeld), however, can have any number of constituents.

 

All kinds of sentence constituents can occupy the Middlefield (Mittelfeld) i.e. the subject, an accusative, dative or genitive object, a prepositional object or an adverbial. The position of these constituents in the Middlefield (Mittelfeld) is determined by syntactic tendencies, which, however, cannot determine only one correct position. There are a number of factors, such as the type of constituents, their form, their communicative function or the intention of the speaker, that play a part in giving emphasis to a specific part of the sentence.