Learn German - Lesson 10 - Grammar:

Im gasthof "zum weissen hirsch"

(photo by  Hotel Zugspitze used under terms of Creative Commons license.)
mountain resort germany




I. Sentence Connectors


1. It was noted in Lesson 3 that the finite verb is the second element of statements. In Lesson 8 we noted that an introductory phrase such as ich glaube may be considered to be a separate item and not the first element of a statement. We have also encountered three little words which in a similar way may precede a sentence but are not counted as its first element.


Und ich nehme Forelle blau mit zerlassener Butter.

Und dazu trinken wir Tee.

Aber es ist auch kühler hier oben.

Aber im Winter fahren wir öfters in die Berge zum Skilaufen.

Oder wir fahren in den Schwarzwald.


Und, aber and oder actually connect these sentences to preceding utterances. We will call them SENTENCE CONNECTORS. In traditional terminology they are referred to as COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS.


2. Simple sentences may thus be joined together by Sentence Connectors into larger, compound sentences:


Ich wohne in München, aber ich fahre sehr oft nach Frankfurt.

Beckers haben ein neues Auto, und im Sommer fahren wir öfters mit ihnen in die Berge.

Essen Sie immer um diese Zeit, oder essen Sie manchmal auch später?


Notice that the word order of both parts of these compound sentences is similar: the verb is the second element of statements, or the first element of yes-no questions, regardless of whether or not a sentence connector precedes. Grammatically speaking, sentence connectors occur between sentences, not in them.


II. Clauses and Clause Introducers


1. Two or more sentences joined together by sentence connectors are not the only type of larger sentences we have encountered, however. Sometimes one sentence is built into another as a subordinate part of it. Note the following examples:


Können Sie mir sagen, wo ich ein Visum beantragen kann?

Wie ich sehe. haben Sie eine schöne Bibliothek, Herr Wilson.

Ich wusste garnicht, dass Ihre Frau hier Verwandte hat.

Ich weiss nicht, ob es heute im Park oder im Kurhaus stattfindet.


The underlined parts of the above sentences are Clauses. They are sentences which are incorporated into the larger sentences as subordinate parts of them. Notice that they introduced in every case by special little words (wo, wie, dass, ob) which we will call CLAUSE INTRODUCERS. In traditional terminology they are referred to as SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS.


2. Notice the order of words following the clause introducers above. The clause may be very short, consisting only of the clause introducer, subject pronoun and verb, or it may be quite long. The finite verb may be by itself (sehe, hat), or it may be part of a verb phrase with an infinitive (beantragen kann) or accented adverb (stattfindet). In every case however THE FINITE VERB IS LAST WITHIN THE CLAUSE.


3. Now compare NORMAL WORD ORDER with CLAUSE WORD ORDER. Note specially the position of the FINITE VERB:


Wo kann ich ein Visum beantragen?

... wo ich ein Visum beantragen kann?

Ihre Frau hat Verwandte hier.

... dass Ihre Frau hier Verwandte hat.

Findet es heute im Park oder im Kurhaus statt?

ob es heute im Park oder im

... Kurhaus stattfindet.


Notice now too that a verb phrase with an accented adverb is written as one word when it occurs at the end of a clause.


4. The list of Clause Introducers includes a number of words you are already familiar with (all the question words, for instance) plus several others. We give here only the ones which have been encountered up to this point.









"when ll





welcher (welches, welche, etc. )

"what, which"


"if, when, whenever"

wer (wen, etc.)

"who, whom"


lias; how"

wieviel (wieviele, etc.)

"how much, how many"




Notice that some of these words sound just like other words which are not clause introducers. Remember that CLAUSE INTRODUCERS AND CLAUSE WORD ORDER GO TOGETHER.


Da wollen wir unseren Freund Meyer besuchen.

There we're planning to visit our friend Meyer.

Da wir unseren Freund Meyer besuchen wollen, fahren wir auch nach Frankfurt.

Since we're planning to visit our friend Meyer, we're also going to go to Frankfurt.

Das müssen wir morgen machen.

We have to do that tomorrow.

Ich weiss, dass wir das morgen machen müssen.

I know that we have to do that tomorrow.

Wie können Sie das verstehen?

How can you understand that?

Wie ich sehr gut verstehen kann, will er einfach nicht mehr dort arbeiten.

As I can very well understand, he simply doesn't want to work there any more.


III. Difficulties with Larger Sentences


Most of the difficulties students have with larger sentences result from a) failure to remember the cardinal observations that Germans place the verb second in statements last in clauses, and b) failure to recognize what constitutes an element, i.e., what the first element of the sentence is.


Let us examine some more of the sentences we have encountered, plus a few additional examples, and observe the arrangement of their elements.


a. Im Sommer fahren wir an die Ostsee, aber im Winter bleiben wir hier in München.

b. Herr Müller weiss schon, dass wir jetzt in der Ludwigstrasse wohnen.

c. Meistens essen wir schon um ein Uhr, da ich mittags gewöhnlich nach Hause gehe.

d. Wir werden in einer halben Stunde, wenn meine Frau zurückkommt, die Kisten auspacken.

e. Später, wenn es nicht mehr regnet, könnten wir vielleicht noch einen spaziergang machen.

f. Wenn Sie selbst mittags Ihre Hauptmahlzeit essen, essen Sie dann abends nochmal warm?


1. In each of the above sentences the finite verb is the second element. Everything that precedes the finite verb then is the first element.

2. The first element may thus be: a subject pronoun (d), a noun phrase (b) a preposition and its object (a), an adverb (c), an adverb plus a clause (e), or a clause by itself (f).

3. A clause may come at the beginning (e,f), middle (d), or end (b,c) or a larger sentence. It may be an element by itself (f) or part of another element (e).

4. Within the clause itself the verb is last.

j. When a clause comes at the beginning of a sentence, two finite verbs will occur next to each other (e, f).






I. We have already noted that German numbers, except for eins, normally have no endings. They are not adjectives, although they may occur within the specifier-adjective-noun sequence. There are however number-like adjectives in German which do have endings. We have had one such example in this unit:


Am vierten Juli, mittags während eines Gewitters.

The fourth of July, at noon during a thunder shower.


These number-like adjectives, the words for "first, fourth, twentieth, etc." are called ORDINAL NUMERALS. Note how the numeral above is formed:


am vier-t-en Juli

(on) the fourth of July.


The number is followed by a stem-lengthener -t- and then the regular adjective ending.


II. Look at some more examples of NUMBERS and ORDINAL NUMERALS:


Wir fahren in zehn Tagen nach Amerika.

Wir werden am zehnten Tag unserer Reise ankommen.

Hier sind täglich zwei Konzerte.

Das zweite Konzert fängt um acht Uhr an.

Ein Sommer im Gebirge ist sehr schön.

Das ist mein erster Sommer im Gebirge.

Ich lese jeden Tag drei Zeitungen.

Die dritte Zeitung lese ich abends.

Im Sommer finden hier zwanzig Konzerte statt.

Das zwanzigste Konzert war am schönsten.

Kennen Sie seine fünf Söhne?

Kennen Sie seinen fünften Sohn?

Wir fahren in acht Wochen nach Berlin.

In der achten Woche unserer Reise fahren wir nach Berlin.

Das sind ihre sieben Kinder.

Das ist ihr siebtes (siebentes) Kind.


1. Most Ordinal Numerals through "nineteenth" have the NUMBER plus STEM-LENGTHENER -t- plus ADJECTlVE ENDINGS:


am zehn-t-en Tag

on the tenth day

das zwei-t-e Konzert

the second concert

seinen fünf-t-en Sohn

his fifth son


2. Three Ordinal Numerals are irregular and one has an alternate. Irregular form:


mein erst-er Sommer

my first summer

die dritt-e Zeitung

the third newspaper

der acht-en Woche

the eighth week

ihr siebt-es Kind (ihr sieben-t-es Kind)

her seventh child


3. The Ordinal Numerals from "twentieth" on up have the NUMBER plus STEM-LENGTHENER -st- plus ADJECTIVE ENDINGS:


das zwanzig-st-e Konzert

the twentieth concert


III. Ordinal Numerals are used for dates in both German and English. There are some differences in the way they are used, however:


Am vierten Juli besuchen wir meine Tante.

On the fourth of July

we're going to visit my aunt.

On July the fourth

On July  fourth

Heute ist der sechste Mai.

Today is

the sixth of May.

May the sixth.

May sixth.


In English we have three choices; in German there is only one. Note that the date is always a der-sequence, although the noun (der Tag) is not expressed, and that the ordinal always immediately precedes the name of  the month when it occurs. Here are some more examples:


Am 16. September komme ich wieder zurück.

On September 16th I'm coming back again.

Der 21. Juni ist der längste Tag des Jahres.

The 21st of June is the longest day of the year.

Ich freue mich auf den einunddreissigsten!

I’m looking forward to the thirty-first!

Wir fahren am Nachmittag des 18. ab.

We’re leaving on the afternoon of the 18th.



When they occur in sentences. dates have whatever form (Nominative. Accusative. Dative. Genitive) the structure of the sentence may require. Notice that in the German writing system the ordinal may also be identified by a period placed after the Arabic numeral. When a date stands alone as for example at the head of a letter, it has the Accusative form.


Bremen. den 31. Mai 1951




Numerous examples of prepositions with dative and/or accusative objects have occurred and have been discussed. In this lesson we encounter the first example of a preposition followed by a genitive form:


Dazu haben wir nachher während des Konzerts die beste Gelegenheit.


The preposition während is one of a very small group of prepositions which are customarily followed by a genitive object. We will note the others as they occur.




I. We have had several references to time by the clock. Let us examine a few of them.


Wie spät ist es denn jetzt?

What time is it now?

Wieviel Uhr ist es eigentlich?

What time is it anyway?

Es ist genau viertel nach eins.

It's exactly quarter past one.

Wir essen meistens um ein Uhr.

We usually eat at one o'clock.

Das Kurkonzert fängt um vier Uhr an.

The concert begins at four o'clock.


There are two ways of asking the time in German: both are equally common. In German as in English time expressions the word for "o'clock" may or may not occur. Notice, however, that the word for "one" is ein when followed by Uhr but is eins when the word Uhr does not occur.


II. There are different ways of telling time in German. Here are some more examples:


Ich werde um zehn Uhr dreissig bei Ihnen sein.

I’ll be at your office at ten-thirty.

Um halb sechs müssen wir spätestens abfahren.

We have to leave at half past five at the latest.

Es ist viertel vor drei.

It's a quarter to three.

Es ist dreiviertel drei.

It's a quarter to three.

Viertel nach eins.

Quarter past one.

Viertel zwei.

Quarter past one.



Time between the hours may be designated with reference to the number of minutes involved (zehn Uhr dreissig, zwanzig Minuten nach fünf). This presents no problem. The use of fractions is a little more complicated, however.


1. The word viertel may be used with the prepositions nach and vor (viertel nach eins, viertel vor drei). This is just like the English use of "quarter past" or "quarter to".


2. The words viertel, halb and dreiviertel also occur WITHOUT PREPOSITIONS. They then mean "a quarter", "a half" or "three-quarters" of the way through the hour, and the reference point is the hour which has not yet struck. You may, for instance, think of the hour from one o'clock to two o'clock as the second hour and the hour from two o'clock to three o'clock as the third hour. At 1:15 you are one-fourth of the way through hour number two (viertel zwei); at 1:30 you are halfway through the hour (halb zwei): at 1:45 you are three-quarters of the way through the hour (dreiviertel zwei).


III. Here is a tabular presentation of the different ways of telling time in German:



ein Uhr




ein Uhr fünfzehn

viertel nach eins

viertel zwei


ein Uhr dreissig


halb zwei


ein Uhr fünfundvierzig

viertel vor zwei

dreiviertel zwei


IV. We have had three words referring to the general time of day: abends, mittags, nachmittags. These are adverbs and often occur together with a reference to clock time. There is one more which is of frequent occurrence: the word morgens. Here are further examples of their use:


Ich gehe mittags gewöhnlich nach Hause.

I usually go home at noon.

Essen Sie abends nochmal warm?

Do you eat a warm meal again in the evening?

Wir kommen um acht Uhr morgens.

We'll come at eight o'clock in the morning.

Nachmittags bin ich immer im Biiro.

In the afternoons, I’m always in the office.

Abends um sieben hören wir immer den Wetterbericht.

We always hear the weather report at seven in the evening.

Was haben Sie mittags um zwölf Uhr vor?

What do you have planned for twelve noon?




Meist- was noted as an irregular superlative stem in Lesson 9. We have encountered some of the forms in which it occurs and will now add a few more examples in order to present a summary of its forms and their uses.


1. As attributive adjectives, forms of the stem meist- occur in the specifier-adjective-noun sequence:


Essen nicht die meisten Leute mittags ihre Hauptmahlzeit?

Don't most people eat their main meal at noon?

Die meiste Zeit arbeitet er überhaupt nicht.

Most of the time he doesn't work at all.

Das meiste Geschirr will ich in Deutschland kaufen.

Most of the china I intend to buy in Germany.

Von uns allen hat er das meiste Geld.

Of all of us he has the most money.

Die meisten sagen gar nichts.

Most [people] don't say anything

at all.


Notice that in English we say "most", "the most", or "most of the … ". The forms of meist- in an attributive phrase in German are always preceded by a specifier. The noun can be omitted however.


2. The special predicate phrase am meisten:


Herr Köhler raucht am meisten.

Mr. Köhler smokes the most.

Abends lese ich am meisten.

I read most in the evenings.

Von allen Verwandten besucht uns meine Tante am meisten.

Of all [our] relatives my aunt visits us the most.


3. The adverb meistens:


Wir essen meistens um ein Uhr.

We usually eat at one o'clock.

Er schreibt meistens Romane.

He writes mostly novels.

Im Sommer fahren wir meistens ins Gebirge.

In the summer we usually go to the mountains.



Compare the sentences above and note the different meanings given by the forms of meist-. Note especially, however, the difference in the way the two forms meisten and meistens are used: Meisten ALWAYS OCCURS IN A PHRASE. Meistens NEVER IS PART OF A PHRASE.


Die meisten sagen nichts.

Most say nothing.

Meistens sagen sie nichts.

Mostly they say nothing.

Am meisten lese ich abends.

I read most in the evenings.

Meistens lese ich abends.

Usually I read in the evenings.