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Verb placement

German grammar can be very different from English grammar. This includes the order of words in a sentence.

The verb comes second

In German, the verb is always the second idea in a sentence. In English, this is only true in simple sentences, eg ‘Ich wohne in England’ – I live in England.

If we add some more information at the start of the sentence you can see how the languages differ:

  • Im Winter, wohne ich in England -> In the winter, I live in England.
  • Meiner Meinung nach essen wir zu viel Fett -> In my opinion, we eat too much fat.
  • Vor der Schule spielt Dan Fußball -> Before school, Dan plays football.

In English, the extra phrase is just tacked on the front. The word order stays the same. In German, the extra phrase is put on the front. The verb still has to go second, so it swaps places with I/we etc. The extra phrases put on the front are often to do with time.

Many of the adverbs from the list in the Adverbs of time, manner and placeRevision Bite can be used like this.

The verb isn’t always second

Sometimes the first idea is really long, maybe even a whole clause, but the verb is still second. Other times you have two verbs, eg in future* or perfect** tense – one goes at the end, but the auxiliary is still second.

Future and perfect tense verbs

First idea Second idea Third/fourth etc Translations
Ich spiele Tennis I play tennis
Ich spiele jeden Tag vor der Schule Tennis I play tennis every day before school
Jeden Tag vor der Schule spiele ich Tennis Every day before school I play tennis
Ich werde Tennis spielen* I am going to play tennis
Am Montag werde ich Tennis spielen* On Monday I am going to play tennis
Ich habe Tennis gespielt** I played tennis
Letztes Wochenende habe ich Tennis gespielt** Last weekend I played tennis
Meiner Meinung nach ist Tennis super In my opinion tennis is great
Während der Woche spiele ich Tennis During the week I play tennis
Bevor ich um 9 Uhr in die Schule gehe, spiele ich Tennis Before I go to school at 9 o’clock I play tennis

The only time it isn’t second is in questions eg ‘Bist du doof?’, ‘Darf ich zur Party gehen?’ (visit the Questions Revision Bite to learn more).

Common mistakes made by English speakers

  • Not keeping the verb in second position.
  • Remembering to move the verb, but putting it at the front.

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