expect to see the verb either in second position (main clauses)
or in final position (subordinate clauses). What if it begins
the sentence or clause? There are five main possibilities,
and a few special cases. Here they are, roughly in order of
Main clause following subordinate clause
this case, the subordinate clause is in a sense occupying the
first position in the main clause (since it answers one
question, such as "Why?" or "When?"), so even though the verb
appears to be in first position in the main clause, it is in
a sense still in second position where it belongs.
Kühe müde werden, schlafen sie im Stehen
When cows get tired (subordinate clause), they sleep standing
up (main clause)
Conditional sentence omitting "if"
wenn may be omitted from any conditional wenn-clause
in German. When this happens, the verb takes first position.
Here is another way to say the same thing (as in (a) above)
Kühe müde, (so/dann) schlafen sie im stehen
or dann (=then) is usually (but certainly not
always) inserted before the verb in the conclusion as an extra
clue that this is a conditional sentence. Occasionally, "if"
can be omitted in English in the same way. The following are
I had destroyed the book, you would not be playing MYST
(Wenn ich das Buch zerstört hätte,...)
I destroyed the book, (then) you would not be playing
MYST (Hätte ich das Buch zerstört, (so)...)
Imperative or suggestion
forget the "wir" form (translated "let's...")!
wir ein Pfund SPAM
eat a pound of SPAM
is no er/sie/es form of the imperative, but in formal writing,
Subjunctive I is sometimes used, usually in conjunction
with man or es, in order to express requests
or suggestions in the third person. This construction may
or may not begin with the verb. It is usually translated Let
the reader, or just by the imperative. We will cover Subjunctive
I (which usually indicates indirect speech) later, but its
third person singular (present) is easy to recognize:
for sein the form is sei; for all other verbs,
it is the same as the ich-form ==> if you see the ich-form
of a verb, but ich does not make sense, the verb is
probably in Subjunctive I.
sei eine Gerade
AB be a straight line
AB eine Gerade
nehme zwei Eier
two eggs (standard cookbook phrase)
stelle sich eine Welt ohne Eier vor
the reader) Imagine a world without eggs
man sich eine Welt ohne Eier vor
es ihm gelingen
he be successful
wir Eier? Do we have eggs?
Assertions emphasized with "doch"
of the uses of the "flavoring particle" doch is to add
emphasis to an assertion; when it is used in this way, the sentence
is sometimes begun with the verb:
man doch, wie wichtig Eier sind
all, one knows how important eggs are
weiß doch, wie wichtig Eier sind
er doch ein Pfund SPAM gegessen
all, he had eaten a pound of SPAM
hatte doch ein Pfund SPAM gegessen
Subject omitted (informal use)
don't have any time
Summary: which is which?
addition to the context, these clues will help you decide which
of the above possibilities applies in any given case:
are always marked by question marks
omitting the wenn are usually marked by so or
and suggestions are sometimes marked by exclamation points
or the use of Subjunctive I
assertions are always marked by doch