German word order

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German word order is generally with the V2 word order restriction and also with the SOV word order restriction for main clauses. For polar questions, exclamations and wishes, the finite verb always has the first position. In subordinate clauses, the verb occurs at the very end.

German requires for a verbal element (main verb or auxiliary verb) to appear second in the sentence. The verb is preceded by the topic of the sentence. The element in focus appears at the end of the sentence. For a sentence without an auxiliary, these are some possibilities:

Der alte Mann gab mir gestern das Buch. (The old man gave me yesterday the book; normal order)
Das Buch gab mir gestern der alte Mann. (The book gave [to] me yesterday the old man)
Das Buch gab der alte Mann mir gestern. (The book gave the old man [to] me yesterday)
Das Buch gab mir der alte Mann gestern. (The book gave [to] me the old man yesterday)
Gestern gab mir der alte Mann das Buch. (Yesterday gave [to] me the old man the book, normal order)
Mir gab der alte Mann das Buch gestern. ([To] me gave the old man the book yesterday (entailing: as for you, it was another date))
The position of a noun in a German sentence has no bearing on its being a subject, an object or another argument. In a declarative sentence in English, if the subject does not occur before the predicate, the sentence could well be misunderstood.

However, German’s flexibile word order allows one to emphasise specific words:

Normal word order:

Der Direktor betrat gestern um 10 Uhr mit einem Schirm in der Hand sein Büro.
The manager entered yesterday at 10 o’clock with an umbrella in the hand his office.
Object in front:

Sein Büro betrat der Direktor gestern um 10 Uhr mit einem Schirm in der Hand.
His office entered the manager yesterday at 10 o’clock with an umbrella in the hand.
The object Sein Büro (his office) is thus highlighted; it could be the topic of the next sentence.

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