Braces and brackets in German syntax – a guideline on word order with modal verbs and subordinate clauses
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<h1 itemprop="headline">Braces and brackets in German syntax – a guideline on word order with modal verbs and subordinate clauses</h1>
<h2 itemprop="headline">Learn German right here online</h2>



<p>
A question <a href="https://www.quora.com/German-language/What-are-the-rules-for-the-placement-of-hätte-in-a-sentence">asked</a> made me realize that the topic of word order is something that confuses language learners. Although this subject matter doesn't have
very high priority, it can help learners understand and remember the structures of German grammar better.
</p>

<p>
You find braces in the simplest structures like the <i>Perfekt</i>:
</p>



<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">hat</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">gewaschen</span>.</p>


<p>
Do you see the box containing the direct object? It's the yellow one in-between the two turquoise boxes, establishing the frame. Inside this frame or these syntactic brackets, if you like, you can put all kinds of syntactical units, for example time aderbials:
</p>

<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">hat</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">gestern</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">gewaschen</span>.</p>


<p>
When you add <a href="http://www.primitivecode.com/index.php?topic=-German+course-part+4-tables-declension-of-nouns-cases-of-possessive-pronouns-determiners-adjectives-complete-conjugation-verbs-form-case-">modal verbs</a>, the infinitive is appended at the far end of the sentence in the Präsens. This position is not opposed to the initial position of a sentence (concerning statements), where the subject (in our example <i>er</i>) is located. See that this position at the far end has great impact on the meaning, just like the first position in a sentence. If you take these two words you get the wireframe of the sentence (er waschen, er lassen, er können).
</p>

<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">lässt</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">jetzt</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">waschen</span>.</p>

<p>To understand syntax the second and the last position are important, they are connected in terms of tense, creating tense and time relationship. This is of course only relevant for tenses composed of auxiliary verb and Partizip, not for Präsens and Präteritum, which are "single entity tenses". The two constituents have a fundamental connection in their establishing time: hätte können, ist worden, war worden, hat lassen etc. For example this:</p>

<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">hat</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">gestern</span> waschen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">lassen</span>.</p>

<p>"He got the car washed yesterday."</p>

<p>
See that the frame "hat lassen" is Perfekt and that "lassen" is a Partizip. This is really freaky, but the truth. <i>Lassen</i> looks as if it were an infinitive, but it is not.
</p>


<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">hat</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">gestern</span> waschen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">wollen</span>.</p>


<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">hat</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">gestern</span> waschen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">können</span>.</p>

<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">hat</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">gestern</span> waschen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">müssen</span>.</p>


<p>
If the sentence is not in the <a href="http://www.primitivecode.com/index.php?topic=-German+course-part+3-on-German-verbs-tense-Partizip-Perfekt-starke-schwache+Verben-list-and-conjugation-" target="_blank">Perfekt tense</a>, for example in the Präsens, the frame is made up of modal verb and affixed infinitive:
</p>

<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">kann</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">jetzt</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">waschen</span>.</p>


<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">soll</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">jetzt</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">waschen</span>.</p>


<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">will</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">jetzt</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">waschen</span>.</p>


<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">muss</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">jetzt</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">waschen</span>.</p>


<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">darf</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">jetzt</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">waschen</span>.</p>

<p>Seeing "werden" as a modal verb and not as Futur I makes life easier:</p>

<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">wird</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">jetzt</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">waschen</span>.</p>

<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">würde</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">jetzt</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">waschen</span>.</p>



<p>Of course "würde" is still a substitute form of the Konjunktiv II der Gegenwart and "werden" can signify the future tense.</p>


<p>The passive voice, too, has "brackets":</p>

<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Der Wagen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">wird</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">jetzt</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">von ihm</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">gewaschen</span>.</p>



<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Der Wagen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">wurde</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">gestern</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">von ihm</span> <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">gewaschen</span>.</p>

<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Der Wagen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">ist</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">heute</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">von ihm</span> gewaschen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">worden</span>.</p>




<p>
You can't omit the direct object, but you can omit the von-phrase.
</p>


<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Der Wagen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">ist</span> gewaschen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">worden</span>.</p>

<p>
And the Konjunktiv II der Vergangenheit? (Past subjunctive)
</p>
<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Der Wagen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">wäre</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">heute</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">von ihm</span> gewaschen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">worden</span>.</p>

<p>
With modal verb:
</p>


<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Der Wagen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">hätte</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">heute</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">von ihm</span> gewaschen werden <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">können</span>.
</p>


<p>
Again, "können" is a Partizip.
</p>



<h2>But what about subordinate clauses?</h2>

<p>Ok, let's dig a little deeper and look at the word order in subordinate clauses.
We first have to add a main clause: </p>

<p style="background-color:yellow; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Das Wetter ist schön, so dass... </p>


<div>
<ul style="margin-left:10px; padding:7px; list-style-type:none; text-decoration:none">
<li>er den Wagen waschen <span style="background-color: #7BC618;" class="blackink">will</span>.</li>
<li>er den Wagen <span style="background-color: #7BC618;" class="blackink">wäscht</span>.</li>
<li>er den Wagen gewaschen <span style="background-color: #7BC618;" class="blackink">hat</span>.</li>
<li>er den Wagen waschen <span style="background-color: #7BC618;" class="blackink">wird</span>.</li>
<li>er den Wagen fast gewaschen <span style="background-color: #7BC618;" class="blackink">hätte</span>.</li>
<li>der Wagen jetzt gewaschen <span style="background-color: #7BC618;" class="blackink">wird</span>.</li>
<li>der Wagen gerade gewaschen worden <span style="background-color: #7BC618;" class="blackink">ist</span>.</li>
<li>der Wagen fast gewaschen worden <span style="background-color: #7BC618;" class="blackink">wäre</span>.</li>
<li>der Wagen heute <span style="background-color: #7BC618;" class="blackink">hätte</span> gewaschen werden können.</li>
</ul>
</div>



<p>Don't get bogged down with the <a href="http://www.primitivecode.com/index.php?topic=-German+course-part+4-tables-declension-of-nouns-cases-of-possessive-pronouns-determiners-adjectives-complete-conjugation-verbs-form-case-" target="_blank">tense system</a>, I am not trying to confuse you, just take note of the fact that the main verb (the finite verb, meaning that which is conjugated according to number and tense) is appended at the end of the sentence. "Hätte" is not appended at the end. This is happening with the Konjunktiv II der Vergangenheit in the passive voice in conjunction with a modal verb (können). The sentence is too long to put the main verb at the end because by the time the end is reached the listener will have forgotten where the speaker had started off, unraveling all the braces seems to much for the brain. In this the German language is capable of quite some contortions:</p>







<p style="background-color:#59CE22; padding:7px;" class="blackink">Er <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">hätte</span> <span style="background-color:#FFFF80; padding:7px;">heute</span> <span style="background-color:#FFcF88; padding:7px;">den Wagen</span> waschen lassen <span style="background-color:turquoise; padding:7px;">können</span>.</p>

<p>Das Wetter war heute sehr schön, so dass er heute den Wagen hätte waschen lassen können.</p>

























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