German Subordinating Conjunctions

Learn how to use subordinating conjunctions in German word order

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German Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions are used to connect an independent and dependent clause together, and they do affect word order.  An independent (or main) clause contains a subject and verb and can stand alone as its own sentence.  A dependent (or subordinate) clause also contains a subject and verb, but is introduced with a subordinating conjunction and cannot stand alone as its own sentence. 

There are also other conjunctions (called coordinating) that do not affect word order.  The easiest way to tell the two types of conjunctions apart is to memorize the coordinating ones.  Und, aber, denn - for/because, sondern - but (on the contrary) and oder are the coordinating conjunctions.  The rest of the conjunctions act as subordinating, and interrogative words can also act as subordinating conjunctions.  Some examples are als-when, bevor-before, bis-until, damit-so that, dass-that, wenn-if/when, ob-whether, obwohl-although, nachdem-after, da-since, während-while, weil-because, and wie-how.

1.  In clauses introduced by subordinating conjunctions, the conjugated verb is forced to the end of the clause (not sentence) and a comma is placed before the conjunction.

Ich bleibe zu Hause.  Ich bin krank.  I'm staying home.  I am sick.
Ich bleibe zu Hause, weil ich krank bin.  I'm staying home because I am sick.
(weil is the subordinating conjunction, and bin must go to the end.)

Sie kommt zu dir.  Sie hat gegessen.  She's coming to your place.  She has eaten.
Sie kommt zu dir, nachdem sie gegessen hat.  She's coming to your place after she has eaten.
(nachdem is the sub. conjunction, and hat must go to the end.)

→ However, when a double infinitive construction is involved, the conjugated verb form precedes the two infinitives.  The double infinitive always goes to the end of the clause or sentence.

Ich weiß nicht, ob er hat mitkommen wollen.  I don't know if he wanted to come along.

2.  When a sentence begins with a subordinating conjunction, the main clause begins with the conjugated verb in keeping with the normal word order of German that states verbs are always in the second position.  The subordinate clause becomes the first position, so the verb of the main clause must occupy the second position.

Hans wird Sie anrufen, während Sie in Berlin sind.  Hans will call you while you're in Berlin.
Während Sie in Berlin sind,wird Hans Sie anrufen.  While you are in Berlin, Hans will call you.
(während is a subordinating conjunction, and the subordinating clause occupies the first position of the sentence, so the second position must be occupied by the verb of the main clause, wird.)

3.  If there is a separable prefix verb in a dependent clause, the prefix remains attached to the verb, and the entire verb goes to the end of the clause, whereas normally the prefix would go to the end.

Er ist immer müde, wenn er früh aufsteht.  He is always tired when he gets up early.

4.  When there are two verbs in a dependent clause (such as a modal and an infinitive), the modal goes last, following the infinitive.

Er ist müde, wenn er früh aufstehen muss.  He is tired when he must get up early.



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