How is a German sentence built? Hauptsätze + Nebensätze

The sentence structure of German might seem complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll see it’s actually much simpler than you imagine.

Here we will see the main building blocks of a German sentence. But let’s start with the more familiar English sentence and go from there :arrow_down:

A sentence can be made up of one or more clauses. Clauses are groups of words that include a subject and a verb. To know how many clauses there are, just count the conjugated verbs! Here are some examples:

A. [She likes ice-cream]. → Just one clause
B. [She likes ice-cream] and [he likes cake]. → Two separate clauses joined by “and”
C. [She likes the ice-cream [that her mother makes]]. → Two clauses, one inside the other

:point_right:t4: The clauses in examples A and B are main clauses. They are independent of other clauses and stand on their own.

:point_right:t4: In example C we have two clauses, but in contrast to example 2, one of the clauses (“that her mother makes”) is inside the other bigger clause. The bigger clause is the main clause and the one inside is called a subordinate clause.
In this case, the subordinate clause is called a relative clause, but there are other types, like in these examples:

D. [He asked [if she was home]].
E. [Are you sure [(that) this is the right book?]].

In German, we have the same type of clauses. The main clauses are called Hauptsätze (singular: Hauptsatz) and the subordinate clauses are called Nebensätze (singular: Nebensatz).

Knowing how to recognize them is very important for a couple of reasons.

  1. Nebensätze are separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma. Always. So for examples C-E, one would say:
    F. [Sie mag das Eis, [das ihre Mutter macht]]. :ice_cream:
    G. [Er fragte, [ob sie zu Hause sei]]. :house:
    H. [Bist du sicher, [dass dies das richtige Buch ist]]? :closed_book:

  2. The Position of the verb is different in the Hauptsätze and the Nebensätze. (We will ignore the position of the verb in questions for a second -we might come back to that in another post, so let me know if that would interest you!)

In a normal declarative sentence, the main verb (the one that is conjugated) of the Hauptsatz goes in second place, like in examples F-H above.
However, you will also notice in the examples that in the Nebensätze the main verbs go all the way at the end of the Nebensätze.

:bulb: Was this useful for you? Is there something you are still not sure about, or any other topic related to this that you would like to understand better? Let me know in the comments and I will do my best to help you!