The Box Model – a tool for sentence structure

 

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Before you start reading…


This post is more of about a general theory as well as the terminology I use to explain German structure
(word order, position of nicht and so on)
I really recommend reading this, but if you want to get to word-order right…
there’s a mini-series about that. Here’s the link to part 1 :)

German Word Order Explained

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Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German is Easy Learn German Online while reading titles that span over one line Course… ( get it? … one line is almost spelled like online… that was a joke by the way) .
Today, after a long looooong wait, it is time… for the first part of the mini series series on German sentence structure.
Wohooooo….
And to do the matter justice this mini series will be a loosely connected compendium of impressionistic essays, poems, songs and one or two Haikus inspired by the topic.
“But we want rules, Emanuel! Give us RULES, BRO!!”
I understand where you’re coming from. But can a rule help us understand the erratic path of a butterfly? Can a rule ever completely capture and produce the beautiful sound of small stream as it purls over mossy rocks? And aren’t there exceptions where there are rules just as there is fire where there’s smoke? My whole point is – and this is really really important:

rules won’t cut it with German sentence structure

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like you can put anything anywhere in a German sentence. When it comes to verbs, there are some iron clad rules and in books and other sources (like Easy German… hey Cari ;)) you can find other rules too, like, say, indirect object – direct object or time-manner-place.
But what’s really really important is that you try to see them like traffic lights: non-binding advice. Wait, is that actually right :)?
Anyways, German sentence structure and word order is a complex thing that needs a lot of gut feeling. We’ll learn some rules in this mini series, but the more important part are general ideas or characteristics of German, that will help you determine which word can go where and why.
And to start this all of we will have a look at what I call:

The Box Model

The box model is a way of looking at language or a sentence in particular that helps you understand how those many many many many words are organized. It holds for many languages but for German it is particularly useful… so let’s dive right into it.

Breaking down a sentence

Let’s analyze a sentence and see what parts we can identify there…

Probably the most important and defining part of a sentence is the verb. Pretty much every sentence has one. Without a verb, a sentence is just a scenery, a set stage without anything happening.

  • I coffee in the kitchen.

Here, the verb is missing and it is pretty boring.
The verb is so important because it represents what is happening, be it in our mind or the real world. Stuff happening, an action, is actually the main reason we talk. I think if there wasn’t ever anything going on we wouldn’t say very much. But luckily stuff happens all around us and verbs are the words for that. Theoretically, a language without verbs is possible.

  • I cup on the table.

However, the reality is full of action and flow and this non-verb-language just doesn’t do that justice at all and I actually don’t think there is a language that doesn’t have the concept of verbs. If you know of one, let me know.
German is especially verb-focused by the way, verbs govern everything in German but we will get to that later on.
So… a sentence will always have a verb. Now what about this?

  • Thomas has been reading

There are 3 words in there that are all verbs but there is only one thing going on: reading. So to avoid confusion let’s call reading an action and modify the claim of before… every sentence has an action which is represented by one or more verbs.

Now, in physics they say “no movement without mass”… which sound an awful lot like a completely unrelated phenomenon called “much mass without movement“… luckily we won’t have to deal with that until beach season… anyway, no mass without movement (or momentum) can be applied to language too. So far we have an action which in an abstract sense can be seen as movement. Now we need something that is moving or that has the momentum and this something is called the subject. Is the subject as important as the verb? No. There are many languages that do fine without having a subject in every sentence. Italian for instance. They just say

  • Rains. instead of
  • It rains.

And what is this it after all? Can you show me it? Describe it? In German and English we just have to say it because grammar compels us to have a subject in our sentence. In every sentence? Yes, absolutely… safe for the exceptions :).
So … our 2 basic constitti… contesttua… uh our 2 basic parts of a sentence are an action and the one doing this action, the subject.
Every sentence in German will contain those 2 things. For your convenience those parts are marked with colors in the following fictional example.

  • Ich lese abends oft in der Küche ein Buch über Pferde.
  • In the evenings, I often read a book about horses in the kitchen.

So…what’s with all the other stuff?

Besides the mandatory subject and action, we can put additional pieces of information into our sentence. It can be information about time or place or manner or circumstances or duration and so on…
Depending on the action there is information you must add, you may add and you can’t add.

  • I slept.

This doesn’t require me to say more. I can add time-information or place information or others… if I feel like it.

  • Last night, I slept.
  • Last night, I slept in my bed.

Here is an example for something you can’t add.

  • I slept my book…. is nonsense.

For other verbs, this very information is a mustache… oh… I mean must have.

  • I give.

This doesn’t feel complete yet so here we need to add 2 pieces of info.

  • I give you a book.

All right… now each piece of information is BY NATURE the answer to one specific question. Those can be obvious questions like when or where but also really specific ones like despite what fact? Actually the way the parts look in a sentence is exactly the way you would answer the respective direct question. Behold…

  • “I gave.”
    “What?”
    “A kiss…
    “To whom?”
    “My girlfriend…”
    “When?”
    “Yesterday morning…”

I can take all those answers and just use them to build a sentence… like Lego.

  • Yesterday morning, I gave my girlfriend a chocolate bar.

Now… all these pieces of information were very short. But it works for long ones just the same way.

  • “I fell asleep.”
    “When?”
    “While learning German.”
    “Where?”
    “In that my new kick ass comfy armchair.”
    “Why?”
    “Because I was tremendously tired from a long days work.”

And again, I can just take the answer to the question and put it into my initial sentence.

  • While learning German I fell asleep in my kick ass comfy new armchair because I was tremendously tired from a long days work.

I did NOT change the word order or anything… I just stuck it in there without much thought. What’s that, you ask?… Oh… no, I don’t know if that’s what he said, sorry.
Anyway, let’s do it again with an even longer …. piece… of information… my god, is it just me or has the quality been going dow… uhm decreasing… anyway, back to the example.

  • “I slept.”
    “When?”
    “During the second half of the lecture that introduced the German case system to us and that was by far the most boring lecture I have seen so far in my entire career as a student.”

And just as before you can just use the answer to build a whole sentence

  • During the second…. as a student, I slept.
  • I slept during the second…. as a student.

Now, that during-chunk is a pretty elaborate answer giving all kinds of background information about the lecture and myself. Does this really qualify as one piece of information answering only one question as I claimed before? Yes. Sure, it is also implicitly answering where and why I slept but those are nothing but assumptions. Maybe I was at home and slept while my friend was in that very lecture, which I then saw later on Youtube (hence my judgment) and my sleeping at the time had nothing to do with the lecture. We cannot know where I slept or why for fact. The way the whole chunk is phrased or more precisely the introductory word during makes it a valid answer to when and only to when?… not where, not even how long? And that is what matters… this whole massive block is one time information stuffed with additional things that do not concern the main action (sleeping) explicitly. We could replace the whole thing with at that time… not just a part but everything together.

  • I slep at that time.

We cannot just replace parts of the sentence with at that time.

  • I slept at that time that was by far the most boring….
  • I slept at that time that introduced the German….
  • I slept at that time I have seen in my entire….

It doesn’t really work. From the perspective of the main action (sleeping) the whole during-chunk is one unbreakable unit and all the information therein is second level info that is not directly connected to the main sentence…. it is like a box labeled with when?.

The box model

What we have discovered so far is that a sentence can be seen as being comprised of one or more verbs representing one action and a bunch of boxes that each contain the answer to one question that could be asked about that action. Even the subject of the sentence is such a box. A box labeled who?.
Those boxes can contain all kinds of things. So far we have seen boxes containing just words

  • Last night I slept.

or a dependent sentence

  • I slept because I was tired.

but it can also contain other constructions like –ing-things or to-things.

  • Doing my homework I fell asleep.
  • I tried to call you.

The to call you-part is a box answering to what?. Grammatically it has the very same function as salmon would have

  • I tried salmon.

Don’t believe me? Well, the following sentence could be a replacement for either example.

  • I tried it.

Note that is not so important to know what the box is answering to but rather where it ends. Let’s analyze 2 sentences using the box model. please ignore my inconsistent use of colors.

  • Last night, I slept in my chair because I was tremendously tired.
  • [When?], [who?] action [where?][why?]
  • Yesterday morning, for reasons I don’t want to discuss in detail, I gave my brother a book although I would have needed it.
  • [When], [why] [who] action [whom?][what?][despite what fact?]
  • A few days ago I was planning on going to the gym because I had realized that I had gained weight.
  • [When], [who] action [planning on what] [why].

Anything inside those sentence except for the action-words themselves is part of some box. In the second example, the whom-box is not just brother but my brother and the despite-box is also the whole thing.

Now you might be like… oh great, now I have to worry about identifying boxes, how does that help me?
Well… the box metaphor has 3 main advantages. Firstly … a box is solid and so are the units in the sentence. You can only move or replace them as a whole chunk and you cannot split them with parts of other boxes.

  • Yesterday evening, Jim’s girlfriend made him an incredibly tasty vegetable dish because he was very hungry.

I cannot say

  • Yesterday evening Jim’s girlfriend made him an incredibly tasty because he was very hungry vegetable dish.

I have broken a box with another box and that is not possible… never!
The second reason why box is a good metaphor is that we can close it. You can carry boxes for a friend who is moving to a new flat without knowing what’s inside.
This is important because the content of a box will NEVER affect the order of other boxes in the sentence let alone the words in those boxes. Whether there is one word in the box or a whole paragraph with a whole lot of second and third level info doesn’t matter from the perspective of the main sentence.

  • I am going to eat a pasta dish in the kitchen now.
  • I am going to eat a pasta dish in the kitchen after having finished watching the romantic comedy that my friend who works at this movie -company recommended to me despite her knowing that romantic comedies are not exactly my favorite genre.

The main sentence, the main action is that I am going to eat. All the stuff in the when-box is second level info. We could have just said after the movie and the listener would still know when I am going to eat. But I decided to squeeze more info in there… I mean why not. However, if my main message had been the stuff about the comedy I would have phrased things differently, probably without the whole eating part. The main sentence is

  • I am going to eat [when?].

and the exact content of the when-box is of no grammatical consequence to it. So… box-content doesn’t really matter grammatically.
The third reason for thinking of boxes is that you can use them to move lots of stuff easily and conveniently. In our example the time information is the last info but we could also put it in the beginning.

  • I am going to eat a pasta dish in the kitchen now.
  • Now I am going to eat a pasta dish in the kitchen.

Well, that was easy. We just moved one word. But what about the other example? There are a lot of words to move. The good news is we’ll just close the box, move it and then reopen it. We don’t have to touch a single word inside. We just move the whole chunk….

  • After having finished watching…. favorite genre, I am going to eat a pasta dish in the kitchen.

So … to sum it all up

  • Boxes contain information that answers exactly one question of interest for the main action.
  • It depends on the main action which boxes can be there, which must be there and which ones don’t make sense.
  • A box cannot be split up.
  • Boxes can contain a single word or several layered minor sentences. All additional information inside a box about other stuff in the same box has NOTHING to do grammatically with the main action. The main sentence doesn’t care what exactly is in a box.
  • Boxes can be moved as a whole. You don’t have to touch anything inside. Just move the whole thing.

Now, no model is ever perfect… except for Heidi Klum of course ( I am kidding)… so when it comes to certain adverbs and especially the German particles it kind of doesn’t apply… the thing is that you cannot ask for particles. There is no question to which schon could be a valid answer. So I suggest we just look at particles as part of the action so they are not part of a box.

All this is pretty universal I think… I am not sure though. But it definitely does apply to German… and it is tremendously helpful to understanding complex sentences or changing the order of things in a sentence… and boy oh boy I tell you… German is REALLY flexible right there… like has been taking Yoga lessons for centuries. What’s that you say? English is flexible too? Well…

  • To you I say…

If you think having the indirect object first is crazy… well Germans do that for breakfast :). I will use the last part of this to show you the full scope of:

German Sentence Structure Madness

What you’re about to see might scare you. Meet a moderately complex sentence… its name is Frederick* (*name changed for privacy reasons)

  • Obwohl Thomas seit ein paar Tagen eine schlimme Erkältung hat, war er gestern mit einer Freundin, die er aus der Schule kennt, schwimmen.
  • Although he has had a bad cold for a few days now, Thomas went swimming with a friend whom he knows from school yesterday.

First let’s break this down into parts…

  • [despite what fact] action part 1 [who] [when] [with whom] action left overs.
  • [Despite what fact] [who] action [with whom] [when].

Now, here are a few German options that also work… just a different order of boxes…. no words are added, altered or left out.

  • Thomas war gestern mit einer Freundin, die … kennt, schwimmen, obwohl … Erkältung hat.
  • Gestern war Thomas mit einer Freundin, die… kennt, schwimmen, obwohl er…. hat.
  • Mit einer Freundin, die… kennt, war Thomas gestern, obwohl… hat, schwimmen.

This is not all… but notice that you have to change NOTHING in the chunks. Many people learning German keep splitting boxes and rearranging box content when they try to change box order. It is NOT necessary. Just pretend to move a wooden box from one place to another place and you will get it right.
So where were we… ah yeah… the options. So here they are. The ones in parantu… parana.. in those things “()” sound off while not being entirely wrong…
You can just insert the building blocks from the original example to get a 100% correct sentence without worrying about verb position and stuff like that.

  • ([when] war [who] [with whom] [despite what fact] schwimmen.)
  • [when] war [who] [despite what fact] [with whom] schwimmen.
  • [who] war [when][despite what fact][with whom] schwimmen.
  • [who] war [when][with whom][despite what fact] schwimmen.
  • [who] war [with whom][when][despite what fact] schwimmen.
  • ([who] war [with whom][despite what fact][when] schwimmen.)
  • [who] war [despite what fact][when][with whom] schwimmen.

Crazy German… 7 different ways of structure…hold on… I think there are some more…

  • [despite] war [who] [when] [with whom] schwimmen.
  • [despite] war [who] [with whom] [when] schwimmen.
  • [with whom] war [who][despite][when] schwimmen.
  • [with whom] war [who][when][despite] schwimmen.

Wow… this is impressive. It is so many that I c.. oh wait… there are more.

  • [who] war [when][with whom] schwimmen, [despite].
  • [who] war [with whom][when] schwimmen, [despite].
  • [when] war [who] [with whom] schwimmen, [despite].
  • [with whom] war [who][when] schwimmen, [despite]

So… quite a lo… oh this just in: in theater speech there is even morerer….

  • (Schwimmen war [who][when][with whom][despite].)
  • ((Schwimmen war [who][with whom][when][despite].))
  • (((Schwimmen war [when][with whom][who][despite].)))
  • ((((Schwimmen war [despite][who][when][with whom].))))

I… I think that’s it… a total of about 12 feasible version (not counting the off-ones) and mind you… those are NOT all possible combinations. Some combinations are grammatically wrong and thus not listed.
So… this example, which by the way I spent half an hour on and which I will never do again, shows 2 things: there are patterns visible .. clear as a crystal and they have to do with the verb. And there is no such thing as this one simply rule like time-manner-place that could adequately explain this onslaught of versions.

Anyway… I figure you might be a bit tired… I certainly am so we’ll call that a day here.
What we’ve learned today is that a sentence basically consists of a representation of the action, that is some verbs and certain adverbs and particles, and a bunch of pieces of information, each of which answering to one question. Some are optional, some mandatory and some nonsense but that depends on the action.
In the following posts we will first have a look at sentence types and then try to find some guidelines which box orders work and which don’t.
If you have any questions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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leparsdon
leparsdon
2 months ago

I am only more confused

xyotox
xyotox
3 months ago

Hey Emanuel :) I have a doubt ( if you already have clarified this in the comments please just copy and paste the explanation without loosing time again). About the german sentence structure, it is known that the “dogma” is time-manner-place and my question is: all the written examples above are considered grammatically correct? Because if I have to consider exactly the rule “time-manner-place” not all of them should be correct. z.B:

  • [who] war [with whom][when][despite what fact] schwimmen.
  • ([who] war [with whom][despite what fact][when] schwimmen.)
  • [with whom] war [who][when] schwimmen, [despite].

Thank you for any clarification!! :)

Bissell
Bissell
5 months ago

(not sure which page to put this question on, it is both Box, word order, and accusative/dative…)

Zwei Sätze:
Ich suche einen neuen Job
Ich schlafe in meiner Pause im Auto
In the ‘suche’ Satz, “einen neuen Job” is 100% accusative. Aber in the ‘schlafe’ Satz, “in meiner Pause im Auto” is 100% dative. Ja?
Frage 1) Where did the accusative part go in the ‘Schlafe’ Satz?
Frage 2) Why are beide Satz not accusative or dative?
Aren’t both parts after the verb answering the same kind of question? Can you have dative without an accusative part? Trying to use the Box method, but I seem to be missing boxes! Thank you

Bissell
Bissell
5 months ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

This helps a lot – AND I will be asking follow up questions:)
Vielen dank.

jah
jah
10 months ago

I’m learning German by myself, and I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, but it’s part of the process. The good thing is when we find friends like u on the internet, I love u and the easyGerman. Please keep working on the basis of the German language as this part is the most important of all, then I feel like it will flow like a river at some point.

Meine muttersprache ist Brasilianisches Portugiesisch, Ich lerne seit 8 Monaten Deutsch.
Ich hoffe, dass ich eines Tages diese schöne Sprache sprechen kann.
Danke Sehr und
Bis Bald!

Dr_Nick
Dr_Nick
1 year ago

Just because I’m a contrarian…

You use the example of: “Yesterday evening Jim’s girlfriend made him an incredibly tasty because he was very hungry vegetable dish.” as a way of helping us to understand the inviolable nature of the box. But, if we cheat and use parentheses, it does actually become something that might be said by an English speaker:

“Yesterday evening Jim’s girlfriend made him an incredibly tasty (because he was very hungry) vegetable dish.”

To my ear this would sound as though the speaker, mid-way through the sentence, realized that he had omitted an important background fact and had inserted it as soon as it popped into his head. “because he was very hungry” would be said in slightly different tone, and probably with a faster cadence, than the rest of the sentence.

My point is that in English, constructions which appear to violate the rules can be made possible with puntuation. My knowledge of German is too rudimentary to know if this is also true in that language.

As ever thank you for helping me to learn. I do find the idea of boxes to be very useful, despite my carping!

logrg
logrg
2 years ago

Hi, I’ve got a question.
Say if you have a sentence: Ich habe zu Abend [when] gegessen. You could put ‘gestern‘ in, for example. But what would happen with a more complex part, such as ‘als ich habe angekommen‘. Initially, I would put: Ich habe zu Aben, als ich habe angekommen, gegessen. But in another post (I think it was relative clauses) you mentioned that German doesn’t like short phrases i.e gegessen. So what is the correct way of doing it?

Thanks

logrg
logrg
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ah, sorry. Something like ‘I ate dinner when I arrived’? Thanks

Brock
Brock
4 years ago

Ich lese abends oft in der Küche ein Buch über Pferde.
In the evenings, I often read a book about horses.

I don’t mean to nitpick, but how come the kitchen (der Küche) isn’t mentioned in the second sentence?

Sorry, but I gots to know

marko
marko
1 year ago
Reply to  Brock

haha, there’s another reason!

In my kitchen, I don’t let the horses in. They crap it up. Especially in the evening, after dinner. So I don’t need to read books about this. “In the evenings, I often read a book about horses in the kitchen” doesn’t describe me.

In the evenings, I often read a book about horses in the barn, horses on the steppe, horses in the mountains, horses on farms. Just never about horses in the kitchen. I don’t even know if anyone’s written a book about horses in the kitchen.

Of course, an author who likes to write books about horses and has no better place in the house might write one about horses in the kitchen.

hahaha.

English can f… with your brain…that’s why I love German.

arav
arav
6 years ago

i love u man german is so much easier than i thought

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Can you explain the [despite what fact] part again with a little more detail in this sentence:
Obwohl Thomas seit ein paar Tagen eine schlimme Erkältung hat, war er gestern mit einer Freundin, die er aus der Schule kennt, schwimmen.
[despite what fact] action part 1 [who] [when] [with whom] action left overs.
You said that [despite what fact] is suppose to answer to one specific question, but I do not see what that one specific question is. :/ Does it matter if you have [despite what fact] in the sentence or is it just there to give additional information? Can you also explain action left overs? Thanks!

Anon
Anon
6 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I found this very help, I now have a better understanding of the box modal. Thank you so much!

Anon
Anon
7 years ago

GERMAN SENTENCE STRUCTURE MADNESS
What you’re about to see might scare you. Meet a moderately complex sentence… its name is Frederick* (*name changed for privacy reasons)

Obwohl Thomas seit ein paar Tagen eine schlimme Erkältung hat, war er gestern mit einer Freundin, die er aus der Schule kennt, schwimmen.
Although he has had a bad cold for a few days now, yesterday Thomas went swimming with a friend whom he knows from school.
First let’s break this down into parts…

[despite what fact] action part 1 [who] [when] [with whom] action left overs.
[Despite what fact] [who] action [with whom] [when].

Shouldn’t the English boxes read:

[Despite what fact] [when].[who] action [with whom]

Mark Spott
Mark Spott
7 years ago

Hi and thanks so much for the clarifications!
I can’t believe the online translators are so bad! With online translators that gave me stuff like
Ich habe ein neues Rad, und ich mag darauf reiten…Even I knew “mag” wasn’t right and pondered
why it was being used. I was also curious why the translators used “reiten” when “fahren” is
normally used for driving a car, motorcycle or bicycle…but figured 4 out 5 can’t be wrong…but they were, huh?

I did notice the dependent clause “Obwohl….hat” construction right away so I think I am making some
progress. And that another verb should be parked right next to “hat”

So, I’m gonna give myself a C+ for translating my sentence:
I have a new bike and I like to ride on it.
I used “reiten” after translators kept using it: Ich habe ein neues Fahrrad und ich reite gern/e darauf.
my first thought was ——————————> Ich habe ein neues Fahrrad und ich “fahre” gern/e darauf.

Your correction (thank you) ———————->Ich habe ein neues Fahrrad und ich fahre gerne damit.

My thoughts with the “da” was…in one sense…a bicycle could be considered a horizontal plain like a sofa
and you can “sit” on it (flat surface – prep “auf” then I incorrectly figured “darauf” instead of “damit” (with it)–thus no confusion.
The other thought choice was -prep “an” since a bike is vertically standing, thus “daran” —which would be incorrect too.
“damit” takes care of everything! THANKS! Maybe the “darauf, daran, damit, danach” or a bit too abstract to try
such a straightforth logical approach. I think Germans wanted the keep Romans, Gauls and others from understanding
their language in the olden days and came up with all these tricks to keep everyone guessing (smile).
A “b” as a “p” unless before a vowel….”d” as a “t”…..a “g” as a “k” ….Please! P-a-r-a-n-o-i-d…
But on the other hand….it is a very fascinating language and I do like the logic rules of the language….really, I do!

In the next day or two, I plan on spending 2 or 3 hours at Starbucks reading your
“What do darum, daran, davon, danach and all those mean?” for better understanding of these
words….then if I dare….your — What the heck do wo-words mean? (smile)

Thanks, for all of the German work sheets on your site. They’re enlightening, humorous and greatly
appreciated.

MarkSpott

Igor
Igor
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

what is correct:
Ich habe (den Wein) zu trinken begonnen.
Or
Ich habe (den Wein) begonnen zu trinken.
Please help. VIELEN DANK IM VORAUS!
w
What goes at the end of sentence zu+verb OR partizip 2?

Igor
Igor
7 years ago
Reply to  Igor

P.s. With your help and all explanations German is REALLY easy!!!

Mark Spott
Mark Spott
7 years ago

Hi there, Please continue explaining things exactly as you’ve been doing. For new to intermediate level learners, these different view points and explanations are more than helpful. Often, I’ll try to say a rather simple sentence, then use an online german translator to see how close I come. But usually, the German translator often transpose my sentence sometimes by -time, manner, place, which makes me think I wouldn’t be understood. However, by your examples there seems to be a lot of flexibility for personal preferences, how chatty you might feel at the time and what you want to stress. When I’m composing a thought, it’s hard enough to get the case correct as I’m speaking…and I hope that if the case is correct, then Time, Manner, Place and the “doch,noch,denn,schon” left out wouldn’t stop a native German speaker from understanding my thoughts. In — Gregory Matchado | January 4, 2013 Question to you So.. Could you just tell if the below statements are all grammatically correct.. And also which one is actually used most often.. Heute ist der Verkehr sehr stark Der Verkehr ist heute sehr stark Der Verkehr heute ist sehr stark MY EXPRESSION WOULD BE: 1st choice Heute, der Verkehr ist sehr stark. –easy English syntax Junk Subject verb Junk What I feel traffic is 2nd choice Heute ist der Verkehr sehr stark. –traditional “learned” syntax from books. not too bad for English speakers verb in traditional 2nd place-box QUESTION – Would my 1st choice “fly” although not German-Like…but would it be so bad that native Germans would cringe and prefer I didn’t say anything? By your box example below: Obwohl Thomas seit ein paar Tagen eine schlimme Erkältung hat, war er gestern mit einer Freundin, die er aus der Schule kennt, schwimmen. Although he has had a bad cold for a few days now, yesterday Thomas went swimming with a friend whom he knows from school. In your example, you got a whole bunch of “junk” prior to the verb “hat” Thomas war gestern mit einer Freundin, die … kennt, schwimmen, obwohl … Erkältung hat. Gestern war Thomas mit einer Freundin, die… kennt, schwimmen, obwohl er…. hat. –>Mit einer Freundin, die… kennt, war Thomas gestern, obwohl… hat, schwimmen. <– my sentence might fit this mode Heute, der Verkehr ist sehr stark I know the 2nd choice: Heute ist der Verkehr sehr stark is "proper" for such a short sentence, but speaking to a native German speaker is stressful enough just trying to get the pronunciation correct, the case and gender correct…something is going to suffer for a while until I get more comfortable with the language. Lastly, as I mentioned before, when I translate something I want to say on a website I get some many options that it makes me question my own translation since I never get one that match it. So I figure I not doing something right….any help? My sentence: I have a new bike and I like to ride on it. Ich… Read more »

eirenehogan
7 years ago

Thanks for this theory on grammar. I love it. It makes sense to me, and hopefully will help with working out what is going on in those long complex sentence. It reminds me of the days of studying transformational grammar in linguistics. I cannot wait to try it out in my German study.

Nora
Nora
7 years ago

wait…….what????? I have no idea what you just said

arkadian01
arkadian01
7 years ago

hello
can some you say:
“Ich komme aus Deutschland nicht! Ich komme aus Portugal”
or
“Ich komme nicht aus Deutschland!”

i mean is the first one totally wrong

congratulations
for this super site in wich i have fell in love!
many thanks

Zoe
7 years ago

Vielen Dank für diese Erklärung! Es wird sehr nützlich sein, um lange und unhandliche deutsche Sätze zu analysieren.

Kleine Frage: Was ist der richtige Kasten für “nicht”? Es scheint bei dem Verb zu gehören, aber sie sind nicht immer zusammen. Es ist manchmal schwer zu sehen, wo in dem Satz es gehen sollte.

Zoe
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ja, das hilft. Ich mag der Begriff der [gemacht]-box. “Nicht” gehört dann zu was auch immer Box, dass es direkt vor geht?

Nur eine Frage: In einem Satz wie “Ich will es nicht,” ist es das Verb-nicht, oder? Aber es ist nicht bei dem Verb. Geht es zum Ende wie ein Präfix?

Zoe
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Deutsche Grammatik ist ein Gewirr! Aber ich glaube, dass ich nun ein wenig besser es verstehe. Nochmals vielen Dank für Ihre Hilfe! :)

Andy
Andy
7 years ago

i notice you never put the When box at the end. IE. Wir haben viele Freunde bei uns heute? Wir haben heute veile Freunde bei uns?

Brian Bond
Brian Bond
8 years ago

Hi.
The box model is most helpful, thank you. I feel a lot more confident with word order now.
Just to clarify please, I assume when you move a box, sometimes you may have to make a minor change, eg to ensure the verb is in second place. I’m looking at one of the boxes in your “Thomas” example; “war er gestern mit einer Freundin”. When the boxes were moved around, one of the variations began with, “Thomas war gestern mit einer Freundin”. I’m assuming the change was necessary because you can’t start a normal sentence with a verb.
Am I on the right track? I like the box model, and I’d like to use it properly.
Your advice would be appreciated. Thank you!
Brian

Rusty
Rusty
8 years ago

“is it really possible to tear apart boxes? ” Yes, and that is one of the big difficulties in reading epic poems such as the Iliad or the Aeneid. It’s very common in poetry, but even in Latin and Greek prose, moving nouns and verbs and their modifiers around is a common way to give emphasis. Even prepositions can be moved out of their normal position, though that is not as common. This is all possible because Latin and Greek are fully declined.

Rusty
Rusty
8 years ago

The box method would not work very well for ancient Greek or Latin. Both of those languages can place words just about anywhere and in almost any order at all. Most adjectives, adverbs, and even prepositions can go before or after their noun or verb, be separated by several other words in between, and sometimes be located in another clause.

Rusty
Rusty
8 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

“Cleaned (I) my after party kitchen”or “Kitchen after party my cleaned (I)” are both perfectly normal. The first sentence emphasizes the cleaning, the second emphases the kitchen. In poetry, you could even see “my” at the end, completely separated from everything else.

Rusty
Rusty
8 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Yes, you are understanding me correctly. A molecular model would be cool but I think, based on my limited success reading Latin and Greek, that perhaps a quantum model might be required.