The Box Model – Analyzing German Sentence Structure


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 away…
there’s a mini-series about that. Here’s the link to part 1 :)

German Word Order Explained


Hello everyone,

and welcome back to the “readiest” German course of all time.
That’s right. While everyone is doing “short form content” (aka TikToks), I’m sticking with the deep dives here.
And today, it is time for the first part of the mini series series on German sentence structure.

And to do the subject matter justice, I have decided to organize this mini series as a loosely connected compendium of impressionistic essays, poems, songs and one or two Haikus inspired by the topic.
“WHAT?! 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?
Now you’re like “What the hell am I reading.” and you’re about to leave, but my whole point is this – and that’s the first key learning of this series:

German sentence structure doesn’t really work based on RULES!

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 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 Berlin pedestrians see traffic lights: non-binding advice.

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 parts are general ideas or characteristics of German, that will help you determine which word can go where and why.
And to start this all off 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.

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