Sentence Structure Work Out – “bevor, nachdem, danach…”

german-bevor-danach-exercisHello everyone,

I hope you’re all fit and well rested because this week it is more than time to give our German language muscles a little work out. As last time we’ll focus on the word order and sentence structure core, and this time we’ll focus on one very important muscle in particular:  the timeceps.
You might have guessed it. Today’s exercise is all about:

Talking about the order of events

So let’s put on our sport’s pants, get out our sport’s pens and dive right in.

Talking about time in any form is an essential part of any language. If you want a complete lowdown you can check out our Time Mini Series (link below), but we’ll go over everything we need for the exercise right now, so don’t worry.
If you think you don’t need it you can jump right into the action here.

A bit of background

Today, we’ll focus entirely on events happening one after the other.
Take two actions A and B:

  • A: Thomas brushes his teeth.
  • B: Thomas goes to bed.

One happens after the other and you have to communicate the order. The example isn’t all that interesting, of course, but this stuff is a crucial part of every day talk, so it’s no surprise that there are several ways to do it.

  • Thomas brushes his teeth. Then/after that, he goes to bed.
  • After having brushed his teeth, Thomas goes to Bed.
  • Before going to bed, Thomas brushes his teeth.
  • Thomas brushes his teeth, after which/whereupon he goes to bed.
  • Thomas goes to bed. He has brushes his teeth before that.

What all these have in common is that we used a helper word or phrase to express the order. Knowing how to handle these helper words can really give your ability to talk a huuuuuge boost which is why I’m always baffled to see how late and interspersed they’re introduced in textbooks. But hey, at least we got like 4 dozen different veggies covered. I like my veggies covered, but only with sauce…. haha.
Anyway, there are two aspects to know about a helper word: its meaning and its grammar or function. The meaning is what you can find in a dictionary, but what about function? Well, we can distinguish between three main functions. But we’ll ignore prepositions today, so we’re left with two:

  • Before I go home…            this is a subordinating conjunction
  • Do you want to do it before or after ….    this is an adverb.

Now you might be like “Wait, why should I care about the function again?”. Well, because you’re learning German and German likes to have one word for each function. Using a word for the wrong function sounds quite stupid and might not even be understandable.
So let’s now take a look at the words we need to express the order of events and see how they work in German.

 Dann, danach … The adverbs

Generally, time adverbs are essentially stand alone indications of time. That means, you can use them to answer the question “When?”, so they are enough to fill a when-box. If you put them in position one in German, the verb will have to come after them. Here are the 4 must-have words:

  • dann – then
  • danach – after that
  • davor – before that, before
  • vorher – before, less pointy sounding version of before that

And here they are in action

  • Thomas putzt sich die Zähne. Dann/danach geht er ins Bett.
  • Thomas geht ins Bett. Davor/vorher putzt er sich die Zähne.

The Subblahblah conblah-things

The purpose of subordinating conjunctions, let’s call them sucos,  is to conjoin sentences, to integrate one into the other on a grammatical level. Yeah, sounds lame. But they’re useful. And the time-sucos also express the temporal relations between the sentences. But sucos can NOT answer the question “when?” just by themselves. They can do NOTHING by themselves. They only work in combination with their sentence, their action. Sucos are ALWAYS at the beginning of a phrase and German sucos have the extra quirk of sending the verb to the very end.
Here are the sucos for expressing the order of events:

  • bevor, ehe (rare) – before (as in “Before I do something”)
  • nachdem – after (as in “After I did something”)

Only those two? Yup, only those two. Here they are in action:

  • Bevor Thomas ins Bett geht, putzt er sich die Zähne.
    Thomas putzt sich die Zähne, bevor er ins Bett geht.)
  • Nachdem Thomas sich die Zähne geputzt hat, geht er ins Bett.
    (Thomas geht ins Bett, nachdem er sich die Zähne geputzt hat.)

There’s one important thing about nachdem and that has to do with the tenses.

  • Nachdem ich mir die Zähne putze, gehe ich ins Bett.

This isn’t entirely wrong, I think, but it sounds really really theoretical. In practice, the part right after nachdem is pretty much always in spoken past. The other part can be either, present or spoken past of future but the nachdem-bit is always spoken past. So if you choose to use nachdem in the exercise, you might have to adjust the tense.

Cool, but now we’re set, I think.

The exercise

As always in this type of exercise, I’ll give you a few bland sentences and your task is to combine them into one sentence or at least a meaningful text using the words we’ve talked about or others, if you have other ideas. Let’s do an example. The event A happens first.

  • Ich gucke meine Mails nach. (A)
  • Ich mache den Computer aus (B)
  • Nachdem ich meine Mails nachgeguckt habe, mache ich den Computer aus.
  • Bevor ich den Computer ausmache, gucke ich meine Mails nach.
  • Ich gucke meine Mails nach. Dann mache ich den Computer aus.

This is the core task in all of the examples and the only thing that makes medium and hard more difficult is the clutter – the side information you have to fit in somehow.
So, I’d say just go ahead and give it a try.
If you want you can share your solutions in the comments and I’ll correct them. And don’t worry about making mistakes!
In fact, mistakes are great because if there are any systematic ones turning up, mistakes that many people are making, we’ll tackle these in a second session.
And now viel Spaß with the Übung :)

** easy **

Thomas hat die Küche aufgeräumt. (A)
Thomas hat The Voice of Germany geguckt. (B)

Maria gibt die Tomaten und den Weißwein in die Pfanne. (B)
Maria brät die Zwiebeln an. (A)

Thomas gibt seiner Freundin einen Guten-Morgen-Kuss.
Thomas guckt seine E-Mails nach.
(I’ll leave the order up to you here)

Ellie macht gern auf ihrem Balkon Yogalates (blend between Yoga and Pilates. And yes, it’s kindofathing here)
Ellie trinkt ihren Beauty-Kaffee.


Maria guckt sich einen Film an.
Maria guckt immer Trailer und Reviews auf Youtube.
Maria ärgert sich jedes Mal im Kino, dass sie schon alles weiß.

Maria macht eine Rundreise durch Schweden.
Maria fragt den Kellner in dem Restaurant in Stockholm, wieviel Tip/Trinkgeld sie ihm mindestens geben sollte. (A)
Maria hat keine Ahnung, was in Schweden üblich ist.

Maria gibt Trinkgeld. (B) 

** harrrrrrrrrd like a diamond**

Johannes bereitet den Beamer für das Meeting vor. (A)
Johannes holt Kaffee und Kekse. (B)
Johannes macht zur Zeit ein Praktikum bei einer Marketingagentur.
Johannes’ Studium beginnt erst in 3 Monaten.
Johannes wollte nicht nur zu Hause rumsitzen.

Thomas hat sich nie für klassische Musik interessiert. (A)
Thomas hat Sarah kennengelernt. (B)
Thomas freut sich auf Facebook total über das Jahresabo für die Berliner Philharmoniker.

Thomas hat das Jahres-Abo im Radio gewonnen.

Julia, Ron und Phillip suchen einen neuen Mitbewohner für ihre WG.
Julia, Ron und Phillip lassen jeden Bewerber am Eingang ein Bild malen (A)
Julia, Ron und Phillip zeigen dem Bewerber die Wohnung (B)
Julia, Ron und Phillip wollen ein bisschen Spaß haben.

Those last three are pretty tough so if you didn’t get them right… don’t worry. But speaking of getting right…

Where are the solutions??

With this kind of exercise, there is not THE one correct solution. Even for the easy ones, there are several possibilities to get the message across. And that’s what matters.
So I’m not so sure that giving a solution is a good idea because it might make you frustrated that you didn’t do it the way I did. On the other hand, I think I would really appreciate a sample solution myself, so here you go…

Sample Solutions

Further reading: