German grammar can be intimidating at times. But, you need to learn even the difficult concepts in order to express yourself more fluently. German subordinate clauses is one such tricky topic you will have to master, if you want to communicate like a native.
Don’t worry! We have simplified this topic for you. In this lesson, you will learn how to build complex sentences using subordinate conjunctions. So let’s get started!
What are German Subordinate Clauses?
German subordinate clauses cannot stand alone as sentences. They are dependent on another part of the sentence (main clause). Hence, they are also known as dependent clauses.
In German, main clauses are called as “Hauptsätze” and subordinate clauses are called as “Nebensätze“. A complex or compound sentence is formed using a main clause (independent clause) and a subordinate clause (dependent clause).
Compound Sentence = Main Clause + Subordinate Clause
This means, a subordinate clause provides more information about the main clause. For instance, I am learning German because I want to study in Germany. Here, “I am learning German” is the main clause and “I want to study in Germany” is the dependent clause.
The conjunction “because” connects the two clauses. Such conjunctions are known as subordinate conjunctions.
Let’s learn about the subordinating conjunctions first, before getting into the details of how to form sentences using German subordinate clauses.
Subordinate Conjunctions in German
Subordinate conjunctions connect main clauses with dependent clauses. They are also known as subjunctions. German subordinate clauses are always introduced by a subordinate conjunction.
The number of subordinating conjunctions in German is quite large. You need to be familiar with all of them as they are often used in day-to-day conversations.
Unfortunately, the only way to achieve this is to learn them by heart. No need to panic though! With regular practice, they will come as second nature to you.
The most important and commonly used German subordinate conjunctions are as follows:-
|als||as / when|
|ob||whether / if|
|sobald||as soon as|
|soweit||as far as|
|sowie||as well as / as soon as|
|während||during / while|
|wenn||if / whenever|
All the interrogative words – wie, wo was, wer etc. can also be used as subordinate conjunctions.
German Sentence Structure or Word Order
How to Form Sentences using Dependent Clauses in German?
Unlike English, main clauses and dependent clauses in German are always separated by a comma. Also, you must have read in the previous section of this lesson that German subordinate clauses always begin with subordinate conjunctions.
The most essential rule you need to remember is that the conjugated verb is always placed at the end of the subordinate clause. When the sentence starts with the main clause, the position of the verb in the main clause does not change.
Example:- Ich weiß nicht, ob er heute zur Party kommt. (I don’t know if he is coming to the party today.)
Here, the main clause is Ich weiß nicht. The subordinate clause is Er kommt heute zur Party. These two clauses are separated by a comma and connected by the subjunction ob.
Subordinate clause = Subordinate conjunction + Subject + … + Conjugated Verb
In the above example, main clause comes before the dependent clause. So, the verb is in the second position (after the subject).
Main Clause after Subordinate Clause
German language allows you to interchange the positions of these two clauses. This means, the subordinate clause can come before the main clause.
Example:- Bevor er das Haus verlässt, trinkt er immer Kaffee. (Before he leaves the house, he always drinks coffee.)
You must have noticed some changes in the main clause. The verb which is usually in the second position comes right after the comma, i.e before the subject. Let’s try to understand the reason behind this.
You all know the order of the words in a German sentence. The verb always takes the second position, be it a basic short sentence or a complex one. In the above example, the whole subordinate clause is considered to be at the first position. To maintain its second position, the verb in the main clause comes before the subject.
Complex sentence = Subordinate clause (position 1) + Verb (position 2) + Subject + Rest of the sentence
So when sentences start with German subordinate clauses, the verb is the very first word after the comma. The easiest way to remember this rule is to memorize the pattern verb-comma-verb.
Subordinate Clauses and Types of Verbs in German
In case of modal verbs, perfect tense or passive voice, there are two verbs in a sentence. The same rules apply even here- the conjugated verb goes at the end of the clause.
- Du musst studieren, wenn du die Prüfung bestehen willst. (You have to study if you want to pass the exam.)
- Ich habe den Bus verpasst, weil ich spät aufgewacht bin. (I missed the bus because I woke up late.)
You can see in the above examples that the conjugated verbs willst and bin are at the end of the sentence.
The same rule is applicable to separable verbs as well. Since the conjugated verb is placed at the end, the separable prefix is no longer separated. The prefix and conjugated verb is written as one word. For example:-
Ich kann nicht sofort kommen, weil ich immer noch mein Zimmer aufräume. (I cannot come right away because I am still cleaning up my room.)
Phew! This is a lot to take in, isn’t it? The key to master German subordinate clauses is – practice, practice and lots of practice!
Apart from regular practice, it will be easier for you to ace this grammar topic if you just remember these 5 simple tricks.
- Memorize all the common subordinate conjunctions along with their meanings.
- The main clause is separated from the subordinate clause by a comma.
- A subordinate clause always begins with a subordinate conjunction.
- Be it any type of verb or tense, the conjugated verb always goes at the end of the subordinate clause. Even the separable verb is written at the end as one word.
- The pattern “verb-comma-verb” applies only to sentences starting with subordinate clauses. In this case, the main clause begins with a verb.
If you enjoyed learning this lesson, also check out the topic Infinitive Clauses in German on your favorite blog “All About Deutsch”.
You can also go through this article on ielanguages, if you wish to learn more about German Subordinate Clauses.
PS – On this blog, you will find grammar lessons just like this one, vocabulary lists divided subject-wise as well as articles related to countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland and a lot more. Keep scrolling, keep learning!