Using Time Phrases in Sentences
# A. C. Balaam #
Here is a basic sentence in German:
Ich spiele Fußball.
If we look at the sentence grammatically, we see that the verb is what we call the “second idea” in the sentence. The first idea is the word “ich”, and the verb is therefore second. In a standard German sentence, the verb is always the second idea. (See below)
The sentence is short and very simple and we might want to add further information to it, such as when we do the activity.
In German, there are two ways to add a time phrase into a sentence. German is very specific about word order, so we need to be careful and think carefully about what happens and why.
Firstly we can put the time phrase into the middle of the sentence. In this case, German prefers the time phrase to be as close to the verb as possible.
Ich spiele um vier Uhr Fußball.
In our sentence, we have now added a new element – the time phrase “um vier Uhr”. It is placed into the sentence immediately after the verb “spiele”. The verb is the second idea in the sentence, as we saw above.
A second example:
Ich spiele am Samstag Fußball.
In this second example, we have added the time phrase “am Samstag”, again immediately after the verb, which is still the second idea.
If there is another element in the sentence, the time phrase must come before it:
Ich spiele am Samstag mit Harry Fußball.
Secondly we can place the time phrase at the beginning of the sentence. We mentioned above the idea of the verb being the second idea in a standard German sentence. If we now put a time phrase at the beginning of a sentence, the verb must still be the second idea.
Watch what happens to the word order in the sentence:
Um vier Uhr spiele ich Fußball.
Adding the time phrase to the beginning of the sentence means that the verb and the subject word have to swap places so that the verb is still the second idea in the sentence. We call this “inversion”.
Am Sonntag spielt mein Bruder Markus Tennis.
The exercises which follow give you practice at German word order. Make sure you read the instructions to each one carefully, as they give you important information regarding how to begin the sentence, and remember that the verb must always be the SECOND idea in the sentence.