Field model of the German sentence

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The so-called topological model or (positional) field model is a common method in German linguistics for describing the German sentence structure by dividing the sentence into "fields", in conjunction with rules that determine the occupation of the fields depending on the type of sentence (e.g. B. statement sentence, question sentence). It is a description grid in which different sentences can be classified according to their appearance, but in which further aspects of grammatical structure are not taken into account; in particular, it does not contain a complete division of the sentence into parts of the sentence or constituents . The field model, however, gives generalizations about the German sentence structure, which theories of grammatical structure then try to explain.

“Topological fields” are not to be confused with the term word field (which is instead about word meaning).

Origin and display variants of the field model

An early form of dividing the German sentence into three fields comes from Erich Drach (1937); a distinction is made here between “apron”, “middle” and “aftermath”. This also explains the term “core sentence” for the German verb second clause , as the finite verb in this division formed the middle of the sentence. The further development of the field model, which is shown in the following, consists largely of a differentiation of Drach's "post-field" into middle field, right bracket and post-field in the modern sense.

Modern representations of the field model are usually based on the five fields just mentioned as the basic structure of the sentence (apron, left bracket, middle field, right bracket, trailing field). In addition, depending on the level of detail of the representation, other fields are named differently, but they do not play a role in all sentences (especially various "outer fields"). Apparent deviations in the literature often do not concern the assumptions about field theory or the number of fields per se, but must be explained in terms of presentation. Different views tend to arise in relation to the question of which material is to be assigned to which field (e.g. in the question of where the right edge of the middle field runs exactly).

In addition to German, the field model is also common for the grammar of the Scandinavian ( Germanic ) languages. Paul Diderichsen developed an influential variant of Danish in 1946 , which is a little different because Danish, unlike German, is an SVO language .

The field arrangement

The sentence bracket and the midfield

The so-called "sentence bracket" is typical of the German main clause. H. the phenomenon that the finite verb form is at the front of the sentence, but remaining parts of the predicate , e.g. B. Verbs in the infinitive or separable verb particles, only follow at the end of the sentence. These two positions serve as orientation marks for the model: They enclose an area, which is then called the "middle field", and outside these brackets, a "front area" and a "after field" are added:

Apron left bracket midfield right bracket Nachfeld
Yesterday Has the cat us a mouse in front of the door placed
The cat put a mouse in front of the door from
- because the cat us a mouse in front of the door has laid
- - A mouse in front of the door to lay!

The middle field is the area in which all that material of the sentence is initially that is not assigned to one of the other fields due to a special definition. Among other things, the middle field also contains a position for the subject , unless this is brought up in advance in individual cases (as in the second example above, more on this see below). The order of the components in the middle field is mostly: subject <indirect object <direct object <prepositional object; however, the grammar of the sentence parts within the middle field is not treated further by the field model as such. (For more information on the variation of word order in the middle field, see Deutsche Grammatik # Syntax of the middle field and under Scrambling (linguistics) .)

The left bracket is used for the sentence-introducing conjunction of the subordinate clause as well as for the finite verb of the main clause; in the above examples, the left bracket is the position immediately before the middle field position of the subject. The positions of the conjunction and the finite verb are identified as the same, since the verb cannot be placed in front if a conjunction is present at the same time; from this it is concluded that they are competing for the same position. However, the field model itself does not provide any explanations for why several words are permitted in the right bracket and only not in the left bracket.

The left bracket can contain only one finite verb apart from conjunctions. In an infinitive clause without a conjunction, the result is that the left bracket remains empty.

Finer classifications for the position of the verbs

The right bracket as a verbal complex

The right bracket contains the finite verb if it is at the end of a sentence (i.e. in subordinate clauses). Furthermore, all other components of the predicate , i.e. above all the entire verb complex, which in German can consist of several verbs, are assigned together to the right bracket. However, the assignment of non-verbal predicate components can sometimes be controversial.

Apron left bracket midfield right bracket
He Has Not want to be seen

The upper field

A fine subdivision is necessary for constructions in which the finite verb is placed before the other verbs at the end of the sentence. This additional position is then referred to as the "upper field":

Apron left bracket ... Oberfeld right bracket
that he it me Has have it done

The infinitive of this example can not be assigned to the Nachfeld (with the Finitum has then as a right parenthesis) as it is, a so-called coherent construction is, d. H. the infinitive is not a sentence. Such infinitives are otherwise never able to follow-up.

The apron

The apron is used to place any material that is to be recorded either as given information from the context (a so-called topic ) or for material that is to be emphasized as a contrast. The occupation of the apron by a phrase is (somewhat imprecisely) also referred to as the " topicalization " of this phrase. Apart from the finite verb, almost all types of clauses can be used to fill the apron, they are then missing in the corresponding position in the middle field. In sentences with little material it can happen that the middle field remains completely empty.


Apron left bracket midfield right bracket Nachfeld
Yesterday Has a mouse coughed (Adverb in advance)
The cat put a mouse in front of the door from (Subject in advance)
The cat slept (Subject in the run-up, empty middle field)
A mouse Has them to us at the door laid ! (direct object in advance)

Complex parts of sentences, including entire subordinate clauses, can also occupy the forefront: in the first example below a verb phrase (an infinite verb with its additions), in the second a subject clause, in the third an adverbial clause. The structure of these more complicated examples becomes transparent if you orient yourself on the fact that the finite verb of the main clause must always form the left bracket (of the main clause):

Apron left bracket midfield right bracket
Put a mouse in front of the door Has she never did
That something like that works is incredible
Although Eve gave Adam the apple appeared Adam irritated

Where a whole sentence precedes it should be noted that this sentence itself has a field structure (which is not shown here); In this respect, field structures can be nested in one another in certain cases.

A special feature is the occupation of the apron by an expletive : A pronoun "es" can appear to fill the apron "pro forma". This results in all other material, including a subject, remaining in the middle.

  • Adverb in advance, compared with Vorfeld-Expletiv plus adverb etc. in the middle field:
Apron left bracket midfield right bracket Nachfeld
Yesterday Has here a mouse coughed.
It Has a mouse here yesterday coughed.
  • Subject in the run-up, compared with the run-up expletive plus subject in the middle:
Apron left bracket midfield right bracket Nachfeld
Someone snored.
It snored someone.

Overall, it can be seen that the apron does not represent a subject position (but takes up any material), so the expletive “it” is also not a subject-expletive .

The aftermath

The trailing field is primarily used to outsource long parts of sentences, such as subordinate clauses. In principle, subordinate clauses can be in the corresponding position in the middle field, especially if they are adverbial clauses . However, with subject or object sentences, this is considered grammatically unacceptable:

I never gave the slightest hint that I wanted to buy this.
? I've never hinted in the slightest that I want to buy this.

However, even such sentences in the subsequent field are related to a subject or object position in the middle field, because they can be represented there by a so-called correlate pronoun ("es") (the correlate pronoun, on the other hand, cannot be used if a subordinate clause is in the foreground instead of in the aftermath ):

He is there too have noticed that I do not like.

Other types of material can also be inferior. Noteworthy are u. a. Prepositional phrases that seem “added” here, infinitive constructions with “zu” (which have the status of subordinate clauses, i.e. are in an incoherent construction ) as well as relative clauses that actually refer to a noun in the middle field, but can appear separately here. Examples of field analyzes of such cases are:

Apron left bracket midfield right bracket Nachfeld
He becomes it too have noticed that I don't like it.
Me Has nobody what said from this plan.
Hubert Has unsuccessful tries to catch the rats.
I have put the mouse in the trash done brought by the cat.

Additional fields in the periphery

Although not provided for in the classic field model, additional places for appendices can be identified in the German sentence that lie beyond the Vorfeld or Nachfeld. These items, often referred to as pre-apron and post-postfield , contain material that is not integrated into the sentence, e.g. B. Salutations ( vocatives ), coordinating conjunctions , as well as material that is sent in advance or added and must be resumed in advance or middle field with a pronoun (the so-called displacement constructions ). Many, but not all, of such cases are typical of the spoken language.

The first two examples show transfers to the left that follow before the apron, the third example a transfer to the right, still behind the field. Salutations as well as "and" connections appear in the literature as a separate "connection field" before the position of the left offset, but are not broken down below:

Apron left bracket midfield right bracket Nachfeld
You the snow of the becomes Always stronger
This ABM measure, the becomes near the city of Dahlhausen be.
And - Has he something known from that, the boss?

In the last example, the apron is empty because it is a yes / no question, i.e. a verb first sentence ; the conjunction (or particle) and that precedes it does not change anything (see the section below).

For a particularly fine breakdown of positions prior to the apron, see the representation in the IDS grammar or grammar.

Field occupation and the marking of the sentence types

The different types of sentences (such as question sentences, statements etc. as well as in other respects main clause and subordinate clause) are marked in German by an interplay of several elements; this includes the verb mode (subjunctive / indicative), the intonation, but also the various occupations of the forefield and the left bracket. The middle field, on the other hand, does not participate in the identification of the record types, but is common to all record types.

Traditionally, a distinction is made between three sentence forms in German: the verb second sentence (also core sentence ), the verb sentence (also front sentence ) and the verb end sentence (also clamping sentence ). The verb second position is the sentence form in which the preceding field is mandatory (be it by an expletive pronoun) and the finite verb is in the left bracket. This is the form that applies to statements or supplementary questions ("W questions") as main clauses. This means that in German W-questions and statements as main clauses have exactly the same sentence scheme (unlike e.g. in English).

Apron left bracket midfield right bracket
What Has them to us at the door placed? (Question word for direct object in advance)
A mouse Has them to us at the door placed! (direct object in advance)

The first sentence of the verb is characterized by the fact that the preceding field is mandatory. This form has yes / no questions or imperatives (and some other types of sentences, which are discussed in more detail in the article V1 position ):

Apron left bracket midfield right bracket
- Has she a mouse captured?
- Do that in the trash!

In the case of subordinate clauses that are introduced with a conjunction, this occupies the left bracket as I said. If it is an embedded statement (with the conjunction “that” etc.) or an indirect yes / no question (with the conjunction “whether” ), the preceding field must remain empty and the finite verb must be in the right bracket. However, indirect W-questions and relative clauses pose a particular problem: question and relative pronouns represent parts of sentences, and in main clauses the place for pronouns, if they are put in front, is always the forefront, not the left bracket. Therefore, for systematic reasons, the expectation arises that the sentence-introducing pronouns in embedded questions and relative clauses should also occupy the forefront. Since the verb end position prevails here, the result is that the left bracket remains empty.

Apron left bracket midfield right bracket Nachfeld
--- because the cat us a mouse in front of the door has laid
(I do not know,) What --- the cat in front of the door has laid
(the mouse,) the --- the cat in front of the door has laid

Since no restrictions can be derived from the field model as such, which position can be occupied by which words, however, it has also been considered to assign question and relative pronouns in embedded sentences to the left bracket in order to explain why the verb remains in the right bracket got to. (However, structural grammar theories give rise to restrictions which, according to the prevailing doctrinal opinion, prohibit this; see below)

Interpretation of the field division in syntax theory

In syntax theories that use abstract structures to attempt to explain the properties of the sentence structure, such as B. the generative grammar , the field model is not classified as an alternative to such a theory, but as a collection of observations for which explanations and derivations can be given. Theoretical classifications of the field model in this context can be outlined by the following points:

Constituent structure
As a rule, the apron only allows a single phrase to be cast . This property is also used in traditional German grammar as a test for the status of a unit as a part of a sentence : A coherent part of a sentence is what can be put in advance as a whole. Obviously, there are no restrictions as to which category the phrases can belong to beforehand. - Since the middle field contains all additions to the verb, provided they are not moved into the preceding or following field, it makes sense to identify the middle field together with the predicate in the sentence brackets as a verb phrase or as a sentence-valued constituent; however, the middle field alone without the verbs in the right and left brackets would not be a constituent. It often contains several constituents.
Motion transformations
Since practically all material apart from the predicate itself can appear in the middle field and only has alternative positions as a front or rear field, it is assumed that the front area (and possibly also the rear field) can be occupied by movement transformations , the material from a basic position in the middle field move out into a derivative position as a apron.
Since the predicate can be divided into left and right brackets and especially verbal particles are separated from the rest of the verb (as in "... put the mouse down"), the explanation is that the basic position of the German verbs is the right bracket ( there they stand in their capacity as the head of the verb phrase) and that the occupation of the left bracket by the finite verb also represents a movement transformation (in which the separable particle of a verb may be left behind).
Second verb clause as a phrase according to the X-bar scheme (with the midfield as VP, after Hubert Haider: Mittelfeld Phenomena. In: Martin Everaert, Henk van Riemsdijk (ed.): The Blackwell Companion to Syntax. Volume 3. 2006, p. 204-274)
Characterization of the sentence types by means of apron and left bracket
The fact that only the apron and the left bracket are used to describe sentence types such as B. To characterize interrogative sentences while the middle field is neutral with regard to sentence types, is explained in such a way that only the forefield and the left bracket are outside the verb phrase. Characteristics such as 'question sentence' are usually carried by the position of the complementary , that is, the same position in which conjunctions such as “whether” appear, which also mark a characteristic “question”. This would confirm that the verb and conjunctions occupy the same position, and the preceding verb in verb clauses and second clauses would be analyzed as a movement into the position of the complementer.
Overall structure of the German main clause
If, as mentioned above, the middle field and right bracket together form a phrase, the forefield also forms a phrase and the verb is in the left bracket as a single syntactic word, the result is a structure that is exactly the same as that of the X-bar theory of Phrase structure is predicted, namely the breakdown into specifier , header and complement . The phenomenon that the apron represents a whole phrase, but the left bracket is not, could thus be derived from general principles of the structure. The result is an analysis of the German sentence as a complementary phrase (CP) with a head position C as in the adjacent diagram.


  • Duden. The grammar (= The Duden. 4). 8th, revised edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim et al. 2009, ISBN 978-3-411-04048-3 .
  • Peter Eisenberg : Outline of the German grammar. Volume 2: The Sentence. 4th, updated and revised edition. Metzler, Stuttgart et al. 2013, ISBN 978-3-476-02424-4 .
  • Hubert Haider : Midfield Phenomena. In: Martin Everaert, Henk van Riemsdijk (eds.): The Blackwell Companion to Syntax (= Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics. 19). Volume 3. Blackwell, Malden MA et al. 2006, ISBN 1-405-11485-1 , pp. 204-274.
  • Karin Pittner, Judith Berman: German Syntax. A work book. 4th updated edition. Narr, Tübingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-8233-6610-2 .
  • Wolfgang Sternefeld: Syntax. A morphologically motivated generative description of German (= Stauffenburg linguistics. 31). 2 volumes. Stauffenburg, Tübingen 2006.
  • Angelika Wöllstein: Topological sentence model (= short introductions to German linguistics. 8). Winter, Heidelberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8253-5695-8 .

Individual evidence

  1. Erich Drach : Basic ideas of the German sentence theory. Diesterweg, Frankfurt am Main 1937 (4th, unchanged edition 1963).
  2. Different, however: Wilfried Kürschner : Grammatisches Kompendium. Systematic index of basic grammatical terms (= UTB . 1526). 6th, updated edition. Francke, Tübingen u. a. 2008, ISBN 978-3-7720-8273-3 , p. 202, which uses "Nachfeld" in the ancient Drachian meaning (ie "position after the finite" in the main clause), without referring to the deviation from what is otherwise common today Point out terminology.
  3. See, for example, the representation in the Duden grammar, which introduces a model with 5 fields on p. 862, as these are required to differentiate between sentence types, and only mentions additional fields in the periphery from p. 885 without prior notice. Also Pittner, Berman: Deutsche Syntax. 4th, updated edition 2010, p. 77 initially only introduce 5 fields; only from p. 87 onwards are additional fields added, also without prior notice. The system is only apparently different in the IDS grammar ( grammis ), which names 5 main fields and then immediately highlights the existence of a further left outer field.
  4. Paul Diderichsen : Elementær dansk grammar. Gyldendal, Copenhagen 1946 (numerous new editions; English translation under the title Essentials of Danish Grammar. Akademisk Forlag, Copenhagen 1964).
  5. The presentation here closes Pittner, Berman: Deutsche Syntax. 4th, updated edition 2010.
  6. Wolfgang Sternefeld: Syntax. A morphologically motivated generative description of German. Volume 1. 2006, ISBN 3-86057-779-4 , p. 322.
  7. See Angelika Wöllstein: Topological sentence model. 2010; Pittner, Berman: German Syntax. 4th, updated edition 2010, p. 80. According to these latter authors (p. 91), the positioning of the negative particles is not in dispute; some authors also put them into the sentence bracket.
  8. from: Jörg Meibauer: Pragmatik. An introduction (= Stauffenburg introductions. 12). 2nd, improved edition. Stauffenburg, Tübingen 2001, ISBN 3-86057-284-9 , pp. 135-140.
  9. Angelika Wöllstein: Topological sentence model. 2010, p. 72.
  10. grammis / systematic grammar / left outer field / sequences as of March 15, 2018
  11. Angelika Wöllstein: Topological sentence model. 2010, p. 8.
  12. This analysis represented u. a. also Pittner, Berman: Deutsche Syntax. 4th, updated edition 2010, p. 84.
  13. Jörg Meibauer u. a .: Introduction to German linguistics. Metzler, Stuttgart a. a. 2002, ISBN 3-476-01851-2 .
  14. The following points are based on v. a. on Hubert Haider: Midfield Phenomena. In: Martin Everaert, Henk van Riemsdijk (eds.): The Blackwell Companion to Syntax. Volume 3. 2006, pp. 204-274, and Wolfgang Sternefeld: Syntax. A morphologically motivated generative description of German. 2006.
  15. Haider argues that it has to be a VP (Hubert Haider: Mittelfeld Phenomena. In: Martin Everaert, Henk van Riemsdijk (ed.): The Blackwell Companion to Syntax. Volume 3. 2006, pp. 204-274).
  16. The movement analysis of the occupation in the aftermath is controversial, cf. Hubert Haider: The Syntax of German. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge u. a. 2010, ISBN 978-0-521-86525-8 , chap. 5.