Modal rate

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In German grammar, a modal clause is a subordinate clause that contains information such as the way in which an event is brought about or the circumstances surrounding an action, and the like. It is therefore one of the adverbial sentences . The word part “modal” contained in the designation stands for mode in the sense of “way” and is the same as in the term modal adverb (but does not refer to “ modality ” in the sense of possibility and necessity as in the expression “modal verb ").

Grammatical form of the modal clauses

The grammatical main types are on the one side sentences with the conjunction by be initiated Examples:

  • The fan is switched on by pressing this button
  • Problems cannot be solved by hiding them.

On the other hand, there are sentences which are introduced with as and which have a similar function as relative clauses; it is therefore a matter of free relative clauses :

  • They prepare the red cabbage as it should be.
(Compare: the way they prepare it )

Another common form of modal clause is that a subordinate clause is attached to a preposition; these can be combinations of preposition and conjunction that both introduce the subordinate clause, as in the first and second example below ( without that , similar to: as if ) or prepositional expressions inside the sentence to which an outsourced that- sentence refers (as in the third example below: by ... that ).

  • The child ran into the street without paying attention to the traffic.
  • He drives like he's drunk.
  • Problems cannot be solved by hiding them.

Division according to the meaning

The so-called “modal” modification here is generally one of the main types of adverbial determination ; the meanings of the modal clauses can be subdivided in the following way:

Instrument and method

The modal subordinate clause with by introduces its own situation, which often describes a method with which the situation described in the main clause is brought about; see the examples in the first section. In addition, a by- sentence can name a concrete instance of an action initially described abstractly in the main sentence:

  • The president responded by putting the border troops on high alert.


In German, the type and manner of an action is most often indicated by adjectives used in adverbs, less often by subordinate clauses; if so, sentences introduced with like can be used. The following example also shows the equivalence to the manner of modification with adverbial adjectives ( loose and relaxed) :

  • He talked to people as he was used to in the past, namely very relaxed and relaxed.

Another way of specifying a way is to use hypothetical comparative sentences with as if . You introduce a situation that is not real or at least not certain, but which correlates with a special way of acting, which is suggested for the main clause:

  • He drives like he's drunk.

In all the cases mentioned, the modification of the manner can be recognized by the fact that in the main clause the word can be set as a correlate that is taken up by the subordinate clause:

  • He talked so with the people, as he was used to.
  • He drives like he's drunk.

Due to the grammatical similarity, sometimes all comparative clauses (which allow the form such ... as , but also the ... the more or more ... than ) are grouped under the category of modal clauses.

Accompanying circumstances and missing accompanying circumstances

Modal adverbials in general also include information about accompanying circumstances, an example in the form of a subordinate clause would be the following advanced relative clause (which is referred to as "Komitativ" in IDS grammar):

  • He drove all over Europe, visiting numerous friends on the way

Such sentences are rarely taken into account in representations of adverbial sentences. It is more common to mention sentences that indicate missing accompanying circumstances , such as the first two examples below, or even "substitute accompanying circumstances", such as the third example:

  • Without anyone having touched the switch, the light went on.
  • Without making a sound, they crept out of the room.
  • He sleeps all day instead of working. / ... instead of working.

The last example corresponds to a relatively broad interpretation of the term “modal clause” and is instead classified as an adversative clause in other representations .


  • Duden. The grammar. 8th edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2009

Individual evidence

  1. Die Dudengrammatik (2009), p. 1048, lists by- sentences as the only example of modal sentences.
  2. The examples of types such as, as if, by the fact that according to examples at Canoonet : "Subordinate clause: function: modal clause"
  3. From: grammis 2.0 "Basic semantic types of subordinate clauses: adverbial clauses"
  4. Die Dudengrammatik (2009), p. 1041, is considering an analysis as a relative clause, at least for the variant in which the conjunction whether is replaced by the verb first position.
  5. So at Canoonet : "The Modal Theorem "
  6. grammis 2.0: "Semantic basic types of subordinate clauses", example (16)
  7. All three examples from Canoonet , "Subordinate Clause : Function: Modal Clause "
  8. For example, the Duden grammar (2009), p 1048