Sentence structure

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In grammar, a sentence structure is a complex sentence that is made up of at least a main clause and a subordinate clause (or also contains several subordinate clauses). The sentence structure is based on the mechanism of hypotax (the subordination of subordinate clauses). In contrast to the sentence structure, a combination of two or more main clauses is called a sentence series (and is created by parataxe ).

Components and their identifying marks

Within the structure of the sentence, the main clause is that part that has no form features of dependency; In German, the main clause is indicated by the position of the finite verb in the second position in the clause (the German main clause is a second sentence ). Subordinate clauses can be recognized by:

Types of simple sentence structures

A sentence structure that is composed of a main clause and a subordinate clause can be named after the type of subordinate clause. Examples:

  • Conditional structure: The included subordinate clause is a conditional clause (conditional clause ). Example: " When it rains, we don't go for a walk."
  • Concessive structure: The contained subordinate clause is a concessive clause . Example: " Even though it was raining, people wanted to go for a walk."
  • Etc.

Complex sentence structures

Several subordinate clauses can appear in a sentence structure. Above all, a subordinate clause in a sentence structure can itself contain a subordinate clause, so that nesting occurs. A sentence that contains another is generally called its matrix sentence , a matrix sentence itself can be a main or a subordinate clause.

For the decomposition and understanding of a sentence structure, it must be clarified which part is the main clause, and also which subordinate clauses are subordinate to another subordinate clause or where subordinate clauses occur next to each other.

Example 1: Several subordinate clauses in the main clause

„Um ein Satzgefüge zu zerlegen, muss als erstes geklärt werden, welcher Teil der Hauptsatz ist.“

The main clause is the part of which the finite verb is in a second position, this is the modal verb must , it belongs to the compound predicate must ... be clarified. Therefore, the scheme of the main clause looks like this:

DAZU muss DAS geklärt werden.

At the point marked with “DAZU”, the um-zu clause is used as an adverbial in the main clause. At the point marked with "DAS" there is another subordinate clause, which is the object of the verb "clarify". Subordinate clauses are embedded in two different places in the main clause. There is no nesting of subordinate clauses here, rather it is said that both subordinate clauses have the same degree of embedding .

Example 2: coordination of subordinate clauses

„Es muss geklärt werden, welche Nebensätze einem anderen Nebensatz untergeordnet sind und wo Nebensätze nebeneinander vorkommen.“

The scheme of the main clause is:

DAS muss geklärt werden. 

As an object sentence to the verb "clarify" there is a coordination of two subordinate clauses, that is, the subordinate clauses stand side by side (" paratactic ") and are embedded together in the main clause. Schematic:

[ S1 UND S2 ]  muss geklärt werden

The subordinate clauses form indirect questions, introduced with "W-words". The example sentence now also shows the indirect questions at the end (in the so-called after - field of the main sentence, see the article Field model of the German sentence ). The position before the finite verb of the main clause is therefore only occupied by a filling pronoun "es".

[ Es*  muss geklärt werden  *[ S1 UND S2 ]  ]

Example 3: nesting of subordinate clauses

Example 3a
„Um ein Satzgefüge zu zerlegen, das verschachtelt ist, muss man noch mehr Aufwand treiben.“

The scheme is first:

DAZU muss man noch mehr Aufwand treiben.

There is, however, another embedding within the DAZU part: The verb “decompose” has the expression “a sentence structure” as an object, and a relative clause belongs to this object as an attribute , characterized by the relative pronoun “das” and the verb ending position .

DAZU = um SO ein Satzgefüge zu zerlegen
          SO ein Satzgefüge = ein Satzgefüge, [das verschachtelt ist] 

The subordinate clauses, which seem to follow one another, are actually arranged one inside the other - the relative clause is inside the um-zu-clause, again in its aftermath:

[ Um ein Satzgefüge zu zerlegen, [das verschachtelt ist] ]  ... muss man noch mehr Aufwand treiben.

Alternatively, the relative clause can also be added to its reference word in the middle field:

[ Um ein Satzgefüge, [das verschachtelt ist], zu zerlegen  ]  ... muss man noch mehr Aufwand treiben.

The in-order clause of this example is then referred to as a subordinate clause of the first degree and the relative clause embedded therein as a subordinate clause of the second degree.

Example 3b
Ich finde, die Fenster müssten geputzt werden, bevor der Besuch kommt.

Sentence scheme:

Ich finde DAS (auch).
          DAS = Die Fenster müssten DAVOR geputzt werden.

The verb “to find” is one of the verbs that can embed a subordinate clause with a verb second position (“bridge verbs”, see V2 position # verb second clauses as subordinate clauses ). In this subordinate clause, an adverbial clause with the conjunction “before” is embedded. It must be meaningfully interpreted in such a way that it is included in the previous sub-clause, because it indicates the time at which cleaning should be carried out (the “before” clause is a time adverbial).

From a purely grammatical point of view, there is in principle a second possibility of structuring; it becomes clearer in the variant:

Ich fand, die Fenster müssten geputzt werden, schon bevor der Besuch kam.

Here the possibility is more likely that the “before” sentence modifies the predicate of the main clause, that is, indicates the time of the expression of opinion. Then both subordinate clauses would be separate parts of the main clause - the same case as in example 1:

Ich fand DAS schon DAVOR.

Example 4: Other combinations

The mentioned methods of embedding and coordination can be combined again and again in further ways, and thus result in even more complex sentences. It should be noted, however, that the occurrence of subordinate clauses is always required for the concept of the sentence structure. From this it follows that a coordination of subordinate clauses, as in example 2 above, results in a sentence structure, but initially not a structure whose main breakdown is a coordination of main clauses - a sentence structure can then only be contained in one of the parts. Example:

Ich habe sie oft besucht
wenn sie in guter Stimmung war, saßen wir bis spät in die Nacht zusammen

Here two main clauses are coordinated with “and” (the verbs in the second position of the respective main clauses are “haben” and “sat”). The second part of this main clause is itself a conditional structure, that is, inside the second main clause, an “if” clause is embedded in the first place before the verb.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. See the example discussion in the Duden grammar 2009, pp. 1020-1024.
  2. Example 1 corresponds to a simplified version of the second example in Dudengrammatik (2009), p. 1021 above. There also the term "degree of subordinate clause".
  3. See Dudengrammatik (2009), p. 1021 above for an analogous example.
  4. Example from: Dudengrammatik (2009), p. 1023