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In the Germanistic tradition of grammar, parts of a sentence (also sentence constituents ) are the components into which the sentence can be broken down "directly" (at the highest level). Usually one differentiates between the four types of clauses subject , object , adverbial and predicative . As a rule, the predicate of a sentence is not evaluated as a part of a sentence, but as something on which (other) parts of a sentence depend (however, this is classified differently). The term clause stands in contrast to the attribute , which is not part of the main breakdown of a clause, but is embedded more deeply and thus occurs as part of a clause.

The clause status of words and word sequences is also linked to the position in the sentence: Only those clauses are considered that can be placed in front of the sentence , i. H. in the statement to the position immediately before the finite verb form . The adjustment or shifting test therefore serves as a test of the clause status. According to this test, no parts of a sentence are most of the particles , as well as words that cannot appear alone without additions (e.g. usually prepositions ); these can only appear together with their additions in advance, i.e. only form a single part of the sentence with these.

The phrase analysis that determines the Collaboration of words in the sentence, is also a prerequisite for the substantive meaning of the sentence. Sentences can be ambiguous if the same visible word sequence allows several different classifications of sentences.

The changeover or shift test

Sample to determine the parts of the sentence

If a German sentence can be restructured in such a way that a word sequence can be moved to the beginning of a statement without its meaning changing (significantly), then the word sequences in question are parts of sentences. What may change with the change are different degrees of emphasis.

In the following examples, a part of a sentence is shown in the possible position before the position of the predicate marked in blue: The word groups that can be moved there as a whole are parts of sentences; The parts of the sentence (attributes) are the words that have to be taken along with the move so that the sentence remains grammatically acceptable or the meaning is retained. (For more on this, see below in the section on attribute / sentence component distinction ).

Hans builds in the forest with his friend a huge tree house .
In the forest , Hans and his friend build a huge tree hut .
With his friend , Hans is building a huge tree hut in the forest .
Hans is building a huge tree hut in the forest with his friend .

Clause types

According to grammatical function

The clauses can be divided according to their function as follows:

  •    Subject (subject of the sentence),
  •    Object (sentence completion, accusative , genitive , dative and prepositional object ),
  •       Adverbial definition (prepositional groups; adverbial accusative, genitive; adverbial clauses, etc.),
  • (not represented in the example) Predicative terms , v. a. Adjectives occurring separately in the sentence that refer to the subject or object.
  •    Predicate (sentence statement, verbal parts), however, is often not considered a part of a sentence in the narrower sense.

A sentence can only contain one subject, but there can be several clauses of the types object, adverbial or predicative.

According to parts of speech

In other respects, a classification can be made that is related to which parts of speech are involved in the formation of a clause. Parts of a sentence can be single words (e.g. the noun Hans in the example above) or entire word groups, e.g. B. a huge tree hut . It is also important that a part of a sentence can be expressed by a subordinate clause ; such a subordinate clause is then called a clause. (See in particular under Object (grammar) #Proof of object sentences ).

With word groups there is usually a "core" or "head" , which defines the type of the whole group through its part of speech, e.g. B. The phrase the boy next door can be used as equivalent to the name Hans , so they are called a noun group with the noun boy as their head. In contrast to this, the parts of the sentence in the forest and with his friend are prepositional groups , since the preposition determines its properties: These word groups can e.g. B. appear as an adverbial but not as a subject. Similarly, some introductory elements of clauses, v. a. Conjunctions , which determine the type of part of the sentence (e.g. as an adverbial clause). Overall, however, objects, adverbs and predicatives can be based on different parts of speech; For a list of the possible variants, see the individual articles on subject, object, adverbial and predicative, which are linked in the list according to functions above. For the different possibilities how the introductory elements of clauses can relate to their constituent types, see the articles Adverbial Clause and Content Clause .

Attribute / sentence component distinction

An answer to the question of which words belong together in a sentence cannot always be clearly read from the word sequence. Depending on the grouping of the words, different classifications can arise, which then also results in different sentence meanings. In the following example, the adjustment sample shows that “the man in the moon” could be a coherent part of the sentence, or that “in the moon” and “the man” could each be a separate part of the sentence. There are corresponding differences in meaning:


"At night the man sleeps in the moon."

• Two clauses + predicate:

"At night [the man in the moon] sleeps."
"[The Man in the Moon] sleeps at night."

• Three parts of a sentence + predicate:

"At night [the man] sleeps [in the moon]."
"[The man] sleeps at night [in the moon]."
"[In the moon] [the man] sleeps at night."

Since the term clause is a special case of the term "constituent" (see below), these clause tests fall into the general field of constituent tests.

Comparison with terms from modern linguistics

The usual linguistic term for “parts of a sentence”, the concept of constituents , is much more general, since it denotes any kind of unit which behaves uniformly with regard to some syntactic rule; Constituents are therefore z. B. also all parts into which clauses are still broken down. The term phrase refers to constituents that are closed and no longer expandable. All parts of a sentence are phrases in this sense, but the reverse does not apply, as complete phrases can also appear inside parts of a sentence.

Connections from a verb in the infinitive and its objects, which can also be placed in the forefront as part of the rehearsal, are traditionally not counted among the clauses, but identified as phrases in linguistics. For more information, see the keyword verb phrase # proof of infinite verb phrases .

Comparative language aspects

The free occupation of the apron on which the shift sample is based (the verb second position in the declarative sentence) is a property that very few other languages ​​have in the same way as German. The definition of the part of the sentence is therefore specially tailored to which units the German grammar identifies for this. Terms such as “subject”, “adverbial” etc. are quite generally applicable, but for finer points such as B. the distinction between adverbs and particles, which results from the preliminary test (only the former are parts of a sentence), there are classifications that are specific to German.

An example in which German and English already differ is the preposition stranding of English: English allows a shift ( topicalization ) that puts the addition of a preposition only at the beginning of the sentence, while the preposition remains at the end of the sentence. In German, however, such a shift is not possible and this unit is therefore not a separate part of the sentence:

That one house on the hill Bill is living in .
in German: "Bill lives in the house on the hill."
and not : * "Bill lives in the house on the hill."


Web links

Wiktionary: Clause  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: sentence constituents  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Karin Pittner & Judith Berman: German Syntax. A work book. 4th edition. Narr, Tübingen 2010, p. 39 f.
  2. Duden - The grammar. 8th edition. 2009, pp. 771 ff. (Sections 1175–1178).
  3. For the different types of classification, see also " Clause " at Canoonet .