V2 position

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V2-position or Verbzweitstellung referred to in the linguistics a word-position pattern in which the finite verb is in second position in the sentence, the occupation of the first position is freely selectable (and the so-called run- group). This word order pattern is therefore outside of the division into word order types of the type SVO, SOV etc.

The V2 position is typical for the grammar of German and the Germanic languages ​​as a whole - with the exception of English . In traditional German grammar, a sentence that has the V2 pattern is also called a core sentence ( according to E. Drach ) .

Examples and their derivation

Variants in the German main clause

In German, the finite verb (i.e. the verb that indicates the personal forms and time level) comes second in statements; any part of the sentence can take the first position in the sentence:

  • Klaus buys fruit.
  • Klaus buys fruit in winter .
  • The day before yesterday , Klaus bought fruit.
  • Despite the harsh winter , Klaus buys fruit every day.
  • Why does Klaus buy fruit?
  • Klaus rarely buys fruit .

Derivation of second clauses

Topological fields

Traditional German studies describe verb second clauses in the context of the so-called field model as a static arrangement: The sentence is divided into a sequence of "fields", and the V2 sentence is characterized as a sentence form in which the forefront is filled with any part of the sentence and then follows the finite verb is in the "left sentence bracket" (instead of the right one). All the rest of the material then follows from midfield:

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

Transformational grammar

From the point of view of transformation grammar, the verb second position represents a standard example of a derived word order: The variety of German sentence patterns in the example list above can be captured by applying certain transformation rules based on a basic word order. As the basis of the derivation, the sequence subject-object-verb (SOV) can be identified in German, which can be found in its pure form in subordinate clauses . This remains recognizable in the beginning in many main clauses , but is modified by two transformations: On the one hand, the finite verb is placed in front (so that a verbal clause is created first), then any further part of the sentence is moved forward to fill the forefront. All parts of the sentence that were not affected by the transformation continue to show the SOV character of German. The derivation of an example sentence then looks like this:

1. Basic word order: in German SOV (= subordinate word order)

… weil Klaus (S) vorgestern Obst (O) gekauft hat (V finit)

2. Preceding the finite verb (results in a sentence with V1 position )

 hat1 Klaus (S) vorgestern Obst (O) gekauft  [ -- 1 ] 

3. Occupation of the apron, results in V2 position:

  Vorgestern2 hat1 Klaus (S)  [ -- 2 ] Obst (O) gekauft [ -- 1 ] 
  Obst2 hat1 Klaus (S) vorgestern [ -- 2 ]  gekauft  [ -- 1 ] 
  Klaus2 hat1 [ -- 2 ]  vorgestern Obst gekauft  [ -- 1 ] 

  [Obst gekauft]2 hat1  Klaus vorgestern [ -- 2]  [ -- 1 ]

Such a transformational analysis was first proposed by Manfred Bierwisch (1963). Such a derivation explains why the finite verb appears at the front of the sentence, but verb particles remain at the end of the sentence, even though both should actually form a word together. Example:

  • "40,000 letters tüteten employees one , and nothing happened."

There is no other verb tüten by itself in German, it just exists . From the fact that the particles one alone stands at the end of the block, one can conclude that this position, the original position of the finite Verbteils tüteten must be, and that therefore it is a plausible analysis is that the finite verb "moved away" from there was as shown in the derivation above.

Verbs in the infinitive can never appear in the second position of the verb, so the verb and particle always stay together in the infinitive in the final position (as in "ein (zu) tüten" ). The second rule of the verb must therefore be formulated in such a way that the smallest possible part of the predicate that contains the finite features is pulled forward.

Occupation of the apron

The movement of units into the forefront shown in the example above is sometimes referred to as topicalization (although this does not necessarily mean a topic ). Almost every part of a sentence (except the finite verb) can be topicalized, i.e. not only parts of sentences such as subject and object, but also adverbials, as well as parts of the predicate that are in the infinitive, with associated additions, such as B. “Fruit bought” in the last example of the above list (topicalization of a verb phrase ) . Entire subordinate clauses can also fill in the forefront of their superordinate main clause if they have the status of a subject, object or an adverbial:

„[ Obwohl es regnete ] brachen wir zu einem Spaziergang auf.“

Another possibility is to fill the apron with a special filling pronoun ( expletive ). The pronoun "es" in the following example is only used to fill in the apron, so that the form of the German main clause is preserved, even if you do not want to emphasize any part of the sentence by placing it in front. This "it" does not represent a subject :

„Es lag ein Bischof tot in einer Mur am Fuße des Zederngebirges.“

That kind of it is never possible in midfield, so it can't have been moved forward from there. The case of the apron expletive shows that even in a transformational model, not every apron occupation has to be based on movement. The literature also considers that some adverbials could be used directly in advance. The motion analysis for preceding infinite verb phrases has also been questioned in part.

Position of the finite verb

Second verb clause derived from verb movement after C ° (with the middle field as VP, according to Haider (2006))

Both in the field model and in the generative transformation grammar it is mostly assumed that the position of the finite verb in position V2 is the same as that of the subordinate conjunctions, i.e. H. in the field model the "left sentence bracket" and in the generative syntax the "C" position . The main argument for this is that the verb prefix and the appearance of a conjunction are mutually exclusive in German, and that both would compete for the same position. If this is the case, a syntactic head C ° without an occupation must be generated in the generative model and the verb must be moved into it, as in the figure:

In contrast, some authors have suggested that conjunctions are higher in the sentence structure and that the V2 position is a separate, lower position in the sentence. For German, rules must then be laid down which only allow one of the two positions to be filled, whereas this may not be the case in other languages ​​( see below ).

Differentiation from the word order pattern SVO

Second verb languages ​​such as German must be distinguished from languages ​​that require a fixed word order subject-verb-object (SVO), although in SVO the verb seems to be in the second position in a certain way. However, SVO and V2 are very different sentence patterns, so it is not correct to regard SVO as a special case of verb-second.

One difference is that the nature of the first position is different: In SVO languages, the verb always follows the subject, in true verb second languages ​​the subject can serve as an occupation of the forefront, but it does not have to and others can always do so Clauses are placed in front of them. In the latter case, the definite identifier of a V2 structure is that the finite verb is then placed in front of the subject.

The difference between a V2 structure and an SVO structure becomes clear when one compares the following word order patterns in German and English: Even if an adverbial is placed in front (except for negative adverbials, see below ), the SVO order remains intact in English while the V2 position follows immediately after the adverbial.

Paul kaufte Obst.
Gestern kaufte Paul Obst.
John bought apples.
Yesterday, John bought apples.
*nicht*: Yesterday bought John apples.

This means that sentences of the form Paul bought fruit are not SVO sentences in German, but that the same sequence in German is created by the V2 rule (actually [SV [- O -]]). However, the difference only becomes apparent as soon as the predicate still has components in the infinitive: The infinite verb and the object then immediately form an OV sequence again. Again, compare the real SVO position in English: Here all verbs are in front of the object.

Paul hat Obst (O) gekauft (V).
Paul has bought (V) apples (O).

Another difference is that the second-verb phenomenon never occurs in infinitives; the German infinitives show the end of the verb. On the other hand, SVO is usually just as available as a basic structure of the sentence if the verb is in the infinitive. The fact that infinitives also retain the SVO position in English becomes apparent when a construction with for ... to is used, which also allows a subject to appear in the infinitive:

For John (S)  to buy (V) apples (O)  would be unexpected.
vgl. Hans (S) Äpfel (O) kaufen (V) zu lassen … wäre leichtsinnig.

Last but not least, the SVO sentence schema must be separated from the second verb schema because it is possible that an SVO language also has a second verb rule ( see below ).

Occurrences and variants

Languages ​​with V2 as a mandatory word order in the main clause

Verb second placement as a compulsory form of the main clause is a typical property of the Germanic languages , but otherwise rarely occurs in the languages ​​of the world. The few other cases in Europe include Estonian and modern Breton ; In addition, historically also in Romansh languages, such as Old French or Old Italian , verb-second phenomena occurred to a certain extent (which are still used in today's Romansh ). Outside Europe there is a V2 sentence form in the Indo-Iranian language Kashmiri and outside the Indo-European language family apparently also in the Austronesian languages Taiof and Sisiqa, the Brazilian Indian language Karitiana from the Tupí family and the uto-Aztec language Tohono O'Odham . The examples of the Celtic languages ​​Welsh and Breton as well as Karitiana show that there are smooth transitions between VSO languages ​​and V2 languages.

Differences in the base for the V2 position

The continental West Germanic languages ​​(i.e. German and its closely related neighbors such as Dutch ) are two verbs with an SOV starting structure. As shown above, there is an SOV sequence in the subordinate clause, which serves as the basis for the prepending rules for V2 formation. It is also possible for a language with the basic sequence SVO to be extended by a prefix rule for the formation of V2 sentences; this case is represented by the Scandinavian languages, e.g. B. Swedish , Norwegian , Icelandic .

Nebensatzwortstellung S-V-O
(eftersom) [jag köpte en glass efter det ]
(weil)     ich  kaufte ein Eis  danach

Hauptsatzwortstellung V2, z. B.:
Efter det2 köpte1  [jag  --1  en glass --2 ]
Danach     kaufte   ich      ein Eis

• For further examples see also: Icelandic language # syntax

Second verb clauses as subordinate clauses

In German there are subordinate clauses in certain verbs that allow the V2 structure instead of the conjunction ; such verbs are called "bridge verbs":

Ich vermute [  dass sie da drüben Steaks grillen ]
Ich vermute [ sie grillen da drüben Steaks       ]
 Ich bezweifle   [  dass sie da drüben Steaks grillen ]
 * nicht: Ich bezweifle [ sie grillen da drüben Steaks ] 

This comparison shows that to doubt is not a bridging verb (like many verbs with negative or factual meaning).

While in German the embedded verb second sentence appears as an alternative to a that sentence, in other Germanic languages ​​verb second sentences occur together with the conjunction that , as in the following example from Danish (this case of V2 subordinate clause is also limited Constructions with bridging verbs):

Vi  ved    at   denne  bog  har Bo ikke  læst
Wir wissen dass dieses Buch hat Bo nicht gelesen

The sentence that follows at (that) must be a verb second sentence, because the object of this book comes before the finite verb and only then does the subject follow. Vikner (1995) explains this by saying that the verb is in the C ° position, as shown in the above tree diagram for German, but that two C ° positions can be created one after the other, so that the conjunction is in the first of the two can.

V2 position compared with "inversion" in English

As the only Germanic language, modern English no longer has a consistent V2 rule. However, there is a phenomenon in interrogative sentences and some other constructions that is traditionally called inversion and that is similar to the V2 sentence form. In English, supplementary questions are preceded by a question word and (except for subject questions) an auxiliary verb is placed in front of the subject. According to conventional analysis, the question word and the auxiliary verb form a CP structure, as shown in the figure for the German second sentence above :

Englischer Aussagesatz: S-Aux-V-O
             I  can  say something
Englischer Fragesatz (Objekt-Frage)
What2 can1  [I  --1  say   --2 ]

Because of such parallels, modern English has been referred to as a “residual V2 language” (residual verb second) . In contrast to V2 languages ​​such as German and Swedish, the verb prefix is ​​only possible for auxiliary verbs and does not appear in simple statements (but in this example is due to the formation of the questionnaire). Another type of inversion construction in English are sentences preceded by negative adverbials (e.g. never ). However, such structures differ grammatically from German second clauses because the inversion can occur much deeper in the sentence:

(I promise) that during the holidays  on no account    will I   write    a paper
          (dass während der Feiertage auf keinen Fall werde ich schreiben einen Aufsatz)

Here, unlike in German V2 sentences, the preceding verb does not appear next to a topicalized clause (here: "during the holidays"), but only after the negative adverbial "on no account" . Both are below the conjunction “that” , so that in these inversion constructions the verb cannot be in the C position, unlike what was assumed for German.


  • Anders Holmberg: Verb second . In Tibor Kiss, Artemis Alexiadou (Ed.): Syntax. Theory and Analysis. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2015 (= HSK, Handbooks for Linguistics and Communication Studies, 42) Volume 1, pp. 342–382. Manuscript version 2010 online via Lingbuzz
  • Wolfgang Sternefeld: Syntax. A morphologically motivated generative description of German . Stauffenburg, Tübingen 2006.
  • Sten Vikner: Verb movement and expletive subjects in the Germanic languages . Oxford University Press, 1995.

Individual evidence

  1. Manfred Bierwisch: Grammar of the German verb . Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1963.
  2. Josef Bayer: What is Verb Second? 2010, Link s. u.
  3. See e.g. B. Sternefeld (2006, p. 339), where this question is judged as not clearly decidable.
  4. Hubert Haider: topicalization and other puzzles of German syntax. In: Günther Grewendorf, Wolfgang Sternefeld (Ed.): Scrambling and Barriers. Benjamin, Amsterdam 1990, pp. 93-112.
  5. z. B. Karin Pittner & Judith Berman: German Syntax. Ein Arbeitsbuch Narr, Tübingen 2000, or Vikner (1995)
  6. See: Gereon Müller, Wolfgang Sternefeld: Improper movement and unambiguous binding. Linguistic Inquiry 24.3, 1993, pp. 461-507, as well as: Günther Grewendorf: Minimalist Syntax . Francke / UTB, Tübingen 2002.
  7. Holmberg 2015 (see literature), p. 343, with references
  8. Robert Borsley, Andreas Kathol: Breton as a V2 language . In: Linguistics 38, 2000, pp. 665-710.
  9. ^ Cecilia Poletto: Word Order in Old Italian. Oxford University Press, 2014
  10. Rakesh Mohan Bhatt: Verb Movement and the Syntax of Kashmiri. Kluwer, Dordrecht 1999
  11. Malcolm Ross: The Morphosyntactic Typology of Oceanic Languages. Language and Linguistics 5.2, 2004, pp. 491–541 ( PDF; 416 kB ( Memento of the original from January 8, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. ). @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / intranet.ling.sinica.edu.tw
  12. Luciana Storto: Aspects of a Karitiana Grammar . Dissertation, MIT ( online ).
  13. ^ Josef Bayer: What is Verb-Second? 2010 ( PDF; 271 kB ).
  14. Mélanie Jouitteau: Editorial: A typology of V2 with regard to V1 and second position phenomena: An introduction to the V1 / V2 volume. In: Lingua, 120 (2010), pp. 197-209.
  15. Vikner (1995)
  16. Vikner (1995), Chapter 4, p. 67.
  17. Luigi Rizzi: Speculations on Verb Second. In: Joan Mascaró, Marina Nespor (eds.): Grammar in Progress. Foris, Dordrecht 1990, pp. 375-386.
  18. Discuss this example, L. Haegeman, J. Guéron: English Grammar . Blackwell, Oxford 1999, pp. 336ff.