I tried hard not to laugh, I really did.
You might not believe that and you probably won’t believe what I’m about to tell you—but it happened.
I went for my morning coffee, as usual, at my favorite coffee shop—you know, the one with the dainty white chairs sitting out front and an interior with enough class to rival a Hilton.
There were a few people in line ahead of me, so I checked my phone. Suddenly there was a scream from near the counter.
A woman’s dog, her precious white Pomeranian, was covered in hot coffee! Whipped cream dripped from the sides of its mouth, resembling rabid symptoms. The dog, tail high in the air and mouth split open wide, licked its chops and began mopping the floor.
The woman’s shrill voice berated the barista, but the customers around me couldn’t contain their laughter. I brought my shoulders together and put my hands in front of me to fend off the coffee droplets the dog flung into the air, all the while smiling.
If that pooch wasn’t hyper enough, I’d be afraid to see it as soon as the coffee hit!
Whether or not you believe my story, there are a few key elements that make it vivid. I use adjectives and adverbs to help describe the characters and action as they appear. Sensory details are important. The timing is critical. And while it may be a figment of my imagination, the smile on that dog’s face as he lapped up the coffee… that’s not an image you’ll likely forget too quickly.
In our native language, we use adjectives and adverbs to best describe the world around us, as they contextualize and add texture to our daily lives. They spice up the story and get our audience to engage with the scene we’re presenting.
After you’ve got the basics of a foreign language down, it’s time to start customizing your speech by adding adverbs to your sentences!
What’s Important to Remember About German Word Order and Adverbs?
Adverbs give color and specificity to your descriptions and help you weave in details like a German native speaker. One important thing to remember when you use these adverbs is that in German they follow a pattern of time, manner and place, or TMP. This means that if you want to use more than one adverb in a sentence, you’ll need to follow this order.
For example, all of your time-related adverbs should be privileged in your sentence before adverbs of manner, then place. Even if you don’t include any or all of those elements, you can still be sure that the words are placed in the correct order.
Germans are naturally attuned to the cadence of their language and do this without thinking. Learning and abiding by word order (and other grammar rules) in a foreign language is the difference between sounding like a beginner and honing your language to a native-speaking level.
So in terms of German word order, verbs are (typically) placed in second position, with subjects most often occupying first. Adverbs should be placed relatively near the verbs they’re modifying, but should follow the TMP pattern: time, manner and place. As you look at the example sentences that follow in the sections below, think about how it differs from the typical English word order of subject-verb-object.
When, How So, Where? German Adverbs of Time, Manner and Place
As we discussed, adverbs in German tend to fall into one of three categories:
- Time: When did the action happen? How often (frequency) did it occur?
- Manner: In what way was an action completed? What emotions were exhibited?
- Place: Where did an action occur?
Let’s take a closer look at some examples in each category. As you read through the examples, notice the different word order from German to English. Not all expressions translate well. However, you might consider what the sentences would lose if you removed the adverb. For example, let’s look at the following sentence:
Heute muss ich meine Hausaufgaben machen, aber sagte mir Franci, “Vielleicht morgen können wir einen Film sehen.” (Today I have to do my homework, but Franci told me, “Maybe tomorrow we can see a movie.”)
What if we took out the highlighted words? The sentence would lose the meaning of time and possibility. We wouldn’t know when the subject (ich or I) is doing homework, or when Franci was going to be available to see a movie. In fact, the very possibility of seeing a movie wouldn’t be expressed if we removed “maybe.”
As you can see, adverbs can make a difference in everyday speech, even in the smallest of ways. Think about how important those details are when you’re expressing things. Sometimes knowing when or how something is going to happen, or has happened, can make all the difference.
Adverbs of Time
Use these to specify when an action occurs. Pay attention to word order with time-sensitive adverbs. Most often, as you can see from the bolded text, these adverbs come at the beginning of the sentence.
oft — often
manchmal — sometimes
nie/nimmer — never
Nie is often used to show never having done something. Nimmer usually holds the connotation of having done something, but never wanting to do it again:
Nie habe ich Deutschland besucht, doch nimmer werde ich Russia besuchen. (Never have I visited Germany, but never again will I visit Russia.)
gestern — yesterday
heute — today
morgen — tomorrow
morgens — mornings
nachmittag — in the afternoon
nachts /abends — evening, at night
Wir gehen oft ins Kino. (We go to the movies often.)
Oft backe ich kleine Torten für mein Freund. (Often I bake small tortes for my boyfriend.)
Oft, as you can see, can either come first in the sentence or in third position. Emphasis is the determining factor here. When I say “We go to the movies often,” I can also say, “Oft gehen wir ins Kino,” meaning “Often we go to the movies.” Depending on the context, conversation might lead you to use oft in the beginning of the sentence, or in third position.
Many of the following examples work the same way.
Manchmal trage ich meine Sonnenbrille, aber nimmer vergesse ich sie. (Sometimes I wear my sunglasses, but I never forget them.)
Gestern bin ich in den Supermarkt gegangen. Morgen muss ich den Arzt besuchen. (Yesterday I went to the supermarket. Tomorrow I must visit my doctor.)
Meine Mutter kommt heute, aber ich bin nicht bereit! (My mother comes today, but I’m not ready!)
Nachmittags gehe ich in die Bibliothek, aber abends muss ich arbeiten. (In the afternoon I go to the library, but in the evening I have to work.)
Morgens gehe ich mit Fluffy spazieren, dann gehen wir beide zusammen zur Schule. (In the morning I walk Fluffy, then we both go to school together.)
Adverbs of Manner
Adverbs of this type show emotion or condition. Whether you eat furiously or run lazily, these adverbs will help you express those feelings.
allein(e) — alone
zusammen — together
natürlich — naturally
freiwillig — voluntarily
langsam — slowly
sicherlich — certainly
zögerlich — reluctantly
wütend — angrily
gern(e) — gladly
widerwillig — stubbornly
leichtsinnig — recklessly
vielleicht — maybe
lieber — rather
hoffentlich — hopefully
eventuell — possibly
zufällig — per chance
Wir fliegen natürlich zusammen nach Las Vegas. (Naturally, we fly together to Las Vegas.)
In this case, the phrase “Of course” might better express the intent. Just as “of course” symbolizes an action would usually not occur any other way (i.e., “Of course we have to check in before we can enter.”), natürlich exhibits the same properties.
Langsam gehe ich spazieren. (I walk slowly.)
Sicherlich habe ich heute den Abfall weggeworfen. (I’m certain I threw away the trash today.)
In this sentence, you could also replace “I’m certain” with “Surely,” as in “Surely, I threw the trash away today.”
Er macht gern seine Aufgabe, aber Kristin sitzt wütend. (He did his homework gladly, but Kristin sat angrily.)
Lieber spreche ich mit ihm, als meine Hausaufgabe machen. (I’d rather speak with him than do my homework.)
The English here reads: “I would rather speak,” which is a different tense than is demonstrated by the German sentence; the verb “would” usually denotes subjunctive.
Direction and location are important and these adverbs are just what you need to express that.
links — left
rechts — right
oben — above
unten — below
voran — before/in front
drinnen — inside
drauβen — outside
nirgends — nowhere
irgendwo — somewhere
überall — everywhere
hier — here
da/dort — here/there
Dort specifies a certain location, as in “there” or “thereabouts.”
Da is a very versatile word that can be used to mean many things, depending on context. You might be pointing to a map and say da, meaning there. Or you could say da and mean here, as in “Here is where I want to plant a tree.”
You can say:
Ich wohne da. (I live here/there.)
Da ist wo mein Haus ist. (That’s where my house is.)
drüben — over there
weg — away
nahe — near
Über das Haus fliegt ein Vogel. (Over the house flies a bird.)
This is a direct translation. More colloquially it would read: “A bird flies over the house.”
Man wendet zuerst rechts, dann links. (You turn first right, then left.)
Drauβen regnet es, doch irgendwo habe ich einen Regenschirm. (Outside it’s raining, but somewhere I have an umbrella.)
Warten Sie hier bitte, bis ich zurückkomme. (Wait here, please, until I come back.)
Mein Freund geht weg, aber wir sehen uns bald! (My friend is going away, but we’re seeing each other soon!)
So next time you share that funny story with friends and family, consider saying it in German and using these adverbs to bring life to your experiences!
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