German Clauses: Independent, Dependent, and Types

What is a Clause?

A complex sentence is formed by an independent clause and a dependent clause. The dependent clause is, hence the name, dependent on the main clause, often due to a conjunction which connects a condition to the main statement. For example, in the following sentence, the dependent clauses will be underlined.

  1. If it doesn’t rain tomorrow, I will play soccer.
  1. I am sad because I can’t play soccer today.
  1. Before I schedule a soccer practice, I will check the weather.

In all of these examples, the main clause can stand alone.

  1. I will play soccer. 
  2. I am sad. 
  3. I will check the weather. 

These all make sense alone and are complete thoughts and thus proper sentences. However, the subordinate clause alone is not a complete thought. There is more information needed in order to complete the thought.

  1. If it doesn’t rain tomorrow
  2. Because I can’t play soccer today
  3. Before I schedule a soccer practice

These clauses are phrased with the key words “if”, “because”, and “before”, and leave more information to be desired.

In German, independent and dependent clauses are essential to recognize in order to properly structure sentences. 

Types of Independent Clauses

Simple Questions

The word order for simple questions is a verb, followed by a pronoun, and the further information.


(1). Siehst du die Frau? 

  • Literal translation: (See you the lady?) 

(2). Hast du die Milch getrunken?

  • Literal translation: (Have you the milk drank?)

Complex Questions (with question words)

The usual word order for these types of complex questions entails the placement of the question words first.


(1). Warum ist die Sonne heiß?

  • (Why is the sun hot?)
  • NOT: Die Sonne ist heiß warum?

(2). Wie kann ich Gewicht verlieren?

  • Literal translation: (How can I weight lose?)
  • NOT: Ich kann Gewicht verlieren wie?

In this sense, these types of questions resemble English.

The Question Words

The Question Words
werwho“wer” is declined (nominative = wer / accusative = wen / dative = wem / genitive = wessen)
warumwhy, for what purpose
wiesowhy, how so
weshalbwhy, which is why
weswegenwhy, for what reason
wofürwhy (for what)Used to refer to a future reason
wozuwhy (for what)Used to refer to a future reason
wiehowIn some cases, the word “wo” is used with a preposition instead of “wie”. For example, “wodurch”, “woher”.


For commands, the verb (action) comes first.


(1). Sage mir, warum du gestern verhaftet wurdest!

  • Literal translation: (Tell me, why you yesterday arrested were!)

(2). Singe mir dein Lieblingslied vor.

  • (Sing me your favorite song.)

Again, this is similar to English.

Types of Dependent Clauses


The German word “dass” means “that”, in the sense of “I know that…” or “I can see that…”. The usage of “dass” shifts the following verb to the end of the sentence.


(1). Ich liebe dich. (I love you.)

(2). Ich glaube, dass ich dich liebe.

  • Literal translation: (I think, that I you love.)

Subordinating Conjunctions

These are words used to connect subordinate clauses with the main clauses. A main clause is an independent clause, and a subordinate clause is a dependent clause.

In English, subordinating conjunctions can be exemplified by words like “so that, because, if, and although”. In German, subordinating conjunctions can be largely translated one-to-one in terms of definition, except that the grammatical structure and placement of them within a clause is different. A subordinating conjunction will shift the verb to the end of the clause.


(1). Ich habe Äpfeln gekauft, damit ich sie essen kann.

  • Literal translation: I have apples bought, so that I them eat can.

Here, the subordinate clause is “damit ich sie essen kann”, because it is dependent on information in order to have a full meaning. The subordinate conjunction is “damit” (so that), and thus shifts the verb “kann” (conjugated version of “können” (can) for first person) to the end of the sentence. 

A table of common subordinating conjunctions which require this verbal shift is provided below:

Table of Common Subordinating Conjunctions

The Most Common Subordinating Conjunctions
alsas, when
als obas if
dabecause, as, since
damitso that, in order to
nachdemafter (that)
obwhether, if
obwohlalthough, despite the fact that
seitdemsince (then)
so dassso that
während while, during
weil because
wenn if, when

Sentences with No Subordinating Conjunctions

In the case of no subordinate conjunction, a main clause following a subordinate clause places a conjugated verb before the pronoun. 


(1). Wenn ich Matthews Artikeln auf Expatden lese, lerne ich viel.

  • Literal translation: (When I Matthew’s articles on Expatden read, learn I a lot.)

The subordinate clause (Wenn ich Matthews Artikeln auf Expatden lese) is followed first by a comma, second by a conjugated version of the verb “lesen” (to read), in this case “lerne” (read), and third by the pronoun “ich” (I).

The Two “Because” Words: Denn and Weil

German has two words translatable as “because” in English. They have essentially the same meaning, but take different grammatical structures. Whereas “denn” functions similar to the English “because”, “weil” forces the following verb to the end of the clause.


(1). Ich mag Taylor Swift, denn sie ist sehr talentiert.

  • Literal translation: (I like Taylor Swift because she is very talented.)

(2). Ich mag Taylor Swift, weil sie sehr talentiert ist.

  • Literal translation: (I like Taylor Swift because she very talented is.)
  • In the second example, the verb “ist” (conjugated third person of “sein”, the verb meaning “to be”) is pushed to the end of the clause

The Two “If” Words: Ob and Wenn

As with the above situation, German has two words translatable as the English “if”. However, in this situation, the structures as well as the meanings are different. For the purposes of learning, the word “ob” can be defined as “whether”, and the word “wenn” can remain defined as “if”. Both will shift the following verb to the end of the clause.


(1). Ich weiss nicht, ob es heute regnen wird.

  • Literal translation: (I don’t know whether it today rain will.)

(2). Wenn es heute regnet, lass uns ins Kino.

  • Literal translation: (If it today rains, let’s go to the movies.)
  • NOT: Whether it rains today, let’s go to the movies.

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