1. In German, sentences often begin with the subject or with the question word (wer, was, wohin, ...).
2. The second position in the sentence is then reserved for the conjugated verb.
3. Other parts of the verb, such as its infinitive or a participle often come at the very end.
But how do we know the order that every other bit of information, such as when, where, or how an action takes place, contained within the sentence comes in?
TEKAMOLO might sound kind of like Japanese at first, but it’s not! It’s actually a very useful rule with a slightly odd name that will make sense in just a second. The TEKAMOLO rule is helpful because it tells us how various details should be ordered in a German sentence. In a nutshell, it stands for the words TEmporal, KAusal, MOdal and LOkal, and that is the order that the complements that describe various things take in a normal sounding sentence in German.
This is really much easier to understand using a table:
When? For how long?
wann? wie lange?
How something is or takes place
Where? To where? From where?
wo? wohin? woher?
Place and/or direction (location)
Peter ist gefahren.
This sentence doesn’t really tell us all that much - we need more details!
If we beef it up a bit, we might get this:
am Montag wegen eines Meetings mit dem Zug nach München
Peter took the train to Munich for a meeting on Monday.
Much better! Now, let’s take a closer look.
TEmporale Angabe (when?)
KAusale Angabe (why?)
wegen eines Meetings
MOdale Angabe (how?)
mit dem Zug
LOkale Angabe (where?)
The TEKAMOLO rule is the standard rule for a neutral sentence. Neutral sentences are those that don’t place emphasis on anything in particular. It is often the case, however, that we might want to emphasize a certain bit of information - this would change how the sentence is built.
- Warum ist Peter in München?
Why is Peter in Munich?
- Er ist wegen eines Meetings (am Montag mit dem Zug) nach München gefahren.
He went to Munich (on Monday on the the train) because of a meeting.
As you can see above, it is possible to move the bits around, particularly to the start of the sentence, in order to place more emphasis on a specific bit of information (in this case the "why").
BUT REMEMBER: the LOcal information (relative to place or direction) must ALWAYS be at the end of the sentence!
This might seem a little bit complicated, but don’t worry about it. If you practice the TEKAMOLO rule by using it when you speak, or looking for it when you hear or read something, you’ll see that it’ll become easier and easier for you.
If you change the order and deviate from TEKAMOLO, it sounds a bit odd to native German speakers :). Just remember this easy rule ;).