8. Syntax Terminology

Regarding elementary syntax terms please see “Two Things You Will Need to Succeed.” The following higher-level syntax concepts will help you recognize larger-scale units of meaning when reading a German sentence.

Noun Phrase

The group of words that modify a noun. The value to you of recognizing noun phrases is the certainty you gain that words outside of the noun phrase cannot be modifiers of this noun, and vice versa, everything inside applies to this noun, not to some other part of the sentence. The leftmost word in a noun phrase is often an article (definite or indefinite). This concept is introduced in this textbook in the Unit 4 section on adjective endings. The underlined words are the noun phrases in the following examples:

Der starke Junge ißt einen Apfel.
Viele Bäume gehören zu diesem wohl überstrapazierten Förster.

In all cases the rightmost word will be the noun itself, although genitive noun chains are in fact rightward extensions of the noun phrase, simply adding another sub-noun phrase. Example:

Gesunde Kinder des vorigen Jahrhunderts aßen mindestens wöchentlich zwei Äpfel.

Practice identifying noun phrases and then applying that recognition to help you diagram the sentences in this Syntax Untangler activity.

You can alternatively read genitive noun chains as independent noun phrases, to help you keep straight the relationships between the parts of the larger genitive noun chain:

Gesunde Kinder   des vorigen Jahrhunderts aßen mindestens wöchentlich zwei Äpfel.

Extended adjective constructions are just extensions of the noun phrase within the “normal” boundaries of the noun phrase. Example:

Gebäude der Hauptstädte vieler Länder leiden unter schwereren, saurem Regen zuzuschreibenden Schäden als Gebäude in anderen Städten.

Again, you can choose to further analyze the noun phrases within these extended noun phrases, to help avoid confusion:

Gebäude   der Hauptstädte   vieler Länder leiden unter schwereren, saurem Regen   zuzuschreibenden Schäden als Gebäude in anderen Städten.

Even amidst such complexity, you can still rely on each noun phrase as a completely enclosed unit of meaning, not to be muddled with things outside of it.

Prepositional Phrase

This topic is covered in the Unit 5 section Prepositional Phrases. Essentially they are just a preposition plus its associated noun phrase (see above).

As noted above, since noun phrases may include genitive-case modifiers of the noun, prepositional phrases can too:

Die Methode steht seit Langem im Kreuzfeuer der Kritik.

Here, the genitive-case noun der Kritik is part of the second prepositional phrase, even though it extends to the right of the preposition’s object Kreuzfeuer, because der Kritik is just a genitive modifier of Kreuzfeuer.

Last revised on August 5, 2019.