Let’s talk about German word order. Rule No.1: Never separate verb and Subject. In whatever place or order you want to put them, keep them holding hands.
Der Mann ißt den Apfel. (The man eats the apple.) – Der Mann = Subject , ißt = verb
Rule No.2 : The verb comes after the Subject, except for :
- Questions: Ißt der Mann den Apfel ? (Does the man eat the apple ?) Note that the man and the apple are still together.
Warum ißt der Mann den Apfel ? (Why does the man eat the apple ?)
- Conditional phrases: Ißt der Mann den Apfel, dann ißt die Frau die Orange. (if the man eats the apple, then the woman eats the orange.)
- when an adverbial determination comes before (time, place...): Am Morgen ißt der Mann den Apfel.
- The object comes before the subject noun phrase: Den Apfel ißt der Mann. - A rather unnatural choice. I would use it maybe after my half deaf grandma asks for the fifth time : « What is he eating ? » or in a nursery rhyme, but anyway we are playing here through all options...
However we hit here some important point to German sentence structure. The first words gets the most importance. It is a bit like the Japanese topic marker, oh I shouldn’t meddle with this.... but we are talking now about the apple and what happens to it. The man is not so important, he is only mentioned, because of the disaster that happens to the apple...
Let’s put in a time expression. Am Morgen (in the morning) Usually time expressions go to the sentence start. Let’s do it this way for now. Which means that our morning gets all the importance. We are talking now about things happening in the morning. The apple is no longer important and gets kicked to the back. He is just part of a morning event.
Am Morgen ißt der Mann den Apfel. – So the word becomes : Time expression – our verb/ subject block (always reversed after adverbial determinations - > Rule 2 exeption No. 3 – doesn’t that feel German XD) and object
Of course I can play around and make other things more important than the time of day.
If I want to make our apple important again, I kick the time expression to the end of the sentence.
Den Apfel ißt der Mann am Morgen. – In this sentence we are talking again about the apple and when it is eaten. We don’t really care if the guy eats anything besides. Also whether it is the man or anybody else is not really of our concern. What is important is that our apple gets eaten in the morning. – Object - verb/ subject block (always reversed after object - > Rule 2 exeption No. 4) time expression
Now we have one last option left. Let’s give some importance to that poor man who has bravely been chewing throughout all of this grammar lesson... if he moves to the front, the time has to move to the middle or to the end.
Der Mann ißt den Apfel am Morgen.
Der Mann ißt am Morgen den Apfel.
The last word in the sentence has the second strongest importance. Which means that the first sentence answers to the question : When does he eat (the apple)? and second sentence to : What does he eat (in the morning) ?