Es tut mir leid, dass ich dir nicht helfen kann.

English Translation

I am sorry I cannot help you.

Why ‘helfen kann’, rather than ‘kann helfen’?

“Dass” is a subordinating conjunction, which introduces a subordinate clause (a “Nebensatz” in German). The main verb (the conjugated verb) moves to the end of subordinate clauses in German.

I can help you = Ich kann dir helfen

You know that I can help you = Du weißt, dass ich dir helfen kann

This is very confusing at first because there’s no direct equivalent in English. But, it does slowly start to sink in and feel natural over time.

English Translation

I am sorry I cannot help you.

So the subordinating conjunction takes precedence over the modal verb?
So much to learn! But I wanted a challenge!
Thanks for the helpful explanation.

1 Like

Yes, indeed. It all happens in a specific order:

  1. The modal verb pushes the main verb to the end and reconjugates it back to the full infinitive. For example, “Ich helfe dir” becomes “ich kann dir helfen”
  2. The subordinating conjunction pushes the modal verb to the end, but does not reconjugate it. For example, “Ich kann dir helfen” becomes “Du weißt, dass ich dir helfen kann”

Note that if there’s a helper verb involved (e.g. for future tense), it also gets pushed to the end by subordinating conjunctions. For example, “Ich werde dir helfen können” becomes “du weißt, dass ich dir helfen können werde” (you know that I will be able to help you).

I did a whole episode on this subject a couple of years ago: Ausflug08: subordinate sentence clauses and then a followup episode just this spring to cover a wonky special case: Ausflug36: three-verb sentence clauses revisited. It is certainly a challenging subject, but I promise you it gets easier over time, with experience.


I looked at your video, but, sadly, I can’t cope with the moving view of the road and the on screen sentences at the same time. It makes me feel dizzy…

But your explanation here was very useful and has helped me understand better what is happening. Thank you.

1 Like

Sorry that the video was not helpful for you.