Word order (also called syntax) in German is usually driven by the placement of the verb. The verb in German can be in the second position (most common), initial position (verb first), and clause-final position.
The finite verb in second position
a) general statements
The most basic word order in German, just like in English, is the subject-verb-direct object sequence:
As you can see, the finite verb (the conjugated verb) is in second place in each sentence. This is the most common, basic position for conjugated verbs.
b) questions with question-words
In the presence of question words (wer, wann, wo, wie, etc.), the finite verb still stays in second position and the subject moves into position three.
The finite verb in first position
The finite verb can be in the first position in yes/no questions, and in commands (the imperative).
a) yes/no questions
The finite verb moves to the beginning of the yes-no questions:
Similarly, when giving commands, the conjugated verb is in the first position.
The finite verb in clause-final position
In a few instances, the finite verb can also be at the end of a clause, at the end of the dependent clause. This happens when the clause is introduced by a subordinating conjunction (e.g., weil, ob, nachdem).
a) subordinating conjunctions
Typically (unless it's during an ongoing oral discussion), subordinating conjunctions are part of a larger sentence that also has a main (independent) clause. The dependent clause, the one introduced by the subordinating conjunction, explains or expands or modifies the information presented in the independent clause. The subordinate clause can precede or follow the independent clause.
There will be a finite verb in each clause. The finite verb of the independent clause will be in second position. The finite verb of the dependent clause will be in the clause-final position.
Each sentence begins with the independent (main) clause. The first position is occupied by the subject 'ich' (in both sentences), and the second position by the finite verb of the independent clause 'hoffe' and 'kann'.
After the comma comes the subordinate clause, introduced by the subordinating conjunction dass and bis. The finite verb of the subordinate clause, beisst and stirbt are in clause-final position.
Contrast this arrangement with the following example, in which the dependent clause begins the sentence:
This sentence begins with the subordinate clause (introduced by the subordinating conjunction nachdem). The finite verb gegessen hast is in the clause-final position, immediately preceding the comma that separates the dependent and independent clauses.
The second clause is the independent clause. The finite verb willst is in the second position; the first position of the sentence is occupied by the entire subordinate clause!
b) relative clauses
The effect of relative pronouns is the same as the subordinating conjunctions: the finite verb goes to the end of the clause that is introduced by the relative pronoun.
Movement from main to secondary verb
There are some instances in which an original finite verb from a simple statement is ousted by a newcomper.
Finite verbs can be replaced by modal verbs (which, as the name suggests, modify the meaning of the former main verb). As a result of the incoming modal verb (which is conjugated, and is the new finite verb), the original verb turns into an infinitive.
Auxiliary verbs - such as the 'haben' or 'sein' that form the present perfect, the 'hätte' or 'wäre' that form the past subjunctive or 'werden' that forms the future tense also bump the original finite verb into the clause-final position. With haben/sein and hätte/wäre, the original finite verb becomes a participle. With werden, it becomes and infinitive.
The sequencing of nouns and pronouns
Accusative and dative
Good news! The only thing you have to remember vis-à-vis the placement of nouns is the sequencing of the direct and indirect objects, i.e., the dative and accusative nouns and the possible pronouns that replace them.
When you gain more confidence with German, you can experiment with the word order of nouns and pronouns, and see how mixing the elements leads to differential emphases in a sentence. Secret: you can actually switch the dative and accusative nouns around if you really want to emphasize the recipient of an action - if there is unusual placement of elements, they tend to draw extra attention to themselves!
The sequencing of adverbs
Time/location: less to more specific information
When using expressions of time or place, the more general information comes first, then the more specific.
Sequencing of other adverbs
The typical adage is that adverbs of time precede adverbs of manner, which precede adverbs of place (i.e., time - manner - place). In reality, the adverbs should be in the following order:
time - place - manner
Manner is always last, since it gives the most new information - and new information is emphasized by being placed very first or very last.
However, adverbs are quite a bit more flexible in terms of sequencing, and their order really depends on what information you want to emphasize.
You will need to keep adverbs of place separate from verbal complements that are descriptions of place.
Verbal complements are essential to the meaning of the verb (e.g., she went home - 'went' is not meaningful without 'home').
Adverbs of place are not really necessary for the meaning of the verb, they merely give additional information about the location of an event (e.g., she went to her home by the forest - 'home' is essential for 'went' but 'by the forest' is not - that is an adverb instead of a verbal complement).
The position of 'nicht'
The last piece of information regarding word order we'll deal with here is the placement of the negative particle nicht (and other negative elements, such as nie or kaum - never and hardly).