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David Hasselhoff's number Du (featured in the movie Eurotrip) has these lyrics:

Ich hab' ein Ziel und dieses Ziel bist du, bist du, bist du.

I found the conjugation of sein here interesting given that Ziel is the nominative subject to the left of the verb (although there are clearly two nouns / pronouns in the nominative); I would have expected:

... und dieses ziel ist du.

In English, one would say one of:

... and that goal is you.

... and you are that goal.

...but only Yoda (or stretching things, a poet) would say:

... and that goal are you.

I realize that German has more flexibility around the word order of nouns because of the case system, but nevertheless this is the first time I've come across a construction like this.

What's going on here? Is either form acceptable or is there some sort of precedence at play here? Has The Hoff used his artistic license?

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I think the title is misleading: there's no such thing as a sentence with 2 subjects. One must be direct or indirect object. –  stevenvh Jun 12 at 16:24
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Correct on the first, wrong on the second. "Ziel" is not an object, as "sein" is not a transitive verb and "Ziel" nominative. –  jona Jun 12 at 16:54
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On a more personal note, on behalf of all German-speaking people, I wish to apologize for you being exposed to D.H. –  jona Jun 12 at 18:18

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Word order does not determine subject status in German. When in doubt, morphology (especially case, but also agreement) trivially overrules word order:

  • Den Hund beißt der Kater.

The dog is being bitten here. Such constructions are very common; mine is marked, but you'll easily find more sentences where objects precede their subjects.

In your example, "du" would be the subject, and "das Ziel" is a predicative ("Prädikatsnomen"). You're correct the predicative is in the nominative, but it is not the subject.
The construction is similar to

  • Er ist übrigens Richter.
  • Richter ist er schon länger.

Since "du" (or "er") is the subject, it agrees with the verb.

As an aside, I would argue "Dieses Ziel ist du" is actually strictly speaking grammatical (as "Dieses Ziel ist Peter" would be), but it would need to be licensed by a very contrived context. In your example, "Ziel" is clearly not the subject.
To add to this a bit of linguistic speculation: I think since the subject and the predicative are at a very similar status syntactically speaking (unless you believe in certain theoretical syntactical frameworks ...), their ranking is probably selected via soft factors, such as ranking on a prominence scale (see Silverstein or Van Valin). Since "du", being animate, even a 2nd person singular pronoun, is much higher in prominence than "Ziel", it takes the subject status. "Peter", which is somewhat lower in prominence than "du", is easier to coerce into the predicative to the (still less prominent) "Ziel". But this is just speculation, correct me if you know better.

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