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I recently came across the expression:

Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

There’s still no master [that has] fallen from the sky

I'm curious about the es ist part, which I understood as it is, but here seems to work more like es gibt.

How would you translate the literal meaning here?

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up vote 26 down vote accepted

Perhaps you understand it rephrased like this:

Noch kein Meister ist vom Himmel gefallen.

While this is not the idiomatic wording, it says exactly the same. If you know some German, you'll recognize ist as a present-perfect auxiliary: ist gefallen as in has fallen.

Es ist an expletive here (German/English Wikipedia). That's basically a word that is only there for syntactic reasons and bears no meaning. As such, it's very similar to the es in es gibt.

An attempt at a literal translation of the phrase:

No master has yet fallen from the sky.

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The explanation of the expletive pronoun really helps, thanks. As a native English speaker I use it all the time, and yet it confused me here in German. – Martin Aug 6 '14 at 15:13
Maybe it's nitpicking but this "es" is not exactly the same as in "es gibt". This can be seen by reversing the order. "Es gibt in Berlin Bäume." "Bäume gibt es in Berlin." vs. "Es ist jemand gefallen" vs. "Jemand ist gefallen." The "es" in the first example is an expletive as per definition of English. It takes a grammatical role (here, the subject). The one in the second does NOT have the subject-role, nor is it an object. It is really just a filler that fills slot 1. – Emanuel Aug 6 '14 at 20:01
@Emanuel I guess you're right. I've always found analysis of expletives confusing. Would you agree to call it similar? – elena Aug 7 '14 at 8:35
Definitely...... – Emanuel Aug 7 '14 at 9:16
From sky or from heaven? – user unknown Apr 24 '15 at 3:20

The figurative meaning is:

Masters are made, not born.

The literal meaning is,

There still aren't any masters that have fallen from the sky.

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The German language allows a reordering of most declarative sentences with a subject in the third person (e.g. he, she, it and they) in a way to put Es in front and then the verb. The verb itself keeps its grammatical form.

Regenwolken kommen. => Es kommen Regenwolken.

As you can see, the kommen keeps the form, Regenwolken demands. This special form is used to put the focus on the verb instead of the subject or any other grammatical part that takes the first place in the sentence, as a verb has to be in the second place in German declarative sentences.

With this knowledge, it is easy to translate the sentence literally:

Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.
=>reordering=> Noch ist kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.
=>translation=> Until now, no master has fallen from the sky.

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I don’t know if I understand your question correctly,

I would translate it like this:

There is still no master fallen from the sky.

You could use es gibt. But then it would be like:

Es gibt noch keinen Meister, der vom Himmel gefallen ist.

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Just confused about the es ist bit – I guess es ist can mean both there is and it is? Are there other examples that start es ist... that have the literal meaning there is...? – Martin Aug 6 '14 at 11:46
@Martin: Not to my knowledge. es ist kalt, es ist spät, es ist nicht gut, …, es ist einfach are very common examples but none of them would be translated with there is. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t phrases that might be translated (amongst others) with there is: es ist nicht möglich, zu entkommen: literally it’s not possible to escape but I imagine you can also say there is no way to escape / there is no escape / there is no escaping. – tflo Aug 6 '14 at 12:39

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