I am currently learning German and I am having a bit of trouble with word order, especially with the two words es and ist. For example, contrast the following sentences:

Es ist eine Katze.
Manchmal ist es kalt.

I really don’t know what rules there are especially for these cases. A quick search on Google didn’t yield any rules and I’m having a hard time figuring out which to use when.

So the question is: When do you have to use es ist, when do you have to use ist es?

  • I voted duplicate because all that's needed is to exchange "ist" for "gibt"
    – Emanuel
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 22:47
  • @Emanuel: Agreed. I haven't been with the site long enough to recognize the duplicate or I wouldn't have put an answer. Can we merge them somehow?
    – Stephie
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 5:41
  • @Stephie... I don't think so... but we could add in a reference to this question in the other one.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 10:34
  • Would be interesting to know (@Takkat) if closed questions get indexed by search engines or not.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 10:35
  • @Emanuel... I could always copy-paste my answer to the older question. But that feels kind of stupid. I just asked because that kind of moving answers was done over on parenting SE (with an answer of mine, that's how I know), so it seems technically possible. Oh, what the h*ck, it's fine as it is.
    – Stephie
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 10:43

2 Answers 2


In a German "Hauptsatz" (main clause), the flexed verb goes in the second position – counting grammatical units, not words.

Both of your examples follow this pattern:

  1. [Es] [ist] [eine Katze].
  2. [Manchmal] [ist] [es] [kalt].

Frequently, but not necessarily, the subject takes the first position in a sentence, like in your first example. But because in your second sentence the first position is taken by manchmal, the ist (verb/predicate) precedes the subject es.

An example where the first grammatical element is much longer:

[Die Zähne nach dem Essen zu putzen] [verringert] [das Risiko von Karies].

Side note (1):
In subordinate clauses ("Nebensatz"), the flexed verb comes last. This is one reason why learners sometimes struggle with spoken language: There may be a lot of information before the verb reveals what really happens. Example, based on your first sentence:

Es ist eine Katze, [die] [letzte Woche] [auf einer Ausstellung] [ganz überraschend] [einen Sonderpreis] [für ihr schönes Fell] [bekam].

You could write the exact same sentence and just use another verb - and your listener knows only after the whole sentence is spoken, what really happens:

Es ist eine Katze, [die] [letzte Woche] [auf einer Ausstellung] [ganz überraschend] [einen Sonderpreis] [für ihr schönes Fell] [ablehnte].

Side note (2):
German has two kinds of questions.

  • "Open" questions that use an interrogative word in the first place, followed by the flexed verb in position 2, just like main clauses. Here, the interrogative word marks the question as such.

    [Wo] [ist] [die Katze]?

  • "Closed" questions (often referred as yes/no questions) have no interrogative word, but can be recognized by the verb in the first position:

    [Ist] [die Katze] [da]?

  • Thank you, that was actually really simple to understand and also made clear how I can cope with this issue in a much longer sentence. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 19:01
  • Ard you sure that “flexed” is correct here? I could only find “inflected”. I am not good on English grammar terms, though.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Mar 29, 2015 at 11:22

In a standard main sentence, the predicate follows the subject (including its articles, pronouns and adjectives). Whenever you choose not to start the main sentence with the subject, you have to put it after the predicate. This does not necessarily mean starting the sentence with the verb; it means starting it with whatever word needs to be emphasized in relation to the subject (notwithstanding that the verb/predicate is the real core of a sentence, according to valency theory). Changing the "default" word order definitely adds significance regarding the content. You can put in front:

  1. The predicate, in a sentence asking if an action is taking place:

    Kommst du jetzt endlich? Hat sie das Auto gekauft?

  2. An adjective, if it carries the emphasis of the sentence:

    Edel sei der Mensch, hilfreich und gut.

  3. An adverb to emphasize the verb:

    Schnell machte er das Tor zu.

  4. To emphasize a condition of time, location, etc.:

    Gestern hätte ich dir noch helfen können.
    Auf dem Gletscher bekommen Sie leicht einen Sonnenbrand.
    Wegen der Streiterei hatte er keine Lust mehr zu bleiben.

As always, there is an exception to that rule; if the object or one of the objects is a reflexive pronoun, it is inserted directly after the predicate:

Gestern hat sich etwas ereignet, mit dem niemand gerechnet hat. Noch nie wurde mir so ein Streich gespielt.

This should be quite a solid rule of thumb which can solve your problems with es ist as well:

Es ist schön hier.
Ist es schön bei dir?
Draußen ist es wärmer als im Haus.
Kalt ist es hier, findest du nicht?

  • 1
    Why so complicated? Just say: "Put the verb in the second position; except for questions where it has to be in the first position."
    – Em1
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 18:57
  • @Em1 And where do I put the subject, and why? And why isn't the verb in the first position in the question "Wo ist es"? That's why I think the answer is just as simple or complicated as the matter itself. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 19:56
  • I disagree strongly with the whole first paragraph! First off, it's a myth that the subject comes either first or third and learner who learn this "rule" ALYWAYS get confused later on. Second, the notion that what's in the first position is more important than the subject is an even bigger myth and even less correct. "Heute mich dein Chef angerufen." The most important element is "Chef". The first position does NOT indicate importance! Saying it does is essentially teaching wrong stuff. -1
    – Emanuel
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 22:52
  • @Emanuel By "more important" I didn't mean "absolutely more important" than the subject (because the subject is important by itself and doesn't need any help), but reorganizing the sentence increases the weight of a constituent which is usually second in line to subject and predicate. I adjusted this in my answer. In general, I ask you to be precise when casting a verdict. I didn't say the subject always comes either first or third, but that you have to put it after the predicate if you choose not to have it in standard position, which is first. (continued) Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 8:13
  • @Emanuel That is not the same, and if this is a myth all of your examples in your "gibt es" answer are purely mythological, because they all follow this rule. However, the example in your comment drew my attention to the question of reflexive pronouns which definitely break that rule, I fixed that too in my answer. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 8:13

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