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I see some sentences in German, where some say that es is a Platzhalter, while some say it is a Stellvertreter. Now I wonder, are these words interchangeable?

For example, in the following sentence is es a Platzhalter or Stellvertreter?

Mir wird geholfen → es wird mir geholfen.

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    Welcome to German SE. Please elaborate by showing us the sentence you are talking about. – hiergiltdiestfu Oct 8 '15 at 11:40
  • Additionally, feel free to take the tour and consult the help center for questions about the site. And please observe spelling rules such as spaces after full stops and commas and capitalised I. – Jan Oct 8 '15 at 11:51
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    Oh that is what you mean! – Jan Oct 8 '15 at 13:30
  • Someone (with more experience than me) should also edit the tags of this question – Walter Tross Oct 8 '15 at 16:37
  • @WalterTross Done. – Crissov Oct 8 '15 at 18:02
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This confusion of yours is maybe why people should stick to Latin names for grammatical phaenomena.

In your example sentence

Es wird mir geholfen.

es has no function other than filling the Vorfeld, the area before the verb. Therefore, it is an expletive; there only for syntactic reasons. The correct German name for this is Expletiv. If you really wanted to translate it into German, I would use Platzhalter, because it occupies the space that would otherwise be unfilled without carrying a meaning.

However, there are other sentences where es functions as a pronoun.

Es ist ein hübsches Bild.

Es, here, is referring to certain picture known somehow by context or by direct reference. The correct name would be pronoun or Pronomen but if one really wanted to use a German word, I would recommend Stellvertreter, because it substitutes the other word which was considered too long by the writer/speaker.

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  • Vorfeld is Latin now? 😉 – Crissov Oct 8 '15 at 18:00
  • @Crissov Nah, I just never knew a Latinoid/English name for that. That is, I probably read one once but forgot. ;) – Jan Oct 8 '15 at 18:03
  • what about "Stellvertretend" in my example for "mir"? sie hilft mir ==> mir wird von ihr geholfen. – user1474062 Oct 8 '15 at 19:05
  • @user1474062 No. That is just a reordered way of saying the same thing. Es is not required grammatically, it is only there if the Vorfeld would otherwise be empty, hence expletive. – Jan Oct 8 '15 at 20:20

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