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I've seen a post before asking the same question, except I didn't get all the information that I wanted.
I understand that it means, "it is" or "we're dealing with"? If this is correct, can you please give an explanation as to why one would use this phrase, and what the difference is between that and "es ist"?

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  • 1
    Welcome to German Language SE. Can you please specify what post you have seen before asking this question?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Oct 15 '15 at 14:12
  • Concerning the missing "um": maybe not missing: dabei handelt es sich um, es handelt sich darum, genau darum handelt es sich, worum es sich handelt,... There are a lot of combinations possible.
    – Wolf
    Oct 15 '15 at 14:14
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"It is a case of..."

I think the main point of this saying is that "es handelt sich um" includes that it is of "something" and therefore you have to have two aspects:

1) A concept/rule (Begriff/Regel) something is the case of

2) The reference of subsuming.

So the correct usage of this term is to name the concept/rule the proposition can be subsumed under afterwards:

Es handelt sich um einen Fall menschlichen Versagens.

It is a case of human failure

Here it is made explicit.

Es handelt sich um menschliches Versagen.

It is (a case of) human failure.

This is the same without explication, but in the German version the "a case of" is already explicit in "es handelt sich um".

Worum handelt es sich hier? (Um) menschliches Versagen.

What is all this about? Human failure.

Another application.

So it is a long version of "this/it is ...", making the subsumtion explicit.

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  • I don't think this the the full story. Taking some examples from the DWDS usage database: Dem Vernehmen nach soll es sich dabei um Aldi handeln. -- "According to reports, it should be a case of Aldi." Sounds wrong. Einmal handelte es sich um 50 Euro, kurz vor Spielende wurde auf 200 Euro erhöht. -- "Once it was a case of 50 euros, shortly before the end of the game it was increased to 200 euros." Also sounds wrong. Wiktionary and Google translate it as "to be", but if so then why not just say that?
    – RDBury
    Dec 2 '20 at 13:26
  • @RDBury "Life is too short to learn German" ;) This is, in fact, a valid application. Here, it basically means "the subject - that which we talk about - is", so it has a bit more implication than merely "to be". Dec 2 '20 at 13:54
  • "... and I'm starting late" lol. Na also, a possible translation is "what we have here is". In the movie "Cool Hand Luke" there's the line "What we've got here is a failure to communicate," so in German Es handelt sich hier um ein Versagen zu kommunizieren. Maybe?
    – RDBury
    Dec 2 '20 at 17:04
  • @RDBury In that case "Es handelt sich (hier) um ein Versagen in der Kommunikation" sounds more natural, but to be fair, a more literal translation is "Was wir hier haben ist ein Versagen in der Kommunikation" or even "Hier liegt ein Versagen in der Kommunikation vor". This use of "es handelt sich um" is rather formal and mostly used in more distinguished forms of news or in judicial context. Dec 2 '20 at 18:11
  • Thanks for the clarification. Imo, the English used in that line also uses a more elevated tone than is appropriate for the occasion. As if the man is trying to regain his temper by using formal, deliberate phrasing. But, ironically, using "got" instead of "have". This was one of the most memorable movies lines of the 60's, and there are hidden undercurrents of meaning that helped to make it so.
    – RDBury
    Dec 3 '20 at 1:17

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