The question is on the es schien clause as highlighted in these excerpts from Kafka's Der Verschollene.

»Was Sie für eilige Geschäfte haben«, sagte Klara und ordnete zerstreut die Falten ihres losen Nachtkleides. Ihr Gesicht glühte und immerfort lächelte sie. Karl glaubte zu erkennen, daß keine Gefahr bestand, mit Klara wieder in Streit zu geraten. »Könnten Sie nicht doch noch ein wenig Klavier spielen, wie es mir gestern Papa und heute Sie selbst versprochen haben?«
     »Ist es nicht aber schon zu spät?« fragte Karl. Er hätte ihr gern gefällig sein wollen, denn sie war ganz anders als vorher, so als wäre sie irgendwie aufgestiegen in die Kreise Pollunders und weiterhin Macks.
     »Ja, spät ist es schon«, sagte sie, und es schien ihr die Lust zur Musik schon vergangen zu sein. »Dann widerhallt hier auch jeder Ton im ganzen Hause, ich bin überzeugt, wenn Sie spielen, wacht noch oben in der Dachkammer die Dienerschaft auf.«

Which of the following is the right way to read it?

Reading 1

  • es is a cataphoric (kataphorisch, vorausweisend) reference to die Lust zur Musik.

  • The clause is a stylistic variation of: die Lust zur Musik schien ihr schon vergangen zu sein.

  • The clause can be assimilated to things like: It seems to work, what you did.

  • scheinen takes two arguments: scheinen(thing, attribute), where the attribute could be in the form of adjective instead of infinitive.

I realize each of these things may be different so that someone can accept one but not another.

Reading 2

  • scheinen is an impersonal verb.

  • es scheinen takes one argument: es-scheinen(a state of affairs), where the state of affairs could have been a dass clause instead of infinitive.

On this reading, by which die Lust is subject for sein and has only a distant relationship to es schien, I wonder what would be its grammatical case. The accusative?

(I guess if we had den Wunsch in place of die Lust, I would not have posted this question. If we had der Wunsch, I would still have wondered whether zu sein took a subject in the nominative.)

Karl glaubte

You don't need to read what follows to answer the question.

It seems on reading 2 the es schien clause can be assimilated to the Karl glaubte. Karl glaubte also introduces a state of affairs, namely that Karl recognized something. (Of course Karl as "subject" of erkennen is supressed.)

On reading 1, es schien cannot be assimilated to Karl glaubte because glaubte already has its own subject. That its subject and the (suppressed) subject of erkennen happen to be the same person is just an accident.

  • I don't know if it helps you, but you could also say: "es schien, dass ihr die Lust zur Musik schon vergangen war." Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 7:59
  • 2
    Reading 1 is essentially right, but es is a placeholder to fill the position in front of the verb (which needs to be in second position).
    – chirlu
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 8:59
  • See also german.stackexchange.com/questions/25956/…
    – chirlu
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 9:06

2 Answers 2


Observation 1:
Es cannot be cataphoric because in that case die Lust zur Musik would require a cataphoric sie:

Sie schien ihr vergangen, die Lust zur Musik.

Observation 2:
The clause is indeed a variant of:

Die Lust zur Musik schien ihr schon vergangen zu sein.

Observation 3:
The clause can be assimilated to:

Es scheint zu funktionieren.

Observation 4:
Scheinen needs two arguments:

Es scheint die Lust zur Musik vergangen is missing something.

The es at the beginning of the sentence is not in any way a reference to what is coming. It is merely a syntactic expletive because Kafka wanted to put the two arguments of scheinen behind the verb. Note that this is not possible with every verb in every situation ‘Es gehe ich nach Hause’ but sometimes works for verbs that have a rather impersonal picture to them.

Both clauses have a subject. For Karl glaubte it is, of course, Karl. For es schein … it is die Lust zur Musik, which, as Carsten correctly pointed out, must be nominative case (can be replaced by der Spaß an der Musik).

  • Thanks! Is expletiv not a German noun? A quick Web search seems to turn up only adjectival uses, e.g. das expletive es, mit expletivem Subjekt. A dictionary gives Füllwort. Anyway, something unfortunate happened to the word in English. theweek.com/articles/443704/…
    – Catomic
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 5:40
  • @Catomic The noun exists, however also does the more Latin variant Expletivum. See Wikipedia ;)
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 9:32

Since I am not well-versed in grammar, I do not understand all parts of your question. I do however think that your reading 1 is more accurate. What I can tell you with certainty is that die Lust is in the nominative case. As a native speaker I only have to replace Lust by a maculine word like Spaß to see that.

Es schien ihr der Spaß an der Musik schon vergangen zu sein.

(Not the exact same meaning.)

The construction seems to me to be the same as in the simpler sentence

Es steht ein Mann vor dem Haus.

A construction that would maybe tend towards your second reading would require (almost, compare this) a relative clause:

Es schien, dass ihr die Lust zur Musik schon vergangen war.

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