4

Here is a sentence from the Duden dictionary:

Es vergingen drei Stunden, ehe wir landen konnten.

Why es vergingen instead of es verging?

  • 2
    Ask yourself: How many hours passed by? – Stephie Oct 28 '16 at 19:56
  • 1
    Stunden = Plural. – Ingmar Oct 28 '16 at 19:57
  • Related, potentially dupe: german.stackexchange.com/q/6806 – Jan Oct 29 '16 at 13:46
  • Since you can say "Drei Stunden vergingen" but not "Drei Stunden verging", it is "Es vergingen drei Stunden". Stunden is int the plural form (three hours), therefore vergingen. You say "Eine Stunde verging" or "Es verging eine Stunde" though, Stunde is in the singular form (one hour). – exhausend Oct 29 '16 at 15:08
10

It's about the amount of things that are doing the verb "vergehen". In this case, even though at first glance the subject of this sentence is es, this is only a dummy-subject.

The best way to think about it is, is the es necessary? In this sentence, it is not. You could replace

Es vergingen drei Stunden

with

Drei Stunden vergingen (or Drei Stunden sind vergangen)

and you can see clearly that the plural form of the verb should be used. From here you can clearly apply this principle to the imperfect, and therefore add en to the end of the verb. This is different from other constructions using es, which is probably what has confused you (for example es gibt) where the es would be necessary to the sentence.

Es gibt zwei Katzen

Here, the es could not be replaced without changing the sentence completely, so the es is the subject and the verb agrees accordingly.

  • 2
    I think it would have been clearer if you had no also switch from past to present perfect. – Carsten S Oct 29 '16 at 12:07
  • @CarstenS I agree, but I did this for two reasons. 1. I thought that by using "sind", it makes it clearer to people who are not as familiar with the imperfect that it is the third person plural and 2. because it sounded more natural to my (non-native) ears to use the imperfect. However I don't want to cause confusion so I will add it in as well. – Harvey Oct 29 '16 at 18:24
4

This is because "drei Stunden" is the subject of the sentence, and it is a plural form, so the verb has to be in plural as well.

Although "es" may look like he subject of the sentence, it's not: It's just a fill-in word. Grammar requires that there is something before the verb. This is called "syntactic expletive" (see Wikipedia).

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