4

The question is on this sentence in Book 2 Chapter 5 of Camus’s The Stranger (Der Fremde) as translated by Georg Goyert und Hans Georg Brenner. For context, the narrator (“ich”) is on death row, and “er” refers to a priest who paid him a visit in his prison cell.

Er sprach von seiner Gewißheit, daß meinem Gesuch stattgegeben werde, aber ich trüge die Last meiner Sünde, von der ich mich befreien müßte.

Question

  1. For things like
  • Mir ist kalt.
  • Mir ist so wunderbar.

do we say that mir is the subject or that the sentence does not have a subject?

  1. Another example:

daß meinem Gesuch stattgegeben werde

Do we say that meinem Gesuch is the subject of this clause or that the clause does not have a subject?

  1. How freely can I use daß meinem Gesuch stattgegeben werde as a model for generating similar sentences. For example:

Er hilft mir. → Mir wird geholfen.

Er antwortet mir. → Mir wird geantwortet.

  1. Assuming that I don't have the freedom spoken of in 3, what makes it OK to say daß meinem Gesuch stattgegeben werde? Is it only when there is something like statt, which looks like an accusative object and thus like a subject when the verb goes into the passive? Is einer Sache wird stattgegeben idiomatic, and I should pick up idiomatic usages one at a time?
  • 2
    There is a hidden "es" in the sentence that you cannot see: "Es wird meinem Gesuch stattgegeben" – tofro Jan 15 '17 at 13:01
  • 4
    @tofro The es in the reordered sentence is just an expletive; it fills the Vorfeld if there is nothing else to be put there. It can never be present in the corresponding subordinate clause as they have no Vorfeld. You can also write ‘Meinem Gesuch wird stattgegeben.’ – Jan Jan 16 '17 at 0:57
  • @tofro: The reason why you can not see the "es" is not that it is hidden. There just isn't any "es". You were right if the sentence was an ellipsis where the "es" is omitted, but it isn't. If you turn "Mir wird geholfen." into "Es wird mir geholfen." then you do the same as when you turn "Ein Zug fährt nach nirgendwo."(1) into "Es fährt ein Zug nach nirgendwo."(2) That you can do so doesn't mean that in (1) was an invisible "es" which was the subject. ... – Hubert Schölnast Aug 25 at 7:19
  • ... In (2) the part ein Zug still is the subject (Wer fährt nach nirgendwo? - Der Zug. The answer "es" would be wrong) and "es" is just there to have something that fills the Vorfeld. This is also true for "Es wird mir geholfen." (Wer hilf? - there is no answer, because what you ask for is not in the sentence) also "Es wird meinem Gesuch stattgegeben": The question "Wer gibt meinem Gesuch statt?" has no answer, because what you ask for is not in the sentence. – Hubert Schölnast Aug 25 at 7:19
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In German, sentences without subject are possible and grammatically correct. The subject is either implicit and unambiguous from context or it is not necessary to know the subject (passive voice):

  1. Subjektloses Passiv, Subjektlose Verben im Deutschen

Mir ist kalt. In der Schule wird geschrieben.

For instance, this is possible with the following verbs: dürfen, können, mögen, müssen, sein.

  1. Imperativ, Kohortativ

Verschwinde. Lass uns gehen.

To answer directly your questions:

  1. The sentence has no subject.
  2. "meinem Gesuch" is the object, the sentence has no subject.
  3. As long as it is not important who did it, it is ok. The important point is you have been helped.
  4. I can not answer this, because I don't understand it fully, but probably 3. is related.
| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you for dealing with all four questions. But why are dürfen, können, mögen, müssen, sein being singled out? Is there something you can do with them, but not with other verbs? – Catomic Jan 16 '17 at 0:50
  • Your first link (Subjektloses Passiv) immediately redirects to the homepage of grammis.ids-mannheim.de. I think you wanted to link to grammis.ids-mannheim.de/systematische-grammatik/1068 (just a guess, that is why I didn't edit your post to correct it) – Hubert Schölnast Aug 25 at 7:24
1

The other answer has already correctly mentioned that not all German sentences have a subject and that it is those in passive voice that feature their lack of subject most prominently.

It is safe to assume that any noun that is not in nominative case will never be the subject of a German sentence. If there are counterexamples, they must be extremely rare and weird. Therefore, meinem Gesuch is an object and the sentence has no subject (answers to 1. and 2.).

The lack of a subject is not necessarily caused by any semantic reasons but by purely grammatical ones. You can decide to put any sentence into passive voice in German — quite unlike e.g. English and French where only sentences with transitive verbs can be passivised. However, the standard passive grammar rules still apply, i.e. the entity that is an accusative object in active voice becomes the subject of passive voice. If necessary, the former subject (the agent, if you wish) is added in a prepositional object with von (analogous to the by object in English or a de object in French). If there was no accusative object in the active voice, there is no subject in the passive voice. I am not aware of any further restrictions.

Therefore, no answer to question 4. is required except for ‘there are no restrictions in the answer to 3’.

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  • +1 for amplifying the other answer. – Catomic Jan 16 '17 at 0:47
  • Some examples would be nice. – Hubert Schölnast Aug 25 at 7:22

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