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I just got an email with the following sentence:

Es ist eine Anforderung zum Zurücksetzen Ihres Passworts eingegangen.

A simplified form for this would be:

Es ist etwas eingegangen.

Which seems to me like a sentence with two subjects: es and etwas. Instead I would have written:

Eine Anforderung zum Zurücksetzen Ihres Passworts ist eingegangen.

Or simplified:

Etwas ist eingegangen.

Is the sentence that I got in the email wrong? Is it allowed to have two subjects / nominative cases?

  • The original sentence is unnecessary clumsy. It would better read: Eine Anforderung zum Rücksetzen Ihres Passworts ist eingegangen or even better Wir haben eine Anforderung zum ... erhalten – guidot Jun 28 '17 at 10:12
  • Yeah, that is what I figured. That is why I asked, is the sentence wrong? – Enrique Moreno Tent Jun 28 '17 at 11:02
  • Leider ist die Katze eingegangen... – tofro Jun 28 '17 at 11:30
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    None of your examples has two subjects. All your examples have only one subject, "Anforderung" or "Etwas" – tofro Jun 28 '17 at 12:12
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    if "es" ist not a subject, then what is it? – Enrique Moreno Tent Jun 28 '17 at 12:17
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You are right that es looks like a subject, but it is not, and indeed your argument shows that it is not, but that etwas is the subject of both of your simplified sentences.

Then what is the es doing in the sentences? It allows the etwas to be placed after the verb ist. You probably know that the verb has to be in second position. So something has to be in first position, and the only function that the es has in this sentence is to fill the first position. It is a mere placeholder.

Note that this placeholder es does not vary with gender or number of the actual subject, and that the verb corresponds to the subject:

Es sind Anforderungen eingegangen.

This use of es is called the Platzhalter-es.

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  • But then, I could do that with every other sentence, no? Like Er ist mein Freund sehr müde. That does not seem "correct"... – Enrique Moreno Tent Jun 28 '17 at 11:52
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    Es ist mein Freund sehr müde. Unusual, but correct. – Carsten S Jun 28 '17 at 11:54
  • That is also correct?? Does this type of "structure" have a name?? Can I use it with everything, as long as I always use es? – Enrique Moreno Tent Jun 28 '17 at 11:55
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    An example from German literature: Es zogen zwei rüstge Gesellen / Zum erstenmal von Haus, / So jubelnd recht in die hellen, / Klingenden, singenden Wellen / Des vollen Frühlings hinaus. (Joseph von Eichendorff: Die zwei Gesellen) – RHa Jun 28 '17 at 12:38
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    @DisplayName: Then what is "eine Anforderung"? – O. R. Mapper Jun 28 '17 at 13:05
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Es is a pronoun that can be used to signal that the subject of the sentence is in an unusual place (In German, in the "Mittel-" or "Nachfeld"), where it normally would only happen to end up in a question, for example) .

Ist eine Anforderung eingegangen? (I)

reverses "normal" German Word order (SPO - Subject, Predicate, Object) to PS, to signal a question

Eine Anforderung ist eingegangen (II)

is formed with standard word order (SP[O]), building a normal sentence

Es ist eine Anforderung eingegangen (III)

reverses standard word order like in (I), but to not sound like a question, something needs to be fixed, and that is done by placing an announcement of the subject in its normal place, formed by "Es". Es itself is in no way a subject of the sentence but simply a pronoun that signals (and allows) this exceptional word order.

Form (III) is normally used to place emphasis on the subject by putting it in an unusual place and signalling that fact through "Es". Famous example from fairy tales:

Es war einmal [eine Prinzessin | ein Frosch | ein König | ...]

Es can be used as a subject in impersonate sentences, like

Es regnet in Strömen

but obviously, here it is the single subject of the sentence.

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  • What is SPO, SP[O] and PS? – Enrique Moreno Tent Jun 28 '17 at 12:30
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    German grammar considers generally everything forming and qualifying the verb form in the sentence ("what happens") a predicate. Objects are considered not part of a predicate, but instead a self-standing part of the sentence. Where I learned Spanish, the same terminology was used. – tofro Jun 28 '17 at 12:46
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    The only function it has is a placeholder for the subject that would normally be expected in its position. Sorry, there isn't more to it. – tofro Jun 28 '17 at 12:56
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    If you absolutely need a grammatical concept, the proper term in German is "Korrelat". But that's nothing else but a placeholder. – tofro Jun 28 '17 at 13:17
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    Form (III) is normally used to place emphasis on the subject by putting it in an unusual place Are you sure about this? I would have guessed that the reason you don't put the subject in front is that for some reason it doesn't work well as a topic. (Maybe because it isn't already mentioned.) – sgf Jun 30 '17 at 14:55

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