I've come across these two sentences:

In der Wüste gibt es viel Sand.

Im Wald ist ein Feuer.

(Each sentence is accompanied by a picture of a desert and of a forest burning respectively).

I suppose in English both sentences would be translated as "there is". My question is: do we use "ist" in the second sentence because the fire is something temporary and not a permanent feature of the forest (in the way that sand is for the desert)? Or am I overthinking this and the two ways of saying "there is" in German are interchangeable?

  • 2
    There are multiple ways of saying "there is" in English too. The desert has a lot of sand, it contains a lot of sand, a lot of sand exists in the desert. The wood is afflicted by a fire, the wood is burning, the wood is on fire. - It's the same in German. Multiple ways lead to Rome. Jul 5, 2017 at 15:57
  • One difference between "Es gibt" and "sein" is that in the case of "Es gibt" you only have to add an object to get a valid sentence: "Es gibt viel Sand". You can't do that with "sein", you have to add another word which gives the sentence a different meaning.
    – RHa
    Jul 5, 2017 at 18:26

3 Answers 3


The expression "es gibt" is saying that something exists. In most cases the sentence is saying that something is always true or at least for a longer period of time.

"Sein" (in this context) means that for a certain period of time something is in a certain place.

Indeed there are some native speakers who use both expressions as synonyms. However most native speakers understand the expressions differently.


There are elephants in the zoo in Berlin.

May be:

Im Zoo in Berlin gibt es Elefanten.

... would be understood in the way that there are always elephants in the zoo and you can go there to watch them anytime you want.

Im Zoo in Berlin sind Elefanten.

... would be understood in the way that there are elephants in the zoo right now and they are possibly no longer there in one hour.

  • 1
    Im Wald gibt es ein Feuer sounds to me less like "There generally is a fire in the woods" and more like "Fire is available in the woods." Do you agree and do you have any sort of account for that?
    – sgf
    Jul 5, 2017 at 17:14
  • @sgf: Yes, "es gibt" may also mean: "There can be...". Jul 5, 2017 at 18:18

No one has yet commented on the expression "vorhanden", which often means "there is available" but at least sometimes seems to be called for in situations where the English would simply be "there is". At least in Yiddish, where "es gibt" is simply not used, the (phonetic) equivalent "faran" seems to occupy that territory.

  • I've never come across "vorhanden" before. I'll look it up, but can you give me a couple of examples of sentences that use it?
    – Theo
    Jul 7, 2017 at 9:30
  • I hope someone else can comment on the use in German, but it Yiddish it definitely replaces "es gibt". From an essay by Sholom Aleichem, transcribed using the phonetic system mandated for Yiddish by the academic authorities: "Faran a sakh menchn, vos hobn lib banutsn un oysmishn zeyer shprakh mit fremde verter." (There are a number of people who like to mix in foreign words with their daily speech.) Jul 7, 2017 at 13:00
  • The equivalent of "es gibt"/"there is" in Yiddish is "s'iz (do)", while "(s'iz) faran" tends to be closer in semantics to "vorhanden".
    – alephreish
    Sep 5, 2017 at 17:50
  • Does my Sholem Aleichem quote not properly illustrate the use of "faran/vorhanden" in a sentence? The point is that none of the German correspondents so far have agreed that "vorhanden" is interchangeable with "es gibt", while in Yiddish it seems to be almost if not entirely so. Sep 5, 2017 at 19:03

"Gibt es" refers to an inherent condition. In der Wüste gibt es viel Sand. Deserts "naturally" have a lot of sand.

"Ist" refers to a temporary condition. Im Wald ist ein Feuer. The fire is in the forest right now, but might not be there tomorrow or a year from now.

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