In the phrase:

Sie ist meine Mutter.

'meine Mutter' is the nominative case although I don't understand why this is so since I naturally think that it should be the accusative case as it receives the action of the verb. Also in other languages it is in fact the direct object. Any explanation would be appreciated.

4 Answers 4


The word "sein" is one of the few verbs which uses a nominative object so the sentence contains two elements in nominative case.

Using a male word you can see that the nominative is used twice:

Er ist mein Vater.

  • 2
    That nominative object is usually called Prädikativ.
    – Janka
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 19:56
  • 1
    Und im Vergleich Vater zu Mutter kann man den Akkusativ noch besser ausschließen, wenn man an »Er isst meinen Vater« denkt ;)
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 9:42
  • 1
    The expression "nominative object" is wrong because it is not an object. In English, the verb "to be" is a "linking verb", or "copula", wich links the subject to an adjective or a noun, and it does not express any action (therefore it cannot have an object). Examples: "My car is red" and "John is a doctor". Neither "red" and "doctor" are the object of the verb "to be". This applies to German too: you have to use nominative because "mein Vater" is an additional information about the subject of the sentence. Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 0:54

I think it all trace down to 'sein' being a copula (linking verb) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copula_(linguistics) these type of verbs just link two things together but don't communicate any action. Therefore 'meine Mutter' it is not the direct object, even in the other languages that I was thinking it is not direct object.

  • 1
    Yes, exactly. Sein, werden and bleiben are the three most common linking verbs in German but there are a lot more.
    – Janka
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 0:13
  • Better don't talk about direct and indirect objects in German. That starts confusing you.
    – tofro
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 7:21

Meine Mutter is nominative in the sentence you gave, Sie ist meine Mutter.

it receives the action of the verb.

To my mind, the notion that your mother is receiving the action of being makes no sense. Even in sentences that have recipients, they're often dative so this is not a reliable test.

To suggest a better way to determine if a noun phrase is accusative or not: An accusative object may be promoted to a subject (nominative) by passivisation. So to test if it a noun phrase is accusative or not, you can simply try to change the sentence to a passive one:

*Meine Mutter wird von ihr geworden

is a completely incorrect sentence, just like the English equivalent "my mother is being been by her". Therefore, meine Mutter in the first sentence cannot be accusative.

In contrast, a sentence like Sie sah meine Mutter would become Meine Mutter wurde von ihr gesehen. Since that sentence is good, we can deduce that meine Mutter in Sie sah meine Mutter is accusative.

Generally, copular verbs take a nominative case in German (they may take other cases in other languages, but as far as I know, never accusative). And so sentences involving copulas as the main semantic value can not be passivised.


You say, "any explanation would be appreciated", so I'm going to suggest that this is just an idiosyncrasy on your part in how you've internalized English grammar. In the English sentence "She is my mother.", mother does not "receive the action" of the verb, because "She" isn't "is-ing" your mother (because there is no action).

While we may often respond casually, "It's just me.", we can demonstrate that the verb "to be" doesn't take a direct object in English:

  • Who am I? vs Who hit me?
  • Who is she? vs Who saw her?
  • Who did you say he is? vs Who did you say told him?

It's hard to get at this without a question, but it can be done:

  1. On the contrary, it is I who am going to kill you!
  2. These are they. (very rare, but not dead yet)
  3. What a monstrous fellow art thou! (Shakespeare)

My guess is that studying German will help clarify English grammar for you.

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