See using 'es' for subjective masculine pronoun. I know we use
for masculine 'er' or 'der'
for neuter : 'es' or 'das'
for female : 'sie' or 'die'

A : Passt Ihnen die Hose?
B : Ja, Die hier gefällt mir besser. Aber sie ist etwas lang.

But in the conversations below we use 'es' when it seems like masculine or female.

A : Welche Größe haben Sie?
B : Ich weiß es nicht genau.

Da kommt jemand, es ist der Vater.

A : Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? B : Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind.

I guess this is when at the time the speaker says or replies, the listner(or one who asked the question) doesn't know what or who it is. I only studied basic level grammar yet but have this strong feeling. Could anyone elaborate on this?

  • 1
    This explains the second sentence — Actually wait, that link was wrong, different type of expletive. This is a better link.
    – Jan
    Dec 22, 2017 at 3:44
  • 1
    This explains the first example somewhat — but maybe this one is better.
    – Jan
    Dec 22, 2017 at 3:48
  • Because the two es are grammatically different and would give different duplicates, I am voting to close as too broad. Feel free to close to the duplicate questions I have linked.
    – Jan
    Dec 22, 2017 at 3:49
  • We need to provide guidance on this. We can discuss the form. Perhaps a community wiki? But this is something every learner struggles with! It may be a duplicate, but I wouldn’t say it’s too broad. The phenomenon is pretty clear, though common.
    – Ludi
    Dec 22, 2017 at 22:40
  • @Ludi No, it is asking two different things that are not related. By all standards it is too broad. Also note that each single question is essentially a duplicate of a different one (but of two different dupes because they are two different questions).
    – Jan
    Dec 23, 2017 at 16:51

2 Answers 2


In the sentence

Ich weiß es nicht genau.

es stands for a fact: Ich weiß nicht genau, welche Größe ich habe.

Also possible would be:

Ich weiß sie nicht genau.

Here sie stands for the size: Ich weiß die Größe nicht genau.

The meaning is ultimately the same, but it is expressed differently.

Somewhat tricky is:

A: Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? B: Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind.

Here Wer stands for any kind of person, or even a group of persons. Note that one uses Wer even if it is about a woman.

However, in the answer, Es is used because using Er would already reveal that it's a man who is coming. In this case one may assume that the questioner already knows that a male person is coming. Using es makes clear that the gender of the person coming is unkown until the question is answered.

The phrase "Es ist ..." is equivalent to the phrase "It's ..." in English. Usually one would use "Er ist ..." only if the person has already been mentioned.

  • Voted down because the grammatical expletive is explained wrongly.
    – Jan
    Dec 24, 2017 at 3:28
  • In the sentences above 'es' is not an expletive but a pronoun. You can verify this by trying to omit it. An explextive can be removed by changing the word order, in the sentences discussed here this is not possible.
    – RHa
    Dec 24, 2017 at 10:16
  • Also, 'es' here has an antecedent, therefore it is a pronoun, not an expletive.
    – RHa
    Dec 24, 2017 at 10:27
  • True, the term expletive is probably wrong in this context but it doesn’t help your explanation.
    – Jan
    Dec 24, 2017 at 14:48

"Es" is a general pronoun that covers the masculine, feminine, and neuter tenses. It translates roughly into "this," or "it."

Ich weiß es nicht genau. I don't know this exactly.
Da kommt jemand, es ist der Vater. Here comes someone. It is the father.

A similar word is "man," which translates roughly into "one."

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