This question also has an answer here (in German):
"Es" in "Es ist gutes Wetter" However, that answer is in German, and clearly, my grasp of German is not sufficient to understand a nuianced answer.

I came across this sentence in a Ersteleser version of Die Schatzinsel:

Es waren seltsame, manchmal auch unheimliche Kerle darunter.

I can't reconcile "Es" with "waren". Or, if "waren" refers to "die Kerle", what role is "Es" playing?

The general meaning seems to be "It was weird, sometimes strange guys would come by." (refering to the "Gasthaus").

  • 4
    Possible duplicate of "Es" in "Es ist gutes Wetter"
    – PiedPiper
    Jan 9, 2019 at 23:22
  • 2
    Dupe close voters: please note, that the linked question is in German.
    – Takkat
    Jan 10, 2019 at 8:00
  • @PiedPiper: please do not vote to close as dupe if the other question was in another language (comment or edit instead).
    – Takkat
    Jan 10, 2019 at 8:02
  • 1
    Abgesehen davon, daß das Platzhalter-es kein Wetter-es ist.
    – David Vogt
    Jan 10, 2019 at 11:20
  • @PiedPiper The first link discusses the same topic. The other two are different.
    – David Vogt
    Jan 10, 2019 at 11:31

3 Answers 3


Es waren seltsame, manchmal auch unheimliche Kerle darunter.

There were strange, sometimes also scary guys among them.

German uses es in more situations than English uses it. Here, dort is not the correct translation for there, it must be es. That is because we aren't talking about a real place.

  • Ich würde sogar sagen, dass überhaupt nicht von einem Platz, real oder irreal, die Rede ist. Gut - ausgeschlossen ist nicht, dass diese Kerle unter einer Brücke waren. Ich tippe aber auf eine Menschengruppe oder -menge. Jan 9, 2019 at 23:30
  • @PiedPiper: Janka wrote about real places. Jan 11, 2019 at 1:44
  • Until I read your translation, I thought that "seltsame" was describing the situation. When one realizes it is describing the people, this is much easier to parse. Thanks.
    – perpetual
    Jan 11, 2019 at 14:46

This type of es is known as Platzhalter-es. It is a special type of expletive. An expletive is a word that does not contribute to the meaning of a sentence. This es is special in that it only appears in front of the verb. Therefore, your sentence could be rewritten as:

Seltsame, manchmal auch unheimliche Kerle waren darunter.

Clearly, es is not the subject here. The subject is seltsame, manchmal auch unheimliche Kerle, hence waren is plural.

  • Is the "es" used here to give "da" something to point to?
    – perpetual
    Jan 10, 2019 at 11:07
  • Is ther an implied "gegangen" in this sentence?
    – perpetual
    Jan 10, 2019 at 11:08
  • 2
    There is no movement. darunter = unter ihnen, i.e. unter den Kerlen. Basically: Some, but not all of the fellows were strange and sometimes also sinister.
    – David Vogt
    Jan 10, 2019 at 11:22

It is the same thing as when you say "it is late" in english. What does the "it" refer to in this case?

So translated it means:

There were strange, sometimes also frightening guys among them.

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