I am reading a book about Sinbad in German and I came across a sentence which I cannot figure why it is using sieht instead of sehen:

Sinbad und seine Leute haben grosse Angst. Sie schwimmen an den Strand und verstecken sich auf der Insel. Nach drei Tagen fährt ein Schiff an der Insel vorbei. Sinbad nimmt seinen Gürtel und alle schreien laut. Da endlich sieht sie der Kapitän.

Shouldn’t it be sehen sie, referring to die Leute? Or maybe sieht er, referring to Sinbad? Or is it a mistake from the book?

2 Answers 2


Because the conjugation of the finite verb agrees to the subject.

Da endlich sieht sie der Kapitän.

To understand a German sentence correctly, you have to pick up all the clues given. The verb form sieht is 3rd person singular, which means the subject must be a singular noun or 3rd person singular pronoun.

The subject is always in nominative case, and while sie matches that condition, der Kapitän matches it, too.

Further, der Kapitän cannot be any other case, only nominative. This means, it must be a subject or a predicative. This isn't a coupler phrase so it's unlikely it's a predicative.

Der Kapitän is the subject.

In conclusion sie is an accusative object. It may be 3rd person singular feminine or 3rd person plural but the latter is what matches. Sie refers to Sindbad und seine Leute.


Rearranging the sentence yields

Da sieht der Kapitän sie endlich.

or even

Der Kapitän sieht sie endlich.

which make the meaning and the structural parts clearer. (See here for another example of this kind of rearrangement.) The original sentence is probably put that way in order to create suspense and make the reading more interesting.

Sidenote: Your two suggestions would make "Kapitän" an accusative object, which requires the article "den" instead of "der". The sentences would be either

Da endlich sehen sie den Kapitän.


Da endlich sieht er den Kapitän.

Of course, these two have a different meaning.

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