I am in final stages of my A1 Deutsch, but this statement was an exception to read:

Es gefällt ihm im Kindergarten sehr gut.

Normally I will translate it as:

It likes him in kindergarden a lot!

but I think it translates into:

He likes it in the kindergarten a lot.

How to identify such sentences and irregularities (if there is one in this sentence)?

PS: I have not yet translated in Google Translate, so I only guess the right meaning after looking up words in dictionary and knowing dative ihm of es and er.

  • 4
    “I only guess the right meaning after looking up words in dictionary and knowing dative ihm of es and er”: That's indeed how you “guess”, or understand, the meaning of sentences. Google Translate is not a way to confirm this, but rather to throw in something that may be right, dubious, wrong, irrelevant, and we don't know which.
    – DaG
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 12:10

7 Answers 7


It is not an exception or irregularity at all! Different grammar (from English or any other language) doesn’t constitute an irregularity. If you were an Italian or Russian then English “I like it” would be an “irregularity” to you and German “es gefällt mir” would be the most natural grammar in the world.

So the answer to your question is: there is no way. You have to learn and memorize how different verbs, nouns, adverbs etc are used in German and any other language you are going to learn.

PS. By the way, what you call an irregularity was a standard English 4 hundred years ago:

enter image description here (from “The Unfolding of Language” by Guy Deutscher)

  • i get it. thanks! however my question would be why it is not "Er gefallt ihm" which is he liked it as i learn german for e.g Er isst pizza. .he eats pizza.. .. or is the construction specific to gefallen verb Commented Sep 29, 2019 at 8:56
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    This is how verb gefallen is used. It doesn’t mean to like but to please, to give pleasure.
    – Eller
    Commented Sep 29, 2019 at 13:18
  • 7
    The verb gefallen takes the person as it's object. It's like saying in english "the book pleases me" -- the book is doing the action (the book is the subject), and I am receiving the action (I am the object). In your sentence, "Es" represents the general situation/circumstance, and is the subject. The person who is pleased is receiving the action (being pleased), and is the object.
    – evamvid
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 12:32
  • @evamvid that's misleading. "Das Buch ließt sich gut" does not exactly act on the book either. I'm not sure but can only guess that the phrase in question has similar roots. Especially if "gefallen" were akin to "fühl", which is inherently reflexive (very odd example: "? das fühlt sich mir gut an", "? Ihr fühlt sich das gut an"). Further, compare "Gelegenheit", "daran liegt mir", "das liegt mir" etc vs En "like" (vgl "wie ein Ei", i.e. "gleich", as if "gelegt", i.e. "Eier legen" as a potential joke, lol). Now PIE *pel-, though not linked to "feel", is semantically close to "Lage", I guess.
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 22:46
  • Vgl weiters "ge-" cog. Lat. "cum, co-" aus einer Wurzel der Bedeutung "mit, bei", also "mitfühlen", quasi Sympathy; Ferner: "Kumpel"; "Kompanion", "pain" (sensation); dagegen aber "follow", "fellow", "please", "fuel"; "buhlen", "wollen" ... Ich komme gar nicht hinterher, all das nachzuschlagen, was sich scheinbar widerspricht.
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 23:00

You have to compare the matching verbs in German and English.

Es gefällt ihm im Kindergarten sehr gut.

"It likes him in kindergarten a lot!"

"It pleases him in the kindergarten a lot."

Der Kindergarten gefällt ihm sehr gut.

Kindergarten pleases him a lot.

Er mag den Kindergarten sehr.

He likes kindergarten a lot.

The verb gefallen means to please while the verb mögen means to like.

  • 1
    While useful, it should definitely be noted that this is a simplification. The verb to please can be used in many ways that gefallen cannot be used (e.g. "He likes to please") and translating gefallen with to please often leads to awkward and uncommon English, such as in your Kindergarten example. Really the only place I would translate them one on one is the "it pleases [someone]" situation (which admittedly, is a common idiom in German). Other than that, though, this is a good way to think about it.
    – Jasper
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 9:38
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    He likes to please.Er mag es, zu gefallen. – But I see the slightly different aspect in English.
    – Janka
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 9:48
  • @Jasper I agree with you, but I think this is one of those things that has to come with time. That's how I learned it at the A1 level as well, and then picked up the nuance of how it's used in real life from listening to native speakers around the B1-B2 level.
    – evamvid
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 12:31
  • FWIW, English for "kindergarten" is "kindergarten", not "kindergarden" Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 12:41
  • I've edited my answer.
    – Janka
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 15:53

"Es" is a placeholder for "the situation/surroundings/everything/ambience/generic things-ness of things" (in kindergarten). So it actually means "The situation in kindergarten pleases him".


The infinitive is "jemandem gefallen"

Here you can already see, that this verb takes the dative object. However the rules are reversed to English. The subject takes an active role in getting liked by something else

Der Kindergarten gefällt mir I like this Kindergarten / The kindergarten is liked by me

However, in German this is no passive construction, it's active (as stated above)

If there is no subject, you take the dummy subject "es"

Es gefällt mir im Kindergarten It is liked by me (to be) in Kindergarten

  • There's a subject, though (Kindergarten). And is English the last sentence? Never heard.
    – c.p.
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 6:32
  • It is meant to be an approximation to the German structure, although certainly clumsy, because English speakers usually express themselves differently. "Wer oder was gefällt mir im Kindergarten?" "Es". Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 6:38

Well, there is one way to spot that it could not be the way around that you initially thought. Even though I cannot explain every grammatical aspect that, to my native gut feeling, seems to play a role here, as it's way back that I learned it in school ;)

Note the case used here:

It is the 3. case, Dativ, because you can ask: "Wem gefällt es? -> Ihm"

"Es gefällt ihm im Kindergarten sehr gut."

indicates that it cannot mean "It likes him in kindergarden a lot", even if "gefällt" worked in that direction (which would then be a grammatically wrong sentence, wrong case used).

If a word that does work in that direction was used, i.e. to say that it likes him there (the kindergarten has some monster lurking in a dark corner, which likes him? ;)), it would be e.g.:

Es mag ihn (it likes him)

This is using the 4. case, Akkusativ: You can ask: "Wen mag es? -> Ihn."

Do note the different ending letters: m vs. n. See German cases There in the column for Dativ, you will note word endings "dem, einem, unserem", and Akkusativ "den, einen, unseren".

Another example, and another clue: See intransitive vs. transitive German verbs

  1. Es schmeckt ihm. It means "it tastes good to him", but not "it tastes him" :) Ask: "Wem schmeckt es?" / (To) whom does it taste (good)? -> ihm / him.
    • Side note: the rarely used "whom", the m at the end being a relic carried over from German to English - also used in the Dativ case.
  2. Es schmeckt ihn (it tastes him). Wen schmeckt es? -> Ihn.

In the first sentence, the "schmeckt" is an intransitive verb, which is formally defined as a verb that does not have an Akkusativ object. In this case, it has an object: ihm, which is Dativ (wem oder was schmeckt es?), i.e. not Akkusativ. To me it feels like intransitive verbs are kind of a thing that happens, but there is not really an actor doing something actively. If something tastes good to you, it kinda just happens, but nobody is doing anything. (yeah, chemicals are doing something to receptors, but that idea existed much later than the verb & language construct ;))

In the second sentence, some monster from the dark corner, tastes him. This is a transitive verb: Ask "wen schmeckt es? -> Ihn.", where ihn is the Akkusativ object (remember the word ending) - so by definition, it is transitive. So, with my "duct tape memorizing aide" (called Eselsbrücke in German, lit. "donkey's bridge" :D): There now is someone (a monster) doing something active: tasting him.

I.e. like in English, "taste", in German "schmecken" is really two different verbs: a transitive one where someone is doing something actively, and an intransitive one, where something just happens. The logic between both is totally different, so I'd consider them two distinct verbs.

Side note: That this works in both English and German is a "coincidence". (well not really, given how closely both languages are related) But it's rather uncommon to use "schmecken", in the sense of actively trying the taste. Some grandma might say "Lass mich die Torte schmecken" (let me taste the cake), or maybe it's a regional thing. But usually it is: "Lass mich die Torte probieren" (let me try the cake).

This is the same with "es gefällt ihm", other than gefällt (gefallen in basic form) is intransitive, there is no transitive double. I.e. it can only ever be used without an Akkusativ object (like ihn), i.e. you cannot say "es gefällt ihn". (you might hear that from a little child which has not yet figured things out so well ;)) So your initial interpretation of that sentence just does not work grammatically.

Now, okay, that seems a bit longwinded. But I hope it explains how to spot this kind of thing, and deduce by exclusion, what it can not mean. That's at least something :)

(This is, among other things, what Mark Twain complained about, in his (in)famous essay, IIRC. But it's no use, that's how it works :D)


I'd translate it alike this, in order to preserve the meaning:

Es gefällt ihm im Kindergarten sehr gut.

He really enjoys (his time in) the Kindergarten.

Sometimes one cannot translate 1:1, else the translation would appear translated. Then it's recommend to first understand the meaning and express that meaning in the other language.

Also, the original German wording should possibly rather be, when spoken:

Im Kindergarten gefällt's ihm gut.

It should always sound natural (once one has developed a feeling for the language).

It's just, that the written and spoken language may occasionally differ.


He like to be in the Kindergarten would also match.(Er ist gern im Kindergarten) The meaning is that he is happy to be there. (And do not nuke the whole shop ;) )

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    What does this add to the other answers? Does it even address the question?
    – RalfFriedl
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 22:24
  • Ich sehe schon das wird hier alles Bierernst"s" genommen. Man gut das ich das erst seit 54 Jahren versuche zu sprechen. Und wech ! Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 22:30

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