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A German text contains the following sentence.

Und das Beste an den Alpen sind ihre Hütten.

Clearly das Beste must be a singular quantity given the article. So why is sind used and not ist?

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This is similar to expressions like "Das ist/sind (article when needed) (noun)" and "Es ist/sind (article when needed) (noun)" behave like "There is" and "There are" in English, so you take the numer of the noun (that is assigned to the pronoun) and not the pronoun, so you just look at the right side. Compare:

There are three apples. Das sind drei Äpfel.

So in your example, we just take the number of the tastable real things (huts) and use it when conjugating the verb. We could say that it is more important for us that the verb has the number of multiple objects, when those are "assigned" to another noun or pronoun, e.g. "das sind Äpfel" or "das Schlimmste daran sind die Krankheiten, die ..."

As a rule of thumb, when the subject and the subject complement disagree in number (das Beste and Hütten in your example), Plural is used. For more info on this and other difficult questions of Plural/singular usage in German: http://www.canoonet.eu/services/OnlineGrammar/Wort/Verb/Numerus-Person/ProblemNum.html

  • Understood. But the sentence in question I translate as, The best thing about the Alps is the huts. It is not a, "There is/are" or "It is/They are" sentence. The subject of the sentence appears to be "the best thing". – user40290 Nov 3 '19 at 2:24
  • Yes it is a "it is" sentence, but in German it behaves like "there are". In English this would sound like "that/it are apples". German is NOT like English in this case. And I don't know where you got the idea that it should be like English in each respect. – Dan Nov 3 '19 at 2:25
  • Well, German is like English in that both languages have sentences structured by a subject, a verb and other comparable grammatical elements. And the two languages are alike in that these elements have defined relationships with each other within the languages. It appears to me that the relationship I expect in this case is not there. The verb should be conjugated to correspond to the subject. The subject of this sentence is das Beste, clearly a singular item. But the verb is conjugated as if the subject is plural. I do not understand that. – user40290 Nov 3 '19 at 2:49
  • How do you want to understand that? There is no specific reason for that, it's "just because". You take the number of the specifier, of the object of the copula statement, i.e. the number of the noun you assign to the unspecified noun, in your case to "das Beste". – Dan Nov 3 '19 at 3:00
  • Extended the answer a bit. – Dan Nov 3 '19 at 3:05
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As pointed out by Dan, the answer is given in Canoonet: "If Subject and Gleichsetzungsnominativ in a sentence do not have the same number, the finite verb is usually plural." And a similar example is provided:

Mein größter Besitz sind meine Kinder.

Subjekt und Gleichsetzungsnominativ mit unterschiedlichem Numerus in http://www.canoonet.eu/services/OnlineGrammar/Wort/Verb/Numerus-Person/ProblemNum.html

Thank you, Dan.

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