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I'd like to find some reliable (online) source on the use of es to introduce something to appear later in the sentence, for example Ich bin es, Hannah. The normal trend for German seems to be to conjugate the verb according to es: Wie geht es dir?, Es ist mir kalt. etc. But in this case it seems that in German, contrary to English, you conjugate according to what is being introduced; in English you'd say "It's me," never "I am it." You can construct other examples as well:

  • Er ist es, der Mörder. (It's him, the murderer.)
  • Sie sind es, die Riesenameisen. (It's them, the giant ants.)

So it's not really an idiom or even an expression since really it's just a rule of grammar that works differently from the corresponding rule in English. But mostly this conclusion is conjecture and inference on my part, though it seems DeepL knows about it, and I'd like to see something authoritative to verify it (assuming it's true). The dictionaries and grammars I've found don't seem to cover it, so I was looking for some help to find one.

Just to clarify, since someone suggested another thread to answer this and apparently I need to, I'm not looking for a translation of the phrase. I said at the start of the question, I'm looking for a reliable reference for the grammar being used. Before asking anything here I do try to do all due diligence, run it through various online dictionaries, check for duplicate questions here etc. So I was aware of the meaning; in fact it's in the title.

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    "it's just a rule of grammar that works differently from the corresponding rule in English" Such happens all the time, so what exactly is your question? – πάντα ῥεῖ Jul 8 '20 at 18:48
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    This link was helpful for me to learn the various uses of "es". You might have seen this? dict.leo.org/grammatik/deutsch/Wort/Pronomen/FRegeln-P/… – Satish Vasan Jul 10 '20 at 7:03
  • @Satish Vasan -- the section "es bei Gleichsetzung mit sein" is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks. – RDBury Jul 10 '20 at 15:14
  • @RalfFriedl -- The other thread gives the translation with no read explanation for the grammar. Between Google translate and DeepL, a basic translation usually isn't hard to get; understanding of the whys and wherefores of them seems to be harder to come by. – RDBury Jul 10 '20 at 15:21
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Ich bin es, essentially a rhematic complement to the (actual or imagined) question Wer ist [es/X]?, is sometimes referred to as an identifying construction. It is a particular type of sein copula construction, with the property that Y--a nominal phrase in nominative case that bears the focus accent--acts as a predicative, with no agreement between Y and es. (Der Mörder and die Riesenameisen in your example are appositions; appositive phrases agree with their reference phrase, which in this case is ich or sie, respectively.)

I think the reason why your search for this in grammars of German is unavailing is that there is probably little point for an ordinary person in learning about the grammatical details underlying this construction. It doesn't follow from a broad general rule, so, from a learner's perspective, Y ist es (or Es ist Y) is something you just learn as part of your vocabulary studies. If your interest is more academic, however, you can read about the particular construction in Askedal (1990: 214f), for instance. As a general matter, there are vast amounts of specific uses of es in German; with respect to some, it makes sense to study the grammar in the abstract, but some uses are very closely tied to particular verbs or constructions and it is difficult to give suitable all-encompassing rules.

To add just a little perspective to the issue at hand, you may find it helpful to observe that Y ist es (or Es ist Y) is closely related to the es-cleft (aka the Spaltsatz) construction; maybe you are already familar with that? (Admittedly, it is not as frequent and/or versatile as in English.) A German es cleft sentence is something like Er ist es, der sie ermordet hat. The matrix clause there follows the very same composition principles that I described above for Y ist es. (Not so in English, apparently: Who is your friend? - It is him, the murderer. But, eg: It is he who murdered her.)


John Ole Askedal, Zur syntaktischen und referentiell-semantischen Typisierung der deutschen Pronominalform es, Deutsch als Fremdsprache 27 (1990), 213ff.

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  • Thanks. Some of this answer it a bit over my head so I'll have to study it a bit, and Askedal seems very technical, but I accept your explanation for why it's not covered in a typical grammar. To me, learning a single phrase is learning nothing; you need to understand why the phrase is constructed the way it is to be able understand similar phrases and to able to use such phrases yourself. So my interest is more practical than academic, but still I kept finding translations for 'Ich bin es' with no explanation of what's going on with it. – RDBury Jul 9 '20 at 10:43
  • Reminds me of the folk etymology (and I don't mean that it were necessarily incorrect) of vasistas, a type of window above doors, from was-ist-das "what is it". – vectory Jul 9 '20 at 16:26
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  1. you are looking for an intuitive understanding, where ven native speaker's don't have it. I mean they will literally describe such things as meaningless, just search the forum, see these comments.

  2. Those english translations are wanton, not idiomatic beyond "it's ...". That is not helpful.

English, German, Dutch, and French are miles appart and, though they all have a dummy pronoun of some kind, this is most often deictic, and Dutch er, French y still reflect that; likewise, for comparison, French il (pleut) "it (rains)" looks like a 3rdP. pronoun, but these are derived most likely from a determiner/demonstrative Latin ille "there is", etc., cp. likewise ecce "this here" ("ecce homo"). Akin to he and here, het has become the standard definite article in Dutch.The situation is quite similar with German. Sie is from older so, so too in Old English; they is akin to German der, die, das, which may act as pronouns and determiners all the same; Compare da, ich bin da. And that's just the start. It is of course nigh impossible to explain the compostition of it. It's supoosed to be from a neuter nominal and accusative flexion, but the stem, akin to er "he" in this view, remains too short of analysis.

  1. T'is not a pronoun. "es" is chiefly clitic, ich bin's, ich binnes, which grammar nazis would want to deem a contraction. That might be hypercorrecting, but it's water under the bridge. If 'S had been used even sentence initially, it has long been leveled by analogy with cases where es, et was in fact original. In contrast with ich bin da, an allusion to s(o) only makes sense because *to ~ *so are a paradigmatic pair in Proto-Germanic theory. On the other hand, *iz- derives Old English: ī- (“self; same”, prefix), ditto Lat. idem, ibidem, sibi etc. You won't find anything w.r.t. in the literature, I'm affraid, at least nothing concrete, only pointers into the other direction.

Er ist es, der Mörder. (It's him, the murderer.) Sie sind es, die Riesenameisen. (It's them, the giant ants.)

This is not how that's used. Ich bin's connotates "don't you recognize me?"; Ich bin es gewesen, das gewesen* simply means "that was me", "I did it". Es may be indefinite in such cases "wer hat schon wieder so ein' Müll erzählt?"

Your examples would be a different idiom, that is now largely obsolete anyway (I'd prefer "Da(s) ist er, ...").

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  • With respect to Er ist es, Sie sind es It's not hard to find "real" examples thanks to DWDS Er ist es, der König Wilhelm I. dazu gebracht hatte, die Reichsverfassung zu akzeptieren. -- Die Zeit 1999 Sie sind es, die in den weströmischen Provinzen germanische Kolonien bilden und schließlich die Regierung übernehmen. -- Dietrich Schwanitz 1999. Or am I misreading those? – RDBury Jul 10 '20 at 0:14
  • those examples differ in using a relative pronoun, that translates "..., who ...". When I said I'd prefer "Da(s) ist er, ...", I was still leaning on your phrasing "It is him, the man", what is rather different from "It is he who ...", although they are quite close, and in German at least not morphologicly distinguished very well. – vectory Jul 10 '20 at 23:09

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