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I am very confused: Why is it:

"Diesen Winter ist es sehr kalt."

(My husband says, it's because of the "es" there, but I would love to know why).

I totally understand:

  • Dieser Winter ist sehr kalt.
  • Der Winter ist sehr kalt.
  • Im Winter ist es kalt.
  • Den Winter mag ich gerne. (mögen vs sein)
  • Im letzten Winter war es kälter. (is conjugated like an adjective)
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  • 1
    About that »es«: It is not the cause of »diesen Winter«, it is it's effect. This »es« is a expletive pronoun, that is there just to fill a gap (because there is no real subject in this sentence). But this »es« has no semantic meaning, and there also is no way to ask a question about this sentence where this »es« would be the correct answer. This »es« is of the the same type as in »Es regnet« ("It rains"). Oct 15 '20 at 10:16
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    In Diesen Winter ist es sehr kalt., Diesen Winter is an adverbial phrase, in the other examples it's not. (Subject in two cases & various other things in the others.) The es is what makes in an adverbial phrase instead of the subject. Nothing to do with sein, nor does it have to be es if there's a subject: Diesen Winter lebe ich in Amerika. I don't know why the accusative is used when it's used as an adverb, I don't think it's very common anyway, since most of the time you'd use a preposition for this kind of thing.
    – RDBury
    Oct 15 '20 at 10:18
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    PS. Here is says "Definite time expressions without prepositions are in the accusative:" So that's the official rule if that helps. Why it's the rule is another question.
    – RDBury
    Oct 15 '20 at 10:23
  • Please do not answer in comments.
    – Carsten S
    Oct 15 '20 at 12:22
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    Related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/4891/…
    – RHa
    Oct 15 '20 at 15:31
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"Es ist kalt/warm/sonnig/regnerisch." is a standing idiom when talking about the weather. Same as "It's very cold today." in English.

This expression is combined with an accusative of time without preposition:

Diesen Winter

Other examples for accusative of time:

Diesen Winter fahren wir in die Alpen zum Skifahren.
Wir müssen diesen Winter wegen des Virus noch von zuhause arbeiten.
Wann soll der Impfstoff kommen? Diesen Winter.
Wir treffen uns nächsten Freitag.
Nächste Woche habe ich frei.
Ich war letztes Jahr nur einen Tag krank.

It's just another way of saying "in diesem Winter".

So here are some alternative ways of basically saying the same thing, with maybe very small differences in emphasis:

Diesen Winter ist es sehr kalt.
Es ist sehr kalt diesen Winter.
In diesem Winter ist es sehr kalt.
Dieser Winter ist sehr kalt.

2
  • Trying to add a bit of feel for the small differences: "Diesen Winter ist es sehr kalt" = Use it to refer the currently ongoing winter. "Dieser Winter ist sehr kalt" = Use it while pointing to e.g. the winter of 1979 on a temperature graph; but if the context doesn't provide a particular winter, it would still refer to the default: the currently ongoing winter.
    – orithena
    Oct 16 '20 at 9:13
  • English equivalent? "It is very cold this winter" ("it" is the subject; "this winter" is extra time information) vs "This winter is very cold" ("this winter" is the subject)
    – user253751
    Oct 16 '20 at 13:04
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Most languages insist every proper sentence must have at least a proper subject and a verb.

It's raining

The "it" in the sentence doesn't say anything - it's just needed to satisfy the rule "sentence needs subject", a so-called expletive.

German doesn't have such a strict rule - Sentences can perfectly live without a subject, like

Hier darf nicht geraucht werden

No subject, but a well-formed German sentence. The rule German has for proper sentences is rather the v2 rule: the verb occupies the second position in the sentence.

Then there are sentences, where es just as in, for example, English and French, acts as a subject-surrogate

it's raining / il pleut

es regnet

for impersonate verbs or verbs used in an impersonate manner (that's your example)

es ist kalt

ornate that with a temporal adverbial, like "heute", or "diesen Winter" (note "Winter is not the subject of the sentence, but a temporal adverbial here!), and you arrive at your example:

Heute ist es kalt

Diesen Winter ist es kalt

As opposed to

Dieser Winter ist kalt

like in

This winter, it's cold

vs.

This winter is cold

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