20

Take for example a sentence like

Doch sollte daran erinnert werden, dass . . .

The way I see it, and the way I would write this had I wanted to express the same thing, would be

Doch es sollte daran erinnert werden, dass . . .

I have noticed that it's fairly common to omit es, but I'm wondering if there are any rules that govern when this is permissible? I believe the grammatical term for instances such as the one I'm talking about is Platzhalter es, somewhat similar to an English construction like "It is raining" (do correct me if I'm wrong though). I do not yet have enough Sprachgefühl to make a confident judgement on when it's fair to drop the Platzhalter es (most notably in passive voice constructions), so any advice/guidance/links would be appreciated.

5
  • Very good question! I'll think about it. Looking forward to some smart answers. :)
    – Olafant
    Jan 22 at 15:02
  • 2
    leo.org has an excellent section on the various use cases for "es" and when it can be dropped. dict.leo.org/grammatik/deutsch/Wort/Pronomen/FRegeln-P/… Jan 22 at 15:40
  • As explained in the answers, the es in the example is not a proper subject, so the question title is misleading.
    – RHa
    Jan 22 at 20:35
  • @RHa I've edited the question to reflect this Jan 22 at 21:21
  • BTW in non formal speach “es” is abbreviated to -s suffix, and writing that colloquial form is done with an omission apostrophe “Ich hab’s satt!”
    – eckes
    Jan 22 at 22:47
15

"Es" as a subject replacement (Expletivum) can generally be dropped from a sentence when it can be ensured otherwise that the verb is in the second (logical) position. German, unlike many other languages (and that's probably why many non-native speakers feel that something must be missing), doesn't really need a subject to form a proper sentence, as long as the above condition is met.

In your example, the "doch" covers the requirement that the V2 rule is met by occupying the "Vorfeld". If it's removed from the sentence, it's no longer a grammatically well-formed German sentence.

There are some minor exceptions to this rule - "regnen", "schneien" and other verbs relating to weather activities and similar "realm conditions" (e.g. "es stinkt") definitely need "es" as a subject, even if V2 placement could otherwise be met.

The fact that "es" is used only to ensure the V2 condition (rather than being the subject) can be checked in many cases by replacing it with the particle "da" or the adverb "hier" - If the sentence still works, the assumption is true - This BTW works in your example as

Da sollte daran erinnert werden, dass ...

On the other hand, there are cases where "es" is simply not allowed in sentences - this is mainly the case for sentences using an impersonate passive like in

Auf den Fluren darf [no es!] nicht gesungen oder musiziert werden

This sentence definitely wouldn't work with any subject whatsoever - This shows that German sentences are perfectly fine with having no subject at all as long as the V2 condition is met.

5
  • 10
    That's amazingly interesting for me as a native speaker.
    – Olafant
    Jan 22 at 16:11
  • 3
    Great answer but you have to be careful about this one: "Auf den Fluren darf [no es!] nicht gesungen oder musiziert werden" --> "es" is allowed here but within a totally different context, specifically as the direct subject (referring to a subject of a previous sentence, a song for instance). Otherwise, some non-native speakers here might be totally confused here :)
    – Secundi
    Jan 22 at 17:02
  • Es is also frequently met in the construction Es darf nicht ... (It is forbidden to...)?!? In my humble, totally uninformed opinion this might be akin to a Greek particle which commands optative mood (Ein Paradebeispiel schlecht übersetzt: "εἴθε βάλλοις (eíthe bállois): „Oh, wenn du doch würfest“"). It is distantly reminiscent of Konjunktiv (Es dürfte). Notice that it is formaly equivalent to jetzt (in "jez' mache"). More over, Gr. ei-the also appears bracketing the verb (vgl. zu, ja sieh zu wie...). If eh und jeh are obviously related, then a comparison to Es might hold up.
    – vectory
    Jan 22 at 21:30
  • 1
    Sollte daran erinnert werden, dass dieser Satz auch ohne "doch" korrekt sein kann? Oder auch: "Sollte daran erinnert werden, dass er gelogen hat, hätte er immer noch folgende Ausrede..."
    – danzel
    Jan 23 at 8:44
  • 1
    A question and a subordinate clause – different rules applying here. Jan 23 at 20:20
6

The so-called expletive es (Platzhalter) is not a subject. 1. It does not agree with the finite verb and 2. it cannot appear in subordinate clauses (in fact, it can only appear in first position).

  1. Es wurden neue Regeln beschlossen.
  2. seit (*es) neue Regeln beschlossen wurden

Expletive es can occur in clauses that have a subject, as is the case in the two examples above, but also in clauses that do not have a subject, as is the case in your example with the impersonal passive.

The fact that it is not a subject and restricted to first position distinguishes expletive es from other types of es that are subjects: 3. es as the subject of weather verbs and as the subject of fixed expressions; 4. correlative es, referring to a postponed subject clause; 5. anaphoric es, referring to a preceding noun.

  1. seit es ständig schneit
    wenn es um die Wurst geht
  2. obwohl (es) sich gezeigt hat, dass das Risiko gering ist
  3. ein Kind, wenn es erwachsen ist

The correlative es is very whimsical, sometimes being obligatory, sometimes dispreferred. When it is dropped, the clause it refers to becomes the subject.

Disregarding optional correlative es, es as a subject cannot be dropped, sharply distinguishing it from expletive es.

1
2

In general, seen from a semantical context and only with focus on your "sollte"-example, the cases where "es" is explicitly used, are identical to the reduction cases. A quite possible subtile difference in how the sentence is perceived could maybe found with focus on the actual subject of speech. For example for a direct speech with humans involved into the context as passive or quite active subjects of speech, the german "es" might be perceived as a bit inappropriate since a priori, it's too abstract or "nonhuman"/objectified. Typically for such cases, you could think of a reduction of the german "man" instead (grammatically seen, that's wrong I know since that requires a passive to active transition further on), which is more explicit about the subject of speech.

A more concrete example to emphasize this aspect might be a personal manual that further on might contain a lot of quite repetitive and accumulated points and recommendations. To emphasize, that the manual "should speak to the reader" in a quite direct way and further on to reduce repetitive overhead, the reduction of "es" is commonly seen here:

"Hierbei sollte berücksichtigt werden, dass ..., sollte sich auch klargemacht werden, dass..., sollte aber keinesfalls angenommen werden, dass..."

Here you can also see, that the reduction version can be used for concatenation in a readable fluid way (with possible semantical augmentations) in contrast to the according version with "es".

See also this very related question (and my answer there :) ):

Explaining „es“ in „jmd. hat es mit etw. zu tun haben“

5
  • 1
    Thanks, I think what you're saying matches my intuition to a large extent. But this is only one class of sentences. For instance, wouldn't it sound wrong to drop es in a sentence like "es wird oft gesagt, dass.."? "Wird oft gesagt, dass..." sounds weird to me, perhaps not wrong, but certainly incomplete (although I am not a native speaker, so take this with a grain of salt). Jan 22 at 15:24
  • Yes. you're right. "Wird oft gesagt ..." is wrong. See @tofro 's answer.
    – Olafant
    Jan 22 at 16:14
  • @ChubbyChef, you can actually use the no-es version, for instance within a question: "Wird wirklich oft das "es" weggelassen hier?" It's even possible to use it within a normal sentence but in combination with a relative sentence, for instance: "Wird angenommen, dass dies stimmt, so kann man folgendes versuchen:"
    – Secundi
    Jan 22 at 17:10
  • But this is not allowed: "Es wird oft gesagt, dass Deutsche pünktlich sind" to "Wird oft gesagt, dass Deutsche pünktlich sind." (normal sentence, no question). I'm going to distinguish the concrete grammatical rule for this here or someone could append it here!?
    – Secundi
    Jan 22 at 17:15
  • Formalization of the relative sentence case where it's allowed to avoid the "es": If you have a conditional relative sentence structure, where the "es" would be within the premise part. It's sometimes even allowed within the conclusion part but with further restrictions, going too far here maybe.
    – Secundi
    Jan 22 at 17:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.