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Ab und zu sind sogar ihre Freunde, die sie wegen ihrer Gutherzigkeit ausnutzen.

Above is the sentence I am trying to read and I feel confused breaking down the grammer of the first part before the comma. What is the verb of the sentence? Ab zu sind? And how should I translate it well?

I am still a newbie to German and grammar is always tough.

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    It looks like there is an es missing here. As it stands, the first part of the sentence is ungrammatical. – phipsgabler May 5 at 14:14
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    As @phipsgabler said, it should be "Ab und zu sind es sogar ihre Freunde, die sie wegen ihrer Gutherzigkeit ausnutzen." to be a correct sentence. Could you please confirm whether this is a copying error or not? It doesn't make a lot of sense to write an answer about the "grammar" of a sentence that is just incorrect. – HalvarF May 5 at 17:01
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The verb of the first sentence is sind (a form of the infinitive sein = to be  ⇒  sie sind = they are).

Ab und zu means "sometimes", "from time to time", or "every now and then". You could translate your sentence as:

From time to time are even her friends, who take advantage of her for her kindness.

Note that the comma is not needed in English, but I left it there, so that you could see where one sentence ends and where the next begins.

Also, since the word sie can mean "she", "you", or "they", I cannot be sure of the translation without more context.

A very good translator ist deepl. It usually makes better translations than google translator.

I hope this helps!

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    I appreciate the fact that to even translated the grammatical error from german into english. But the "even" part is plain old wrong. Assuming that the missing "es" in the question is supposed to be there "From time to time it is her friends, who take advantage of her for her kindness." would be more accurate – Chund May 6 at 8:51
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This sentence is incomplete and therefor wrong. The relative clause (the part after the comma) is correct, but the main clause (which could exist without the relative clause too) is missing a part of its predicate.

To answer your question: The verb of the main clause is »sind« (in English: are), but that doesn't tell you why the sentence is wrong.

The word »sein« (to be) is a copula. Copulas are verbs that do not describe an action, but they describe some sort of binding, connection, linkage or coupling (that is where the name comes from).

German copulas are:

  • sein (to be)

    Anna ist müde. Otto ist Katholik.

  • bleiben (to stay)

    Frau Schuster bleibt verschwunden. Herr Mayer bleibt Direktor.

  • werden (to become)

    Die Kinder werden älter. Irene wird Rennfahrerin.

  • heißen (to be named, to mean)

    Ich heiße Hubert. Dass er das weiß, heißt nichts.

Many other words also can used as copulas although the are normally not listed in lists of copulas.

Maybe the most copula-ish verb of all is sein (to be): Something is something else. And in your sentence the part something else is missing. What are her or their friends. (Without any context you can't tell from this sentence if »ihre« refers to a single female person or to many persons.)

Given (main clause only):

Ab und zu sind sogar ihre Freunde.
Every now and then, even her/their friends are.

What are her/their friends?

A possible correction:

Ab und zu sind sogar ihre Freunde gemein.
Every now and then, even her/their friends are mean.

Here I used the adjective »gemein« (mean, rude) to complete the sentence. But, as shown in the examples above, the grammar also allows you to use a noun or a nominal group. But it's hard to find a noun or a nominal group that semantically makes sense in this concrete sentence, but here is an example to show that also nominal groups work (at least grammatically):

Ab und zu sind sogar ihre Freunde kleine Kätzchen.
Every now and then, even her/their friends are little kittens.


Another way to correct your sentence, is to interpret ihre Freunde as the second part of the coupling, so we have to find the missing first part:

Ab und zu sind sogar Hunde ihre Freunde.
Every now and then, even dogs are her/their friends.

or

Ab und zu sind sogar Leute ihre Freunde.
Every now and then, even people are her/their friends.

And in the last example a relative clasue, that gives further information about those people makes much sense:

Ab und zu sind sogar Leute, die sie wegen ihrer Gutherzigkeit ausnutzen, ihre Freunde.
Every now and then, even people who take advantage of her/them for her/their goodness are her/their friends.

You can also move this relative clause to the end of the sentence:

Ab und zu sind sogar Leute ihre Freunde, die sie wegen ihrer Gutherzigkeit ausnutzen.
Every now and then, even people are her/their friends who take advantage of her/them for her/their goodness.


Another way to express the meaning from the last sentence is this:

Ab und zu nutzen sie sogar ihre Freunde wegen ihrer Gutherzigkeit aus.
Every now and then even her/their friends take advantage of her/their goodness.

But this is a completely different grammatical construction. To turn this sentence into the structure of the sentences above you need am expletive subject, i.e. you have to use the word »es« (English: it) as the subject of the main clause, and then the relative clause describes what this expletive subject stands for:

Ab und zu sind es sogar ihre Freunde, die sie wegen ihrer Gutherzigkeit ausnutzen.
Now and then, it are even her/their friends who take advantage of her/them for her/their goodness.


So, as always, when there is an error, that are many different ways to find a correct version. Only the context of the story, in which this sentence is embedded, provides hints for selecting the best correction.

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  • Ab und zu sind es sogar ihre Freunde, die sie wegen ihrer Gutherzigkeit ausnutzen. Translated as: Now and then, it are even her/their friends who take advantage of her/them for her/their goodness. Somehow using 'it are' instead of 'it's' or 'it is' doesn't sound right here. This sentence gets very 'multiple choice' in German. Being explanatory clear versus getting to the point. In English you can just drop a word. If nobody notices, its perfectly OK. In German, the world will never be the same again. – Berend May 6 at 18:35
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This sounds like a proper ellispes. As it stands, it is grammatically incorrect, missing something.

(a) As other comments have pointed out, a pronoun to cover the subject position would fix the syntax. "Manchmal sind es ihre Freunde, die Sie ausnutzen". This is not how I read it.

(b) The grammar is in principle straight forward. In either case we see a matrix clause and a relative clause. Interrupting the beginning of a verbal phrase with a paranthetical relative clause is nothing out of the ordinary. What differs is the subject. If Freunde are the subject, the modal verb sind requires an object, which is not found in the sentence. In regular SVO order we would read, "Ihre Freunde sind manchmal ...". The added paranthetical does not change that, but obscures the relation of the verbs.

In (a) this is fixed by moving the actual subject to the position of a grammatical object, "Es sind Ihre Freunde".

Pressumably the speaker started one way, and had by the end of the relative phrase decided it should be another way, because the relative clause and left it at that. There was nothing more to add.

(c) A similar fix would lead to reduplication, "manchmal sind ihre Freunde die, die Sie ausnutzen". It is not uncommon that duplicate morphemes lead to hapology.

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    This answer talks about how to fix the sentence, but it doesn't answer the question. – RHa May 5 at 18:51

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