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I found the following sentences in the DWDS usage database:

Es rankt sich ja eine alte Legende um diese Gegend. (Fünf Freunde 2, 2013)
Es ranken sich allerhand Geschichten um ihn. ("Doctor Who" New Earth, 2006)

It appears that ranken is being used as an impersonal verb here, with es serving as a placeholder subject. But then why conjugate in the plural in the second example? Would

Es rankt sich allerhand Geschichten um ihn.

be correct? If the Es is not the subject, then it seems more grammatical to leave it out:

Eine alte Legende rankt sich um diese Gegend.
Allerhand Geschichten ranken sich um ihn.

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    Similar, in German: german.stackexchange.com/questions/49859/…
    – Carsten S
    Jun 21 at 17:03
  • @Carsten S: Thanks. I didn't know using "es" simply for stylistic reasons was allowed; it's certainly very unusual. I think there's more going on here though since both examples are conversational, not literary German. It's seems suspiciously coincidental that this particular (and peculiar) turn of phrase is used twice in the small sample provided by DWDS.
    – RDBury
    Jun 22 at 3:40
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    Grammatically, that’s all there is to it, and it’s not unusual either. Regarding why this word order is chosen here, maybe it makes the sentence “feel” more like a passive construction (which it isn’t). One does not really envision the legend or stories behaving plant-like. But grammatically this is totally ordinary, even though it has no direct counterpart in English.
    – Carsten S
    Jun 22 at 7:04
  • So we'll call it the "pseudo-passive". I think passive makes sense from an English speaker's point of view; it seems more natural to say "Many legends were spawned around the figure," than "The figure spawned many legends." It still seems like an unusual construction though, at least it's first time I recall ever having seen it.
    – RDBury
    Jun 22 at 10:06
  • I suggest to remove the impersonal-constructions tag, which dos not seem to apply.
    – guidot
    Jun 22 at 10:35
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In your first two sentences, "es" is used as a placeholder so that the subject can be in the third position of the sentence. Everything else (like the form of the verb) stays the same.

Therefore, "Es rankt sich allerhand Geschichten um ihn." would not be correct.

While it is true that you could just leave out "es", it usually is part of the sentence for a reason (e.g. because you want to change up the word order a bit or because you want to stress the subject).

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  • This is helpful; but I'm not convinced it's the whole story. I can understand why something other than the subject might go first as the real "topic" of a sentence, and I've seen how the subject can be put last since it's new information that's important to remember, but I don't know a reason for someone putting the subject in the middle, especially when it seems to be important information. My thinking now is that it's just a peculiarity of phrasing that one uses with this meaning of ranken. I'm sure there are many words which have their own quirks of phrasing; perhaps this is one of them.
    – RDBury
    Jun 22 at 4:07
  • @RDBury It's true that stressing the verb by putting it in the middle of the sentence seems a bit odd when you hear about it for the first time. Think about it like that: "Es" works as a "signal" to look out for the important subject.
    – Mara
    Jun 22 at 9:06
  • @RDBury "Es" can also be used with every verb AFAIK. You can click here for more information. It's under the topic "Pseudosubjekt".
    – Mara
    Jun 22 at 9:06
  • I see what you're saying, there are such constructions in English: "It's true that...", "It so happens that...". I'm not sure it's the simplest explanation in this case, and I think Carsten S's "pseudo-passive" idea seems plausible too. Yes, any verb is possible, but it seems to occur with some verbs more frequently than others; at least typing "es <random verb>" in a search seems not to turn up anything relevant most of the time. But I did find (in Die Zeit 18.01.2018) Es kommt Papageno in Paris. Thanks for the link; Deutchplus is a useful site in general.
    – RDBury
    Jun 22 at 10:30

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