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Wikipedia: "A transitive verb is a verb that accepts one or more objects."

Sein accepts objects. Das ist ein Buch.

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    Also Wikipedia: 'In der traditionellen Schulgrammatik wird Transitivität über die Eigenschaft eines Verbs, den Kasus Akkusativ zu regieren, definiert. Ein Verb ist demnach transitiv (dann auch „zielendes“ Verb genannt), wenn einer seiner Mitspieler den Kasus Akkusativ trägt.' Does it matter whether some grammar calls a verb transitive or not?
    – Carsten S
    Oct 18, 2021 at 9:42
  • I took he pleasure to check which language version of Wikipedia would actually make such an oversimplified statement (which isn't even true in English). I could find none.
    – tofro
    Oct 18, 2021 at 10:53
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    @tofro en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitive_verb
    – Carsten S
    Oct 18, 2021 at 11:16
  • Quite similar question, which could even qualify as duplicate.
    – guidot
    Oct 18, 2021 at 12:50
  • I'm not sure this question is on topic for the site, since it's about a English Wikipedia article which isn't talking specifically about German. Perhaps the discussion should more properly be on Wikipedia.
    – RDBury
    Oct 18, 2021 at 15:45

2 Answers 2

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A transitive verb in German requires an object in the accusative case.

However, "ein Buch" is not an accusative object but a Gleichsetzungnominativ, i. e. it's an additional component part of the sentence in the nominative.

Although the accusative and the nominative form are both "ein Buch" you cannot ask "Wen oder was ist das?", which asks for the accusative. This is totally wrong. But you can ask for a nominative "Wer oder was ist das?" and you will get the answer "ein Buch".

Try to construct an example where the accusative object is clearly distinct from the nominative object. Take, for example, "einen Tisch" (accusative case). You cannot say "Das ist einen Tisch", which clearly shows that "sein" is not transitive.

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  • I may be completely on the wrong track here, but doesn't the "sein" function as a copula in this case? Could that mean that, because the verb is performing a different function, the "normal" attributes of the verb like transitive / intransitive don't really come into play? Similar to auxiliary verbs. Oct 17, 2021 at 12:42
  • @HenningKockerbeck Yes, I think you might be right. A sentence like from the question can be found here under "Syntaktische Eigenschaften" called "Nominalphrase im Nominativ". My main point though is that a verb that doesn't take an accusative object can't be transitive in the first place. (My premise was that OP seems to think that "ein Buch" is accusative.) So both ways of reasoning give the same result I guess.
    – idmean
    Oct 17, 2021 at 12:50
  • @HenningKockerbeck (1) Yes, sein in the example is a copula verb. In Germanic linguistics copulas are usually introduced as a separate category from full verbs and auxiliary verbs. The transitive/intransitive distinction, however, can be applied to them. If you do that, you will see that in German they are actually intransitive as they do not take an accusative object. (There are languages with transitive copulas.) (2) There is no disagreement between your observation and the answer. The presence of a "Gleichsetzungsnominativ" in the example is precisely a feature of sein being a copula.
    – johnl
    Oct 18, 2021 at 3:38
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    I would not call it a nominative object, by the way. It's precisely not an object, so this language might be slightly confusing. Technically, ein Buch in the example could be described as a nominative complement, although (as indicated in the answer) this particular use of that complement is referred to in various more specific ways in grammars of German (Gleichsetzungsnominativ, also: Nominalergänzung, prädikativer Nominativ, Prädikatsnomen, Prädikativkomplement, ...).
    – johnl
    Oct 18, 2021 at 3:38
  • @johnl I agree. This might be oversimplified. I tried to rephrase the answer to avoid any confusion.
    – idmean
    Oct 18, 2021 at 9:02
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If you're unsure about the case being Akkusativ, there's another test:

If "sein" were a transitive verb, it should be possible to construct a passive-voice version of that sentence.

  • The original accusative object becomes the subject.
  • The original subject gets converted into a "von" or "durch" phrase.
  • The verb gets replaced by a phrase with "werden" and the past participle (Partizip Perfekt).

E.g. "Ich fahre das Auto" becomes "Das Auto wird von mir gefahren".

But, trying to convert "Das ist ein Buch" along the rules simply gives nonsense: "Ein Buch wird davon gewesen".

In English, it's the same: you can't convert a sentence "This is a book" with the verb "to be" into passive voice: "A book is been by this" is as much nonsense as the German counterpart.

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