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I came across this case, which isn't an "unpersönliches Es" because you can't omit it when changing the sentence structure.

Mit dem Auto sind es nur 15 Minuten nach Innsbruck.

What's the reason for using "es" sind when you talk about time like hours and minutes?

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  • I'm thinking it depends on your definition. and I don't see being optional as one of the criteria. To me, it depends on the sentence whether you can drop the impersonal es, and factors such as level of formality and personal preference play a role too, so it's not just a matter of grammar. In many cases it's half dropped, for example "Wie geht's".
    – RDBury
    Sep 2, 2022 at 19:16
  • PS. I am confused by the grammar here though. The subject is 15 Minuten since the verb is plural. I'm unfamiliar with this construction, and it doesn't seem to translate directly into English.
    – RDBury
    Sep 2, 2022 at 19:28

1 Answer 1

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Because it is the subject of the sentence. Bis Innsbruck dauert es nur 15 Minuten. (Now, it is not the subject anymore, and the conjugation changes)

Edit: To answer the comment. I guess, I didn't explain it well.

Mit dem Auto sind es nur 15 Minuten nach Innsbruck. In this sentence, "15 Minuten" is the subject. Many German students have problems identifying the subject, but it is actually pretty easy.

As we can see, the verb is conjugated in the 3rd person plural: Mit dem Auto sind es nur 15 Minuten nach Innsbruck.

If I change it to the 3rd person singular, it is: Mit dem Auto ist es nur 1 Minute nach Innsbruck.

Only the subject is "allowed" to change the verb conjugation.

In my other example, the conjugation doesn't change:

Bis Innsbruck dauert es nur 15 Minuten. Bis Innsbruck dauert es nur 1 Minute.

In both sentences with "dauert", "es" is the subject.

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    In your second example "es" is still the subject.
    – tofro
    Sep 2, 2022 at 17:37
  • "Many German students have problems identifying the subject". Apparently also many native speakers ;-) I agree with tofro, "es" is the subject in both sentences ("Es sind nur 15 min [...]" and "Es dauert nur 15 min [...]". Sep 2, 2022 at 21:33
  • Hahaha, ok, that was a good one. :) But how do you explain the change of the verb conjugation? :) Here is a sentence from klett-sprachen.de/berliner-platz-1-neu/t-1/9783126060257 : Es haben schon 3 Leute angerufen. If I change it to the singular, it is: Es hat schon einer angerufen. Is "es" the subject in both sentences? :)
    – Hans
    Sep 2, 2022 at 21:41
  • I got you :) dwds.de/wb/es#1 dient der Hervorhebung und Satzbelebung Grammatik: kündigt das eigentliche Subjekt an Beispiele: es kommt der Postbote es meldeten sich immer neue Gäste an es hat mich jemand gerufen As far as I know, it is called "primäres Subjektsprädikativ"
    – Hans
    Sep 2, 2022 at 21:47

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