Here is a sentence:

Es empfiehlt sich zuzustimmen.

DeepL translates it as

It is recommended to agree.

I guess I don't quite get the grammar behind "empfiehlt" being tantamount to "is recommended" in English in this specific case. Sorry for the rudimentariness of the question, just starting out.

  • 1
    The English example is most likely impersonal passive voice, so we can do that in German too: "Es wird empfohlen, zuzustimmen". Your example is a certain usage "formula", which is reflexive use ("sich") and impersonal use ("es") of "empfehlen". You can see in a dictionary if you can use a word this way, e.g. DWDS.com. Jun 1, 2023 at 18:55
  • 1
    Many reflexive constructions correspond to passives in idiomatic English, possibly because English reflexive pronouns are so cumbersome. Jun 2, 2023 at 7:05

3 Answers 3


The literal translation of the German phrase

is: it recommends itself. This, however, is not idiomatic in English. The phrase is a synonym for

  • es ist ratsam
    (it is advisable)
  • es wird empfohlen
    (it is recommended)

Usage note: When the phrase is followed by an infinitive with zu, then it should normally be separated with commas (see § 75 (3) of the official rules of the Council for German Orthography). For example:

Es empfiehlt sich, dem Ausschuss zuzustimmen.
(It is recommended to approve the committee.)

Es empfiehlt sich, Geld für die Rente zu sparen.
(It is recommended to save money for retirement.)

When the infinitive is "plain", however, like in your example, the comma can be omitted (§ 75 E1):

Es empfiehlt sich(,) zuzustimmen.
(It is recommended to approve.)

Es empfiehlt sich(,) zu sparen.
(It is recommended to save money.)


The real problem here is perhaps the "es", a so-called "Expletivum". This is grammatical vehicle to order all the other parts of the sentence after the Verb or to stand in for an absent/non-existent Subjekt.

In German the Verb has to be in second position (save for some exceptions, like questions, orders, etc.). That means, something has to go to first position. But sometimes emphasis should be put onto the Verb and this is usually done by putting it in front - which is not possible, because of grammatical rules.

The solution (in German) is to use "es" as Expletivum, a stand-in for something either specified later or not at all:

Es regnet.

It rains. The "it" as well as the "es" is there purely for grammatical purposes, because there is no "es"/"it" which rains. Rain falls, but there is no "it" letting it fall.

Es empfiehlt sich(,) zuzustimmen.

It is advisable to agree. In reality there is no person or instance who advises that. This rather means that if there would be somebody advising, then this kind of advice would be a good one.

I guess I don't quite get the grammar behind "empfiehlt" being tantamount to "is recommended" in English in this specific case.

The difference is that "to recommend" is transitive but to be used passively whereas "empfehlen" in the way used is reflexive but active. "sich empfehlen" is translated with "to recommend" but the voice is changed from active "Es empfiehlt sich" to "it is recommended".


From my point of view the sentence

Es empfiehlt sich zuzustimmen.

is semantically wrong.

"Es" cannot recommend anything, because "Es" is not alive.

I call this kind of phrasing "Behördensprech" (government speech). My impression is that sentences like these are used to obscure the facts that

  1. someone is actually influencing you
  2. who that someone is

So they just write "it recommends itself to agree".

A semantically correct sentence would read as follows:

The government (or whoever wrote this sentence) recommends you to agree.

I work as a coach for communication and whenever I hear clients use similar phrasing I encourage them to describe the situation in semantically correct language.

Reference: "The Structure of Magic" by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

  • 1
    Who recommends it is normally clear from context. But interesting point of view. Jun 1, 2023 at 19:40
  • Just as clear as a court verdict in juristic language. To those who are apt, the sender, the intention as well as the situation itself is clear from the context, to "normal" people it's not. From my personal experience, most people do not understand these connections.
    – ChristophK
    Jun 1, 2023 at 20:09
  • 4
    While I appreciate the urge for simpler sentences, I find this answer of little help for the stated question: is semantically wrong is quite a bold claim, given that impersonal es is a standard construction. All arguments given would equally apply to the English translation given in the question and so don't assist in doing the cross-language mapping. The German sentence already uses the active voice; this is generally accepted to be easier to understand than passive voice, but only made possible by the impersonal es. (Mentioning the actor would also help, if she is known, of course.)
    – guidot
    Jun 1, 2023 at 20:26
  • After reconsidering my answer I do agree with most of your statements. I probably have misunderstood "the question". A reason for this could be that there is no actual question.
    – ChristophK
    Jun 1, 2023 at 20:39

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