On this website of DW Deutsch Lernen I came across a sentence that really confused me:

Nachdem Inge das Fleisch in der Pfanne verbrannt ist, landet sie mit Nico zum Mittagessen im Marek.

Why do we use 'ist' here instead of 'hat', since 'haben verbrannt' should be the correct Perfekt form?

4 Answers 4


There is a class of verbs that show causative alternation. These verbs have both a transitive-causative and an intransitive-inchoative variant, with the object of the transitive variant and the subject of the intransitive variant undergoing a change of state.

Die Sonne schmilzt das Eis.
Sie zerbricht die Vase.
Er rollt den Stuhl weg.
Die Anlage verbrennt den Müll.

Das Eis schmilzt.
Die Vase zerbricht.
Der Stuhl rollt weg.
Der Müll verbrennt.

Intransitive change of state verbs form the perfect with sein.

Das Eis ist geschmolzen.
Die Vase ist zerbrochen.
Der Stuhl ist weggerollt.
Der Müll ist verbrannt.

Transitive verbs form the perfect with haben.

Die Sonne hat das Eis geschmolzen.
Sie hat die Vase zerbrochen.
Er hat den Stuhl weggerollt.
Die Anlage hat den Müll verbrannt.

Inge in the original example is referred to as a dativus (in)commodi; it indicates to whose favor (commodum) or detriment (incommodum) something happened.

Ich habe dir eine Suppe gekocht.
Er hat mir das letzte Stück Fleisch weggegessen.

  • I think, there couldn't be a better explanation than this.
    – Olafant
    Jul 1, 2023 at 11:47
  • very clear explanation, thanks a lot David! Do you know where I can find such a list of 'change of state verbs'?
    – Dennis
    Jul 1, 2023 at 16:11
  • A list would just be a list of examples, as the pattern isn't that regular. New verbs can acquire it: Er lädt das Update herunter. Das Update lädt herunter. In other instances, a reflexive pronoun is required: Der Sturm biegt die Bäume. Die Bäume biegen sich. Finally, sometimes there are different verbs: COVID-19 senkt die Lebenserwartung. Die Lebenserwartung sinkt.
    – David Vogt
    Jul 1, 2023 at 16:37

It's a different subject of the sentence if you use "hat". It might be hard to see for a German learner because of the order of words and because the case of the name "Inge" isn't obvious.

With ist:

Das Fleisch ist Inge in der Pfanne verbrannt.
or the same with a different word order:
Inge ist das Fleisch in der Pfanne verbrannt.

That's the intransive form of "verbrennen", the subject of the sentence is "das Fleisch".

"Inge" is a dative object here! This use of dative is called dativus (in)commodi, it expresses to whose (dis)advantage something happened. There's no direct equivalent to this in English.

Meaning: The meat burned in the pan, and this happened to Inge.

Building up the sentence from its simplest version, using "die Köchin" instead of "Inge" because the dative is more obvious:

Das Fleisch verbrennt.
(plus dative object and location =>) Das Fleisch verbrennt der Köchin in der Pfanne.
(convert to Perfekt tense =>) Das Fleisch ist der Köchin in der Pfanne verbrannt.

With hat:

On the other hand, if you use "hat", it has a different meaning:

Inge hat das Fleisch in der Pfanne verbrannt.

This is the transitive use of "verbrennen", "Inge" is the subject of the sentence, "das Fleisch" is the accusative object.

Inge burnt the meat in the pan. It was her. She did this to the innocent meat.

Inge verbrennt das Fleisch.
(convert to Perfekt tense =>) Inge hat das Fleisch verbrannt.

  • Not Zustandspassiv: ihr verbrennt jedes Mal das Fleisch in der Pfanne. Just intransitive verbrennen with a non-agentive subject.
    – David Vogt
    Jun 30, 2023 at 11:58
  • @DavidVogt You're right, thanks.
    – HalvarF
    Jun 30, 2023 at 12:17
  • @DavidVogt, I disagree, because the tenses would differ (Perfekt versus Präsens). Jun 30, 2023 at 12:26
  • @BjörnFriedrich I think David's correction is right because you can't combine Zustandspassiv with the dative object "Inge" in that way. The dative object needs something happening so it can happen to someone.
    – HalvarF
    Jun 30, 2023 at 12:28
  • I think the Zustandspassiv alone is not sufficient to explain the construct to a non-native speaker, especially (I don't know if that's the case) if his language doesn't know the Dativ Incommodi - This needs a bit more explanation.
    – tofro
    Jun 30, 2023 at 14:34

Inge hat etwas verbrannt

If Inge were the subject in nominative case and if she was burning the meat, then the verb verbrennen would be used in active form: "Inge hat etwas verbrannt." The part das Fleisch in der Pfanne would then be an object in accusative case:

Nachdem (die) Inge das Fleisch in der Pfanne verbrannt hat

Das Fleisch ist verbrannt

In the original sentence, however, the subject in nominative case is das Fleisch in der Pfanne and the verb verbrennen is used in statal passive form: "Das Fleisch ist berbrannt." The statal passive is always expressed with a form of sein (to be). Moreover, Inge is an object in dative case:

Nachdem (der) Inge das Fleisch in der Pfanne verbrannt ist

  • Same comment as to the other answer: You're completely ignoring the dative - It means something here that might not be obvious to non-native speakers.
    – tofro
    Jun 30, 2023 at 14:38
  • As a non-native speaker I can confirm that the dative would not be obvious at all. I'm pretty sure it's not even possible to translate the exact meaning into English and you'd have to change the subject to Inge: "After Inge burnt the meat in the pan, she ... ."
    – RDBury
    Jun 30, 2023 at 15:47
  • @rdbury It's more along the lines of "It happened to her that the meat was burnt..."
    – tofro
    Jun 30, 2023 at 21:21
  • I get what it means, my point is that it's difficult to express in English. No one would say "it happened to Inge that ... ." You might leave Inge out of the first part altogether: "After the meat burned, Inge ended up having lunch with Nico." But that leaves it up to the listener to draw the connection be the meat and Inge. Some details of meaning are "lost in translation" and I think this is one of them.
    – RDBury
    Jun 30, 2023 at 22:25

Slightly more concise answer than the ones already given: These are both grammatical sentences, but mean different things.

  • Inge (dative) ist das Fleisch (nominative) verbrannt. = The meat burned and Inge was the one affected by it.
  • Inge (nominative) hat das Fleisch (accusative) verbrannt. = Inge burned the meat.
  • It would more obvious to say: "Der Inge ist was Fleisch verbrannt" and "Die Inge hat das Fleisch verbrannt". But "Der" and "Die" can be removed, which produces a sentence that is slightly harder to understand.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 3, 2023 at 12:30
  • @gnasher729 you made a typo in the first sentence, you want "das" rather than "was"; I don't usually point out things like that, but this is a language learning website
    – wonderbear
    Jul 3, 2023 at 13:07

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