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In the discussions in the comments of this answer, this jaw dropping point was mentioned:

It's aus denen. There's a preposition in front so it can't be the subject. Same for auf dieser Erde.

Is this always true? I have a hard time believing this as in English we can actually have prepositional object as subject see here. And, since German is very similar to English in a first order approximation, it seems very weird.

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    Possibly the point of view of the German grammar is different. In your examples I recognize not a single subject which would survive translation to German (just the English SPO order requiring them to be), but adverbials of different flavours.
    – guidot
    Aug 15, 2023 at 12:30
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    I'd argue in your linked examples the real subject is not the prepositional object, but always something else, but - breaking the usual SVO word order in English: "Over the mantle is a good place for the mirror” --> usual word order in English "A good place for the mirror would be over the mantle. So does the subject change just by rephrasing? I don't think so... It's "A good place" either way. It's similar to German putting different emphasis here, breaking usual word order deliberately. But that's a discussion on English grammar which is off-topic here. Aug 15, 2023 at 12:37
  • You recognize the wierdness of your statement "can an object be a subject"?
    – tofro
    Aug 15, 2023 at 12:37
  • I don't actually. I am not very good at grammar @tofro Aug 15, 2023 at 12:42
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    Nach den Wahlen ist vor den Wahlen.
    – David Vogt
    Aug 15, 2023 at 13:12

1 Answer 1

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So this is all about the English sentence

From five to seven would be the best time.

from your second link, and its literal German equivalent

Von fünf bis sieben wäre die beste Zeit.

which is indeed valid German. But I think the author of that article is confused about the English, and especially the word order in her own example. That's a copula phrase and that means both items right and left of the verb refer to the subject.

In that special corner case, English lifts its strict word order rule. The sentences

The best place is there.

and

There is the best place.

are equivalent apart from the very fact that the latter is topicalized. It's not obvious because English topicalized sentences usually start with the topic separated by a comma. But not with a copula. English follows the common Germanic habit in that case and exposes its long forgotten V2 nature.

So what is that there? It's an adverb. No one would argue it was a "prepositional subject" because there's no preposition. It's an adverbial. It tells the place. It is not the subject. The subject is of course The best place.

And it's the same for the original example sentence.

The best time would be from five to seven.

From five to seven would be the best time.

Again, those sentences are equivalent but for the topic. From five to seven is not the subject. It's an adverbial that is coupled to the subject The best time.

And it's the same in German.

There are no prepositional subjects.


I see, further down she cites The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language with the sentence

Over a year was spent on this problem.

and indeed over a year is the subject in this sentence. The problem with her argument however is that this over isn't a preposition. But an adverb that describes a year in more detail. It's more than a year.

It's not a direction we are talking about, and neither does it mean during —that would both be the preposition over— and neither it's the prepositional object of the phrasal verb to spend on — that one is on this problem.

This is very different from her own initial example

Over the mantle is a good place for the mirror.

where over is indeed a preposition as it describes a direction, and of course over the mantle isn't the subject in this case. But an adverbial that is connected to the subject a good place for the mirror.

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  • What does "topicalized" mean? Aug 15, 2023 at 12:59
  • The topic is "what we need to talk about". You can pick one thing from the sentence and make it the topic. For example, If you had an argument about when to meet and there were many different times discussed, you make the time the topic because that's "what we need to talk about".
    – Janka
    Aug 15, 2023 at 13:08
  • Compare We go to the Alps in winter. and In winter, we go to the Alps. The latter sentence is topicalized.
    – Janka
    Aug 15, 2023 at 13:09
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    What about from nine to five is good?
    – David Vogt
    Aug 15, 2023 at 15:19
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    I don't see why from nine to five is good and your proposal is good should be analysed differently. Aren't English clauses supposed to always have a subject?
    – David Vogt
    Aug 15, 2023 at 19:41

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