In English, Das ist ihr Fernseher = That is her TV. Thus her TV would be considered direct object or Akkusativ.

So shouldn´t it be written as Das ist ihre Fernseher instead? Why is Das not considered the subject in German?


1 Answer 1


First of all: Forget direct and indirect objects. Direct and indirect object do not exist in German grammar. Open any German textbook about German grammar and look for the term »direktes Objekt«. You will not find this term in any of these textbooks. The concept of direct and indirect objects might work in some other languages, but it is misleading when applied to German grammar. German has genitive objects, dative object, accusative objects, prepositional objects and some things that look like objects, but are part of the predicate, and you just stumbled over such a part of the predicate that is not an object.

What you found is called »Gleichsetzungsnominativ« in German or »equating nominative« in English. It is not an object and it's also not a second subject. It is part of the predicate, i.e. closely connected to the verb. (In English grammar you define the predicate as anything but the subject, with the consequence, that all objects are part of the predicate in English grammar, but in German grammar the predicate is only the verb and what is very closely connected to the verb. Objects are not part of the predicate in German grammar.)

Only a small, but very important class of verbs can have a Gleichsetzungsnominativ on its side, these verbs are called »copulas« (singular: copula).

  • sein (to be)

    Afrika ist ein Kontinent.
    Ich bin ein Mann.
    Die mit den schwarzen Hüten sind die Bösen.
    Das ist ihr Fernseher.

  • bleiben (to stay)

    Er bleibt ein Idiot.
    Ich bleibe ein Zweifler.

  • werden (to become)

    Sie wird eine gute Lehrerin.
    Martha wurde eine alte Frau.

Beside these three verbs, there is also another group of verbs, that also behaves like copulas:

Ich heiße Hubert.
Simon gilt als ein stiller Denker.

What is marked bold in the examples above is part of the predicate which is marked italics. And all bold marked parts are in the same grammatical case as the subject: the nominative case. (For this reason we do not use the name "subjective case" as synonym for "nominative case", because also other parts of speech can be in this case.)

So note, that the bold marked parts, although they are in nominative case, are not the subject. In the examples above, I used a word order, where the subject is always at position 1.

  • I would have mentioned JFK but maybe that's only relevant for Americans. Actually prescriptive grammar says English has the same rule as German: The "object" of "to be" takes subject case, so "I am he" and "Those are they" are correct. The problem is neither I nor anyone I know, nor the OP apparently, talks like that.
    – RDBury
    Jan 20 at 14:45
  • PS. I'm sure it's either a typo or I'm misunderstanding something, but wouldn't it be "Martha wurde eine alte Frau," without the 'r' in "alte"? Given flexible word order in German, the question of which noun is the subject can be ambiguous with "sien". With "Ein Mann bin ich," you can tell by the way the verb is conjugated. I don't know if there's a grammatical rule for it, but "Ein Mann ist ich," sounds wrong to me. With "Eva ist eine Frau," the verb is conjugated the same either way, in which case it doesn't really mater which is the subject.
    – RDBury
    Jan 20 at 15:31

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