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I don't understand the reason why you need accusative instead of nominative after the impersonal construct es gibt (or gibt es in questions).

According to the analysis of the parts of speech, what comes after it should be the subject of the sentence, not the object, like for instance in:

Es gibt ein(en) Fehler auf dem Tisch.

Can you clarify the use of accusative here? I can probably deduce that the subject is es so that Fehler would become an object, but I'd like to have the complete grammatical analysis.

  • >pen = Füller/Stift >feather = Feder >mistake = Fehler You may mixed up Feder and Füllfederhalter (fountain pen). – user4749 Nov 18 '13 at 12:56
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Es gibt einen Fehler auf dem Tisch.

Es, although an impersonal is still the subject acting on the object (the mistake). Imagine if in English you said

It gives a mistake on the table.

the mistake is still being given by the it. On the other hand, if you said

Es ist ja niemand da.

then it's niemand and not niemanden because sein is a linking verb so both sides of the sentence are nominative (niemand is the nominative predicate of es, to use fancy terms), and the es is not acting on the niemand, the es is the niemand (and the niemand is the es).

  • 1
    Thank you, it's clear now! Ooops, I meant to use pen (Feder) instead of Fehler, having an error on the table does not make much sense :P! – martina Nov 17 '13 at 13:11
  • @thekeyofgb, also "ES GIBT + AKK." und "GIBT ES + AKK.", und "ES IST + NOM." und "IST ES + NOM." ?? Danke! – mle Dec 10 '14 at 17:31
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geben is a Transitive Verb, the objects need to be inflected as such:

Etwas gibt <dem neuteralen dativen Objekt> <den maskulinen akkusativen Gegenstand>.

As thekeyofgb pointed out, it depends on the Casus.

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Let's analyze the sentence:

  • Es
    Subject in nominative case, third person, singular, neuter
  • gibt
    Predicate. A transitive verb in present tense, third person, singular (matching with subject in person and number)
  • einen Fehler
    Accusative object. The mandatory completion of verb. It is that part of speech that makes the verb transitive. It consists of:
    • einen
      Article. Indefinite, accusative case, singular, neuter (matching with the noun in case, number and gender)
    • Fehler
      Noun. Accusative case, singular, neuter
  • auf dem Tisch
    prepositional object; an optional completion of the verb. It consists of:

    • auf
      local preposition
    • dem Tisch
      Dative object, consists of:

      • dem
        Article. Definite, dative case, singular, male (matching with the noun in case, number and gender)
      • Tisch
        Noun. Dative case, singular, male

The sentence is ruled by the predicate, which is a form of »geben« (to give). This verb has two mandatory complements:

  1. Who is giving?
  2. What is given?

Of those two complements, only one is performing the action (who?). The other complement is just the thing that is handed over (what?). That part, that performs the action, is the sentences subject, and it is always this subject, that stands in nominative case.

But if you say in English:

There is an error on the table.

Who is giving something? This question sounds weird, but since you use the verb geben (to give) in German, you have to ask this question. The answer is: Nobody. Nobody is giving anything in fact. Things just are, they are in fact not given. So you have nothing to place it into the subjects position.

And this exactly the situation where the syntactic expletive "es" comes in. When ever you have nothing you can use as Subject, you use "es". You do it English too:

Es regnet.
It rains.

Nobody is performing the action called "raining", but you need a subject. So you use an syntactic expletive.


The other mandatory completion of the verb "geben" is that part, that tells us what is given ("an error"). This has to be set in accusative case, so it has to be "einen Fehler" in German. It is the verb geben that forces its mandatory object to be in accusative case.

The prepositional object is an optional object. A sentence without it would be correct too.

Es gibt einen Fehler.

In this case it contains the information where an error exists:

Es gibt einen Fehler auf dem Tisch.

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