Unit 9: Passive Voice

5. Pronoun es Referring to Clauses

Both German and English sometimes use the neuter pronoun “it” or es without referring to any specific noun in the surrounding text, but German expands that usage beyond the needs of English. In particular, German will use es to refer to an entire clause, particularly as a way to tie together clauses within a complex sentence, and especially when German syntax “inconveniently” wants a verbal subject or object. In the next example, es is referring forward to the entire daß clause, as a way of satisfying the German desire to have a properly located direct object for the verb ansehen:

Ich sehe es als unser Versagen an, daß diese alten Leute so arm sind.
I see the fact that these old people are so poor as our failure.

In the next sentence, es refers forward to the daß clause, so that the verb stören can have a grammatical subject, and to obey the German rule that the verb must be in second position (as covered in Unit 1, section 8):

Es störte Ingrid, daß er sein Zimmer nicht zuerst aufräumte.
It bothered Ingrid that he didn’t first tidy up his room.
[or:] The fact that he didn’t first tidy up his room bothered Ingrid.

How you translate such uses of es may vary: first you must understand its function in the German sentence, and that should guide you to an English expression of the same meaning.


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A Foundation Course in Reading German Copyright © 2014 by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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