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Verbs: impersonal verbs

Impersonal verbs are verbs which don’t have a subject.

Impersonal verbs

‘It is snowing’ is an example of an impersonal verb. There is no subject – ‘it’ is the subject, but you don’t really know what ‘it’ refers to.

‘Es gibt’ is the most important impersonal construction. It means ‘there is’ or ‘there are’.

Sentences using ‘Es gibt’

  • Es gibt ein Kino in der Stadtmitte -> There is a cinema in the town centre.
  • Es gibt nicht viel zu tun in Horley -> There is not much to do in Horley.
  • Es gibt 32 Schüler in der Klasse -> There are 32 pupils in the class.

In the past, ‘es gibt’ becomes ‘es gab’:

  • Es gab gestern eine Party -> There was a party yesterday.
  • Gestern gab es ein Gewitter -> Yesterday there was a storm (note the verb second rule in action).

Other verbs that take ‘es’

Common verbs that take ‘es’ include:

  • Schneien (to snow) -> Es schneit. (It’s snowing/It snows)
  • Regnen (to rain) -> Es regent (It’s raining/It rains)
  • Donnern (to thunder) -> Es donnert (It’s thundering/It thunders
  • Frieren (to be freezing) -> Es friert (It’s freezing/It freezes)
  • Schmecken (to taste) -> Es schmeckt (It is tasty)
  • Weh tun (to hurt) -> Es tut weh (It hurts)
  • Gehen (to go/to be fine) -> Es geht (It’s ok)

Perfect tense

  • Pronoun/noun – The impersonal ‘es’ is the pronoun.
  • Auxiliary verb – As usual, ‘haben’ or ‘sein’. But as you only have ‘es‘ as the subject, it has to be ‘hat’ or ‘ist’.
  • Past participle – Formed in the normal way.

Examples

  • Es hat gestern geregnet -> It rained yesterday.
  • Es hat geschmeckt -> It was tasty.

Imperfect tense

Some verbs would be more commonly used in the imperfect, such as ‘leid tun’.

Examples

  • Es tut mir leid (I’m sorry) -> Es tat mir leid (I was sorry)
  • Es tut weh (It hurts) -> Es tat weh (It hurt)

Common mistakes made by English speakers

  • Using ‘der ist’ (which sounds like ‘there is’) instead of ‘es gibt’.

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