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"Es wurden ihm viele Briefe geschrieben."

Translation:Many letters were written to him.

December 18, 2013

50 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Danmoller

What is the point of "es" here???

I don't remember seeing this construction before.....
Why not "Viele Briefe wurden ihm geschrieben"?

January 26, 2014

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sin111

Your sentence is technically correct, I think, but it sounds very strange. You wouldn't say it from the perspective of "many letters". I think the "es" is just a construct to allow German speakers to maintain their beloved word order in the passive voice.

"Es" in the passive implies a somewhat outside perspective here, think of it like "It so happened that many letters were written to him", as if you were telling a long story and this describes the context in which it takes place. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Not more correct than "They times were best, the times were worst", but it sounds more dramatic. Germans love sounding dramatic.

January 31, 2014

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/hechap

Well, I sure like that explanation! I like sounding dramatic too! It was the time of plentiful Lingots! Es wurden viele Lingots ihm gekommen.

September 6, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alanvoe

I understood the construct, but I do not understand the motivation you mentioned. There is no need to add an "es" to maintain the word order, you just need to put "viele Briefe" in the first slot of the sentence.

I assume this construct motivation is historical somehow and a German learner should simply memorize it.

September 15, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/az_p
Mod

    Start here for an in-depth exploration of German word order: https://yourdailygerman.com/german-word-order/

    October 16, 2018

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Doctor-John

    alanvoe, The 2 sentences have different word order in that "viele Briefe" comes after "wurden" in Duo's version and before in the alternative "Viele Briefe wurden ihm geschrieben." Duo's version is apparently more satisfying to German-speakers because it feels like the sentence is about what happened to him, rather than what happened to the letters.

    March 24, 2019

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JackYakov

    sounds like "it was many letters that were written to him."

    May 30, 2014

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/marmaladejars

    why can I not translate this as "he was written many letters"

    February 4, 2014

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/aldittli

    "He" is not the subject and so "he" is cannot be nominative. (Pronouns show case in English.) "To him were written many letters." would be grammatically correct but a bit awkward. "many letters" is the subject, so putting it first we have, "Many letters were written to him."
    "es" is a place holder. Maybe it could be compared to "there" in "There were many letters written to him." Duolingo accepts that also.

    March 23, 2014

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/verborgenheit

    I disagree. I don't think "he" is "nominative" in the English sentence, rather "he" is the passive object of an action (the "patient" in grammarspeak: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patient_%28grammar%29 ) - "was written." Since "he" is the object of an action, I don't think you can claim that "he" is "nominative" in the English sentence, "He was written many letters." Unlike German nouns, English nouns don't undergo declension in different cases, so just because an English sentence says "he" doesn't mean it couldn't be translated into German as "ihm."

    July 7, 2014

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/aldittli

    The term "patient" is a new term to me. I suppose one could say that in a sentence in passive voice the subject is the patient and not the agent.
    In the example sentence
    Active voice: The dog bites the man. "dog" is the subject. Passive voice: The man is bitten by the dog. "man" is the subject. "dog" is agent in both sentences. And “man” is the patient.

    Nouns are not inflected in English, but "he" is not a noun. It is a pronoun and English pronouns DO change with case. "he" is a nominative pronoun. The objective form is "him." This sentence is passive voice - meaning the subject is receiving the action. Saying "he" is the subject is not the same as saying that "he" is doing the writing (or the agent).

    According to: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_passive_voice), the noun phrase that is an object in the active sentence appears as the subject in the passive sentence. It is usually the direct object but can also be the indirect object or an object of a preposition.

    The active voice for our sentences are: Jemand hat ihm viele Briefe geschrieben."Someone has written him many letters." “many letters” is the direct object. And “him” is the indirect object.

    In the sentence: "He was written many letters." The indirect object has become the subject, so I guess it is a legitimate English sentence. Whether we say it that way or "Many letters were written to him." (moving to direct object to the subject position) is a matter of where we want to place the emphasis.

    July 8, 2014

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Doctor-John

    "He was written many letters." is correct, albeit awkward, English.

    "He was told many stories." is the same construction and not awkward. Why? It's a matter of ear. Speaking a language is like playing a musical instrument. There's a difference between correct notes and good music.

    March 24, 2019

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/sin111

    Sounds good to me.

    February 5, 2014

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ibra531117

    This es cannot be omitted. It is often possible to replace it with the stronger demonstrative pronoun daswhich is used in a similar manner.

    September 19, 2016

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ChelseaTuc

    With es, it should always be wurde

    September 1, 2014

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ibra531117

    The verb do not match es but the main subject of the sentence for instance , Es war meine mutter Es ware meine eltern

    September 19, 2016

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Nate896107

    Then why can one say "Es gibt Kinder in der Schule"? The verb matches "es" here, not "Kinder."

    October 31, 2017

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mizinamo

    Two different kinds of es :)

    I'm not sure what the grammatical terms for them are, but es gibt has an es that is a real subject: the verb agrees with it and you can't drop the es.

    Duo's sentence, though, has an es which is just there because otherwise the first slot of the sentence would be empty and you can't have that. It's not really a subject and the verb agrees not with it but with the real subject (viele Briefe).

    If you put the real subject first, this dummy es will disappear: Viele Briefe wurden ihm geschrieben.

    Compare, for example, the following two sentence, which look very similar:

    • Es gibt viele Enten auf dem Teich.
    • Es sind viele Enten auf dem Teich.

    If you put the location first, you get:

    • Auf dem Teich gibt es viele Enten.
    • Auf dem Teich sind viele Enten.

    In the first case, the subject es moves to after the verb; in the second case, the es disappears entirely since it's not longer necessary. (And the verb remains plural to agree with viele Enten.)

    November 1, 2017

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/robbusblobbus

    Good explanation! It's called a dummy pronoun (or sometimes an impersonal pronoun) - while it doesn't have any meaning in the real world or it is 'semantically empty', it is necessary for the syntax. We see the same thing in weather constructions e.g. 'Es regnet'. The same exists in English: 'It is raining', or even 'It seems that...'.

    I suppose here the 'es' could be understood by translating it as 'It was the case that many letters were written to him' ('It' being the dummy/impersonal pronoun).

    September 4, 2018

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Chooch639215

    Piggybacking on your explanation, wouldn't you say in the past tense (since the original sentence is in the past), "Es gab viele Enten auf dem Tisch"? The reason I ask is that the Es wurde construction seems to satisfy a need for a past tense in the Es gibt construction (there is-there are) when there is a past participle involved. Am I getting close here? This is my first exposure to the Es wurde construction and it really threw me. There was no preparation for it. The notes/sidebar section could really use a mention of Es wurde if this is a fairly common usage. Thanks very much for your insights

    May 18, 2018

    https://www.duolingo.com/profile/az_p
    Mod

      Mizinamo's examples are all in present tense for simplicity of illustrating the difference between those two constructions. Duo's sentence is of course in past tense, but that's beside the point - passive voice has a present tense as well (Es werden ihm viele Briefe geschrieben = "Many letters are being written to him").

      There is a tips & notes page for this lesson: https://www.duolingo.com/skill/de/Passive-Voice/tips-and-notes

      October 16, 2018

      https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Doctor-John

      *auf dem Teich. (on the pond).
      Not auf dem Tisch (on the table).

      March 24, 2019

      https://www.duolingo.com/profile/az_p
      Mod

        Es waren meine Eltern*

        October 16, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Blueluelueluelue

        "There were a lot of letters written to him" got rejected, any clues as to why?

        May 15, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mizinamo

        Just a missing alternative. Added now.

        May 15, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Blueluelueluelue

        That was incredibly fast, Thank You!

        May 15, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Bekir978479

        Can you paraphrase this as ''Viele Briefe wurden ihm geschrieben'?'

        August 25, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mizinamo

        Grammatically, yes.

        Pragmatically, it sounds odd to me to topicalise viele Briefe by putting it at the beginning -- it's the subject of the passive verb, yes, but still.

        "What happened to many letters was this: they were written to him."

        Perhaps that's because viele Briefe is indefinite.

        Ihm wurden viele Briefe geschrieben is possible, and even Geschrieben wurden ihm viele Briefe, but Viele Briefe wurden ihm geschrieben sounds odd to me.

        On the other hand, Viele Häuser wurden im Krieg zerstört. "Many houses were destroyed during the war." sounds fine to me, even though it also has viele NOUN as the subject.

        I'm not sure what the difference is.

        August 25, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Doctor-John

        It's the "correct notes vs. good music" phenomenon.

        March 24, 2019

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ginagillen

        Many letters to him were written. Why is that wrong?

        March 21, 2017

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/OldMate2

        It's a very odd phrasing that is probably grammatically incorrect?

        August 7, 2017

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/typark20

        See my explanation above. It is perfectly grammatically correct but the dative case "Ihm" forces a weird construct that English doesn't really have.

        April 26, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Doctor-John

        "Many letters to him were written" is the way Yoda talks in Star Wars. The word order sounds like you put your left shoe on your right foot and your right foot on your left.

        March 24, 2019

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/cobi_1992

        My understanding of this sentence in English was "he would have written him many letters." Is this auch correct?

        November 10, 2017

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mizinamo

        It is not correct.

        The first word is es which is "it" and not "he".

        The conjugated verb is wurden which is here used to form the passive: wurden geschrieben = were written.

        The first word es is not the real subject -- it's just a dummy to fill the first position in the sentence so that the verb can be next. The real subject is viele Briefe "many letters".

        So you have "many letters were written to him".

        "He would have written him many letters" would be Er hätte ihm viele Briefe geschrieben or perhaps Er würde ihm viele Briefe geschrieben haben.

        And "He has written him many letters" is Er hat ihm viele Briefe geschrieben.

        November 10, 2017

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Armands149964

        Why cannot I say: "Many letters have been sent to him."? This is Passive Voice construction as well.

        February 27, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mizinamo

        True, but (a) you used the present perfect ("have been sent") while the German is in the simple past ("wurden geschrieben"), and (b) you used "sent" while the German sentence talks about "geschrieben" (= written).

        February 27, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Jane-German

        How would you write 'It wrote a lot of letters to him'? (Imagine 'it' being a robot or a machine.)

        August 1, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mizinamo

        Es hat ihm viele Briefe geschrieben.

        August 1, 2018

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/wolverinegeek

        "He was written many letters". A little awkward, but not incorrect, and matches the German grammar better.

        January 2, 2019

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MrPheidippides

        No, it doesn't match the German grammar better. All it does is match the order of the pronoun and the noun phrase between the two languages. The problem with that is that keeping them in the same order produces a different emphasis in each. The German equivalent (in terms of emphasis) of your English sentence is "Ihm wurden viele Briefe geschrieben."

        January 4, 2019

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/lee7374

        Is this OK too: "It was to him many letters were written." ? Admittedly a bit awkward, but the meaning is the same and no grammatical rules are violated.

        January 20, 2019

        https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MrPheidippides

        No, not really. Your sentence is really this: "It was to him (that) many letters were written." It consists of two different finite clauses, which means it has a very different structure from the German sentence we're looking at (which has only one single clause and only one finite verb). It also has an emphasis (on HIM as opposed to anyone else letters might have been written to) which is not present in the German sentence.

        January 20, 2019
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