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Es gibt and Das sind

What's the difference? I can't work out from the Duo sentences which gets used where.

March 28, 2014



"Es gibt" means "there is" or "to exist":

"In der Wüste gibt es kein Wasser." / "Es gibt kein Wasser in der Wüste." - "There is no water in the desert."

It is always singular, even when referring to a plural: "Es gibt keine Menschen auf dem Mond." (i.e. there is no "Es geben ...")

"Das sind" means "These/those are":

"Das sind meine Söhne". - "These are my sons."

So the meaning is quite different.


I think it would be "those/these are." But I know it wouldn't be "THAT are." "That are my sons" is not proper English.


In German, to say "these/those are" you do say "Das Sind" even though it does not pertain to english grammar. Apparently "Dies Sind" is also acceptable


You can use any of the following phrases. The first is by far the most common.

Das ist / Das sind - Literally That is / That are

Dies ist / Dies sind - Literally This is / This are

Diese(r)(s) ist / Diese sind - Literally This [one] is / These [ones] are

Jenes ist / Jenes sind - Literally That is / That are

Jene(r)(s) ist / Jene sind - Literally That [one] is / Those [ones] are

Das doesn't have much strength as a demonstrative pronoun because it's also an article. Jenes is an alternative to das that doesn't have this defect. It is primarily used where English would use the latter, in opposition to dies = the former.


You are right. "Those/these are" is correct. Thanks for the correction.


Thank you. I know it's simple but Duo seems to accept "There are my sons" for "das sind..." so the difference was just confusing me.


That's weird. If you come across this again you should definitely report it as a mistake.


It's a very straightforward difference that also exists in English and in most other European languages.

  • Es gibt (literally: It exists) = There is/are = Hay = Il y a
  • Dies ist = This is = [Esto] es = C'est
  • Das ist = That is = [Eso] es = C'est
  • Dies sind = These are = [Estos] son = Ce sont
  • Das sind = Those are = [Esos] son = Ce sont

Some Germans and most Austrians say Es hat (literally: It has, in analogy to Spanish and French) instead of Es gibt.


Thank you. It might be easy, but when Duo accepts "There are" as "das sind" (presumably, in the contexts I'm seeing it, it means "There are [specific place/over there] " rather than "There are [in existence]") it's difficult to figure out the difference.


What about es gibt vs. da sind?


Da sind also translates to there are, and does so literally. But its meaning in German is slightly different, making it almost a false friend. In German it's less about existence than in English and more about position. (It's not a radical difference, just a matter of nuances.) We can add the following to the above list:

  • Da [drüben] ist / Dort ist = There is / Over there, there is= Ahí/allí hay/está = Là, il y a / Voilà
  • Da [drüben] sind / Dort sind = There are / Over there, there are = Ahí/allí hay/están = Là, il y a / Voilà
  • Hier ist = Here [, there] is = Aquí hay/está = Ici, il y a / Voici
  • Hier sind = Here [, there] are = Aquí hay/estàn = Ici, il y a / Voici

Note how Spanish switches from ser to estar as the meaning switches from existence to location, or uses hay instead if it doesn't. Translations to French are tricky. Literally it would be Là est, Là sont, Ici est and Ici sont. I think all or most of these are close to ungrammatical, though there is a TV programme "Là est la question". The normal way to fix the problem would be to say Là c'est, Là ce sont, Ici c'est and Ici ce sont. But that also doesn't seem to be in frequent use, except perhaps in relatively fixed phrases such as "Là, c'est moi".


When one translates, "there are no more seats available," many sources tell me it is "Es sind keine Platze (with umlaut over the a, sorry) mehr verfügbar." Why is it not es gibt in this instance? Most sources seem very specific on this point, that it is es sind and not es gibt.


In my opinion, when using the attribute "verfügbar", you are talking about specific seats, the seats that are existing at this moment. The seats are large, small, comfortable, uncomfortable, not available... Thus: "Es sind keine Plätze verfügbar." (von den vorhandenen) - "Es sind noch drei Plätze verfügbar."

"Es gibt" is used when talking about existence: "Es gibt keine verfügbaren Sitze mehr." - "Es gibt keine Karten mehr (die Vorstellung ist ausverkauft)." - "Es gibt keinen Gott." - "Es gibt Gutes und Schlechtes in der Welt."

Note the minimal difference between "Es sind keine Plätze verfügbar" = "None of the (existing) seats is available" and "Es gibt keine verfügbaren Plätze" = "There are no available seats existing".

Maybe it is easier just to learn the phrases as they are used...


Good find! I see why you are confused, but I think I found out what's going on. Unfortunately the full explanation became very long. So before diving into the details, here is a relatively short summary:

"There are seats" is a special construction most likely derived from Latin "Sunt sedes", and made possible by the fact that the original meaning "There are seats there" was close enough to the intended meaning.

Other European languages had the same problem (translating "Sunt sedes") but different constraints that led them to different solutions. The German solution "Es gibt Plätze" (and more obviously the Austrian one, which is "Es hat Plätze") is probably based on a later construction with have rather than be which replaced the original one in the Romance languages.

These are very special phenomena that have no relevance to translating idioms for expressing existence that are not inspired by Latin. (In closely related languages such as English and German, often a literal translation will do.)

For anyone who is still not deterred, the full explanation now follows. It basically tells the story of how I found the above.

A problematic first attempt at a rule

At first glance it looks as if German uses geben (and Austrian German uses haben) to express existence, where English uses be. But this is not a helpful point of view because it can lead to incorrect predictions. Sometimes English and German ways of talking about existence are identical except for the detail that German always uses es = it, not da = there as a pseudo-subject at the start of the sentence when reversing word order so that the verb comes before the real subject:

  • Keine Plätze sind verfügbar. = No seats are available.
  • Es sind keine Plätze verfügbar. = There are no seats available.

Apart from the obvious stylistic problem common to both languages, it's also fine to use existieren:

  • Keine Plätze existieren. = No seats exist.
  • Es existieren keine Plätze. = There exist no seats.

The key to a better rule

I think a helpful rule begins with the realisation that English there is is actually an odd construction that is probably a loan from one or more other European languages (most likely Latin and French). Consider this:

  • (Keine Plätze sind.) = (No seats are.)
  • (Es sind keine Plätze.) = There are no seats.

I used parentheses to indicate that a sentence isn't really grammatical, although it's clear what is meant. The reason why "There are no seats" is grammatical and "Es sind keine Plätze" isn't is simple. Suppose there were no such idiom even in English. Either sentence starts with the respective dummy subject for the language. If we interpret it literally instead of as a dummy subject, then the German sentence is nonsensical: "It are no seats." But if we do the same with the English sentence, we see that it means "There are no seats there". This is so close to just claiming existence of seats that it's now clear how this probably became an idiom for existence, so that a second there became required to express the original meaning.

A better rule

I suspect that everything started with the following very logical Latin construction:

  • Sunt sedes. = Are seats. (or: Seats are.)

When translating the Bible and other Latin works to various European languages, the translators felt a need for exactly parallel constructions that didn't exist in the target languages. So they made them up.

  • Sunt sedes. = Are seats. [Latin]
  • Hay sedes. = Has seats. [Spanish]
  • There are seats.
  • Es gibt Plätze. = It gives seats. [German]
  • Es hat Plätze. = It has seats. [Austrian German]
  • Il y a des sièges. = It there has seats. [French]

The common pattern is that there is a short conventional part consisting primarily of a frequently used verb, followed by whatever it is that exists in the form of an object, not the subject of the sentence. In Romance languages other than French (which had a strong Germanic influence) we don't need a subject. But in the Germanic languages and in French we need to supply the respective standard dummy pseudo-subject there = es = il.

(Note that French has not just il = he/it, but also y = there. Maybe it is not an accident that this includes both of the different words used as pseudo-subjects used by German (il = es) and English (y = there). The reason for the extra y in French is that unlike German and Latin, French doesn't distinguish it and he any more, and so il a des sièges was already taken by the meaning he has seats.)

As we have seen, English gets its construction of this type by making "There are no seats" grammatical even though "No seats are" isn't. Austrian German goes a different route and simply uses the literal translation of the Spanish/French construction (with the dummy subject required in Germanic languages, but without the unnecessary y). Like in French, this makes sense because you can interpret it as saying that some unspecified it actually possesses the seats.

The standard German idiom can be considered a variant in which the verb has been replaced by another that makes just as much and just as little sense: The unspecified it is providing the seats in some way.


"There are seats" translates to "Es gibt Plätze" in Austrian German. Where did you get this? I'm Austrian and I'd really like to know the source of this misinformation.


I think you may have a problem with reading comprehension. Here is again what I wrote:

  • The German solution "Es gibt Plätze" (and more obviously the Austrian one, which is "Es hat Plätze") [...]

This says very clearly that standard German "es gibt Plätze" corresponds to Austrian German "es hat Plätze". While "es gibt Plätze" may occasionally be heard in Austrian German, it is not a popular construction in Austria, and it very obviously isn't Austrian German.


Late response but I haven't been here for a while. It may be you who's got problems with reading comprehension. Nobody in Austria says "Es hat Plätze". Seriously, nobody. So once again: provide your source.


In which context? These are just two different words but I think you ask because of a specific phraseology?

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