"Many letters were written to him."
Translation:Es wurden ihm viele Briefe geschrieben.
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That said, mizinamo points out here that the sentence order in Viele Briefe wurden ihm geschrieben, while grammatically correct, sounds a bit unusual due to the emphasis given to viele Briefe at the head of the sentence, which contrasts somewhat with the otherwise flat, matter-of-fact tone that the passive sentence would otherwise have.
Word order is something you can read further on if you want to improve your feeling for it. The important thing to learn here is that passive constructions with Es… at the beginning are entirely common and often the most natural way to phrase something.
Yes, it's a placeholder for the subject so that the verb can be in the second position. And it does work in the plural, which was also a huge surprise to me as it seemed like a clear subject-verb error. There's also es geben and es sind, so long as the complement is plural.
... "It" can be plural? Why not just use the actual third person plural? Groans in pain
(It's unclear enough for me why the sentence isn't just "Viele Briefe wurden ihm geschrieben" in the first place [or "Ihm wurden Viele Briefe geschrieben"], the "es" does not really seem to do anything here.)
A more productive way to think about it might be to equate it to the "there is/there are" construction in English. Asking why "es" can be plural in that specific construction would be like asking why is "there" in "there are" plural... Neither add any meaning to the sentence (where exactly is the "there" in "there are"?) It's just weird because it's unusual to our eyes, but functionally the construction is no different than the English counterpart. On the bright side, the weirdness does fade once you're exposed to it enough :) AttilatheBrit explains the rest of your question pretty well in another comment on this thread.
That doesn't quite work as an analogy. In "there are" contructions, "there" is an adverb, and the noun that follows is the subject. "There are three books" could be reordered as, "Three books are there" (although that changes the meaning, it clarifies the grammar).
Edit: I guess I'm downvoted because my point was the same as artischocke without my realizing it. Neither "Es" nor "there" is plural but rather the subject is plural (in this case "viele Briefe") and "es" is just a dummy word to start off the sentence.
The verb is in the plural because "Briefe" is the real subject here. "Es" is only a dummy subject to bring "wurden" to the front for style or change of emphasis. Its a bit like saying "There were a lot of letters written to him" rather than "Many letters were written to him": a style change with little meaning change.
it depends on what you want to place emphasis on
check out this website!
it explains it really well (good)
No, you should select another preposition "an ihn" not "zu ihm", because the typical German expression is: "an jemand (accusative) schreiben. = "Viele Briefe wurden an ihn geschrieben" or "Viele Briefe wurden ihm geschrieben/Ihm wurden viele Briefe geschrieben". All these translations are correct.
Laut Duden kann man "ihm schreiben" und "an jemand schreiben". I give an example from the Duden (meaning 2b):
- jemandem, an jemanden eine Karte schreiben
The course unfortunately makes again too strong restrictions on the translation possibilities.