1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: German
  4. >
  5. "Es sind nur ein paar Schritt…

"Es sind nur ein paar Schritte von hier."

Translation:It is only a few steps from here.

April 12, 2013



so plural or singular? both language please.


‘Schritte’=“steps” is plural, but ‘paar’=“pair” is singular.


Since the German is plural, shouldn't this translation be "They are only a few steps from here"? I don't understand why the plural is used in German if the subject is singular.


The German copula ‘sein’ is binominative, like “to be” in written English: When it connects two noun phrases, both of the noun phrases take the nominative case, so either one could potentially be treated grammatically (in terms of subject-verb agreement) as the subject. In English, the subject of the copula is almost always taken to be the noun phrase before the verb in a declarative sentence (and the first noun phrase after the verb in an interrogative sentence) — even in inverse copular constructions where the second noun phrase is the underlying subject.

But in German (and in most languages other than English that have a copula and subject-verb agreement), the copula always agrees with the underlying subject. In the given sentence, ‘Es’=“It” is evidently just a dummy subject, not referring to any particular thing, so in German, the verb agrees with the underlying subject, ‘ein paar Schritte’.

However, if the ‘Es’=“It” did refer to a specific thing, then it would command the verb agreement, as in ‘Es [Das Fenster] ist nur ein paar Schritte von hier.’, as opposed to ‘{Sie [Die Tür] | Er [Der Ausgang]} ist nur ein paar Schritte von hier.’, or ‘Sie [Die Blumen] sind nur ein paar Schritte von hier.’.

In written English, the given sentence could also be translated as “There are only a few steps from here.”, where, just as in German, the verb agrees with ‘a few steps’. But in some dialects of spoken English, the word “There” in this construction is treated as a noun, rather than an adverb, so the verb agrees with it instead: “There is only a few steps from here.”.


Interesting point in that last paragraph. I think you are right about "there" being the intended subject of the sentence. Still the interpretation in the third paragraph is a more natural translation into English than the one Duo has give us.


in this sentence is it ok to write "von hier aus" instead of "von hier"?


Yes, but more common would be ‘Es sind nur ein paar Schritte von hieraus entfernt.’, or even better, ‘Von hier aus sind es nur ein paar Schritte.’

Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.