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How to Use the German Personal Pronoun 'Es'

The German personal pronoun "es" is the English equivalent of "it" and has similar functions. It is mostly a substitute for a noun and can:

  1. Act as a subject, therefore be in the nominative case.
    As a subject it can be placed either before or after the verb.
    It thunders in the distance - It is thundering in the distance.
    It thunders in the distance.
  2. Act as an object, therefore be in the accusative case.
    Its position can sometimes be changed, either after the verb or after the subject.
    The television is broken. I'll fix it tomorrow - The t.v. is broken. I will fix it tomorrow.
    I'll fix it tomorrow.
    But not changeable with the following sentence:
    The child cries. I calm it down - The child is crying. I'm consoling him / her.

See Personal Pronoun Chart for a listing of it in all cases.

It is used in daily conversation such as when describing the weather or stating the time. It However, is used more often in German. Also, not only can the position of it be changed, it can even be eliminated, depending on its function.
See the following functions of it, take note of the similarities with English, learn the differences and then practice with this exercise.

It Functions Similar To English:

  • When describing the weather.
    It is snowing today - It is snowing.
    There is a lot of hail - It's hailing a lot.
  • When describing time.
    What time is it? What time is it?
    It is quarter to eight - It is a quarter to eight.
  • When describing things.
    It's soft - It's soft.
    It tastes good - It tastes good.
  • Describing smells / dynamics of noises.
    It smells here - It stinks here.
    It smells nice - It smells nice.
    It's noisy - It is loud.
    It is very quiet now - It is very still / quiet now.
    However more specific noise descriptions usually can't be translated with 'it', such as:
    It's rustling outside - There's a rustling outside.
    There is always a knock on my door at midnight - At midnight, there is always a knocking at my door.
  • To introduce a general remark / statement:
    It is difficult to find work these days - It is difficult nowadays to find work.
    It is important to be organized - It is important to be organized.
    It bothers me - It disturbs me.
  • To introduce a subsequent subordinate clause:
    I think it's terrible that she doesn't want to eat - I find it awful that she does not want to eat.
    However, when that same clause is placed at the beginning of the sentence, it will no longer be used: I think it's terrible that she doesn't want to eat.