Impersonal verbs and the German pronoun "es"

The personal pronoun "es"

Impersonal verbs in German use as subject the pronoun "es".

The pronoun "es" usually means "it" but it has no meaning in the context of impersonal verbs but rather just a grammatical function of a subject.

Verbs that deal with the weather

Verbs that deal with nature are impersonal verbs:

Es dunkelt schon
It's getting dark

Heute kann es regnen
It might rain today

Gestern hat es geschneit
It snowed yesterday

blitzen to flash (lightning)
dämmern to dawn
donnern to thunder
dunkeln to get dark
frieren to freeze
gewittern to storm
hageln to hail
nieseln to drizzle
gießen to flood/downpour
regnen to rain
schneien to snow
tauen to melt

Impersonal verbs dealing with noise

As you see in the following examples, verbs dealing with noise can be impersonal:

Wo hat es geknallt?
Where was the bang?

Was tun, wenn es im Ohr pfeift?
What to do if there is a whistling (noise) in your ear?

klingeln to ring
knallen to make a bang/explode
läuten to sound the bells
pfeifen to whistle
rauschen to whisper

These verbs don't necessarily have to always be impersonal if you specify the origin of the noise (that's why it doesn't have the pronoun "es")

Nachts pfeift der Wind ums Haus
At night, the wind whistles around the house

Impersonal verbs that deal with the senses

Many verbs that deal with the senses in German are impersonal:

Es tut mir leid
I'm sorry

Es hat mir geschmeckt
I liked the food/ It tasted very well

"Sein", "werden" and "bleiben" as impersonal verbs

Copulative verbs, meaning "sein", "werden" and "bleiben", can behave like impersonal verbs if they are accompanied by adjective or adverbs that:

  • Are meteorological events

    Gestern war es sonnig
    It was sunny yesterday

  • Are natural phenomena

    Es ist zu heiß
    It's too hot

  • Deal with time

    Wie spät ist es?
    What time is it?

Geben as an Impersonal Verb

It is very common to find the verb "geben" acting as an impersonal verb:

Be careful with "geben" which means to give but also behaves like an impersonal verb meaning "there is/are"

Es gibt keine Lösung
There is no solution