3. Some Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions

es gibt / es sind

In Unit 2 you learned about the idiom es gibt (there is / are). This is used in general statements such as:

Es gibt viele Leute in New York.
There are many people in New York.

When we are talking about a specific number of people / objects, then you will see the form es sind (there are):

Es sind zwanzig Studenten in diesem Zimmer.
There are twenty students in this room.

es

In both the above examples the pronoun es is translated as “there.” Similar uses of it are:

Es geschah im Jahre 1990 ein Erdbeben in San Franzisko.
There occurred an earthquake in San Francisco in 1990.

Es spielte ein Kind in dem Garten.
There was a child playing in the garden.

In both of these examples we could ignore the es (there) and simply say “An earthquake occurred in San Francisco in 1990” and “A child was playing in the garden.”

abhängen von (to depend on)

Es hängt davon ab, ob wir das Geld haben.
It depends upon whether we have the money.

Meine Urlaubspläne hängen vom Chef ab.
My vacation plans are contingent upon my boss.

sich befassen mit (to deal with)

Dieses Buch befaßt sich mit der Geschichte des Automobils.
This book deals with the history of the automobile.

es geht um (to be a matter / issue of)

Es geht um die Finanzen.
It is an issue of finances.

gelingen (to succeed)

Es ist mir gelungen, die Aufgabe zu beenden.
I succeeded in finishing the task.

Es ist den Engländern gelungen, über den Stillen Ozean zu segeln.
The Englishmen succeeded in sailing across the Pacific Ocean.

This verb is what we call an impersonal verb: the grammatical subject is es, and the verb’s actor is in the dative case. We, however, ignore the es and translate the dative pronoun / noun as the subject.

sich handeln um (to be a matter of, to deal with)

Hier handelt es sich um das neue Modell.
Here we are dealing with the new model.
[or:] This has to do with the new model.

Es handelt sich darum, Geld zu verdienen.
It is a matter of earning money.

liegen an (to be due to / to be the cause of)

Das liegt an den Katastrophen in diesem Land.
That is due to the catastrophes in this country.

Es liegt daran, daß die Autofirma in die Verlustzone gerutscht ist.
The cause is that the auto company slid into the loss column.

denken an (to think about, to think of)

Haben Sie oft an Ihre Tante gedacht?
Did you often think about your aunt?
[or:] Has your aunt often come to mind?

Prepositions Used Idiomatically

In Unit 5 we listed the major prepositions and their most common meanings. You should have noticed by this point in the course that a preposition – just as in English – will always take on an idiomatic meaning when used with a certain verb or noun. Note the varied translations of um and an in the preceding examples. While it is a good idea to learn idiomatic expressions, you will be able to understand prepositions correctly only if you always consider the context of the sentence.

For example, in the following sentence für is best translated as “in” to fit our English idiom. You would first discover this by consulting your dictionary entry for interessieren.

Der Student interessiert sich für die Musik.
The student is interested in music.

Likewise, in the next sentence, auf is best translated as “for.” You would first learn that when you consult your dictionary entry for warten.

An der Straßenecke wartet der Vater auf seine Kinder.
The father waits for his children at the street corner.

Two examples of an idiomatic combination with a noun are zum Wohl! and zu Hause which you would find explained in your dictionary under Wohl and Haus, respectively.

When in doubt about the meaning of a preposition, consult the dictionary entry for the preposition’s object (noun) and/or the verb of the clause. You may see that the noun and/or verb (along with the preposition) together take on an idiomatic meaning when used in combination.

Last revised on October 22, 2014.