Ihr größter Feind sind Sie selbst.

English Translation

Your biggest enemy is yourself.

Maybe I’m dumb, but shouldn’t this be “Ihr größter Feind ist Sie selbst”, since “Ihr Feind” is a singular subject? Or is this one of those inverted German sentences where we’re actually saying “Sie selbst sind Ihr größter Feind”? And if that’s the case, then shouldn’t the suggested English translation really be “You are your own biggest enemy”?

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It’s the polite “you”, which behaves like a plural.

Du bist - Sie sind
Dein Feind - Ihr Feind

Dein größter Feind bist du selbst.
Ihr größter Feind sind Sie selbst.

I guess German associates the “to be” verb with “Sie selbst” rather than with “Feind”, and therefore you need bist/sind rather than ist.

If english would do it like that, it would literally be:
Your biggest enemy are you yourself.

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Right, but I suppose my question should have been “what is the subject of this sentence?”

In English, with SVO, we have both options:

Your biggest enemy is yourself. (subject=enemy)

You are your own biggest enemy. (subject=you)

In German, it seems we would only use “sind” if the subject were “Sie”. Perhaps it was the word order that confused me. I’m used to the subject being in position 1, but very often I see German sentences with the object in position 1.


Right. “Sie selbst” is the subject, so we have OVS here. Or whatever “Feind” is in a “to be”-type sentence. Is it really an object? In “to be”-sentences the verb is really more of an equal sign, so both sides of the equation should be equipollent. But since the sentence needs one subject, only one of the sides can take that role.

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Yes, your analysis is absolutely correct.

Sie selbst sind Ihr größter Feind.
Sie sind selbst Ihr größter Feind.
Ihr größter Feind sind Sie selbst.

“Sie” is always the subject and as you say, you cannot do that in English because of the strict SVO or said in a different way, because of the lack of English grammar :wink:.
Languages like Latin, where grammar allows you to identify the subject from the single word are even more free regarding word order and it is an important stylistic element.