Use of "da" in German


[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="537"] USE of Da in German[/caption]

1. Da– Compounds

German can use words formed by affixing da– or dar– to the beginning of a preposition in order to refer back to something. In its most basic usage, we usually translate a da– compound into English as a preposition followed by a pronoun.
Er hat einen Bleistift. Er schreibt damit. He has a pencil. He is writing with it. Hier ist ein Stuhl. Sie sitzt darauf. Here is a chair. She is sitting on it.
Note that the form dar– is used when the preposition begins with a vowel.

2. Some Common Da– Words

In older forms of English and often in English-language legal documents, there are a large variety of words formed with the prefix there-, such as “therefore,”“thereby,” “therein,” “thereafter,” etc. In German there are a number of similar adverbs, which represent special meanings of da– compounds (remember that one of the meanings of da is “there”). Be sure not to confuse these da– words with the da– compounds described above. The difference is that these adverbs use da– to refer not to a specific object already mentioned in the text, but rather to a more abstract concept, such as a time or logic relationship. Da– words have their own entries in your dictionary, whereas simple da– compounds as above do not.
Sie bringt immer einen Regenschirm, damit sie nie naß wird. She always brings an umbrella, so that she never gets wet. Er sprang von der Mauer. Dabei brach er das Bein. He jumped from the wall. In the process he broke his leg. Sie kaufte die Aktien rechtzeitig und wurde dadurch reich. She bought the stock at the right time and thereby became rich. Ich habe kein Geld. Dafür bin ich gesund und glücklich. I have no money. On the other hand, I’m healthy and happy.
Following are some commonly used da– words:
dabei in the process, in this matter, there, at the same time, as well
dadurch thereby, in doing so
dafür instead, on the other hand
dagegen but, in comparison, on the other hand, whereas
daher therefore, that is why
damit so that, because of that, with that / this
danach accordingly
daneben compared with (something or someone), at the same time, as well as (something, that)
darauf after that
darin in this respect
darüber hinaus beyond that, furthermore
darum because of that
darunter among them
dazu along with (it / that), in addition to (it / that), for (it / that), about (it / that)

3. Hier– Words

Again, just as in older English “herewith,” “hereupon,” and “heretofore,” German has parallel constructions. Examples are hiermithieraufhierzu. We translate the hier with “it,” “that,” or “those,” whichever fits the context, along with the preposition as appropriate. For example:
Hiermit schließen wir diese Übung. With this we end this exercise. Hierzu brauchen wir viel Geld. To do that we need a lot of money. [or:] For this purpose we will need a lot of money. [or:] To achieve that we need a lot of money

4. Da– Clauses

Some da– compounds are used before a clause beginning with daß or a dependent infinitive construction with zu. These are anticipatory da– words:
Mein Vater hat nichts dagegen, daß wir oft ins Kino gehen. My father has nothing against the fact that we go to the movies often. [or:] My father has nothing against our going to the movies often. Wir denken oft daran, nach Deutschland zu reisen. We often think of travelling to Germany.
In both of these sentences, the da– compound serves the grammatical function of allowing the entire dependent clause to serve as the object of the preposition within the da– compound. In other words, in the first sentence, you are learning to recognize that the entire daß clause is the object of the preposition gegen. Likewise, in the second sentence, thedar– prefix serves like a signpost so that you will see the neighboring infinitive clause as the object of the preposition an. Observe how this same relationship gets expressed quite literally in the English translations. Be sure to remember that the preposition captured inside of a da– compound still communicates its normal meaning within its local clause. In the first example above, note how the meaning of gegen is still crucial to understanding the first clause, as part of the idiomatic phrase nichts gegen etwas haben. In the second example, note how an is still functioning in its capacity of determining which meaning of denken is in use here (see dictionary for denken + an). By the way, generally speaking, when the da-word refers to an idea in which the subject is different from the subject of the main clause, the da-word will point to a dependent clause (a complete statement with subject, verb, predicate). See the first example above. Whereas when the subjects are the same, an infinitive phrase with zu is used, as in the second example above. More examples for you to work through on your own:
Morgen sprechen wir darüber, wie wir das bezahlen werden. Tomorrow we’ll talk about how we’re going to pay for that. Eine Vielzahl von Fehlern in medizinischen Doktorarbeiten ist auch darauf zurückzuführen, dass die Betreuungssituation nicht so gut ist. A number of errors in medical dissertations can also be traced back to the fact that the advising situation is not so great. Sie träumt davon, eine Pflanze zu werden. She dreams of becoming a plant.

Wo +Preposition

Wo + preposition is useful when asking questions for clarification such as in Worauf wartet er? (What is he waiting for?) Notice that the translation for worauf is “for what” – not a literal translation. That’s because many of the wo + prepositions replace the colloquial, but incorrect German word combination preposition + was. (incorrect -> Für was ist das?, correct -> Wofür ist das?) Since the incorrect German version of preposition + was most closely resembles the English translation, English speakers find it difficult to overcome this natural tendency of question formation. That’s why it is important that English-speaking students of German learn early on to incorporate the use of wo-words in their conversation.

Da + Preposition

Similarly, the da + preposition combinations cannot always be translated literally. It all depends on context. Sometimes da will keep its “there” meaning if it refers to a location. At other times the word means something closer to the English “that”. Understanding this difference is important for students of German who want to make sure their speech is grammatically correct even if their meaning is still understood

For example:

Was kommt daraus? (What is coming out from there?) Was konntest du daraus feststellen? (What were you able to determine from that?) Da– words are very useful so as to not sound redundant. For example, if someone were to ask you Bist du mit diesem Zeitplan einverstanden? The shorter response would be Ich bin damit einverstanden, instead of reiterating the noun. Examples of Wo and Da Use Below you will find a list of some common wo- and da– compounds. Take note that if the preposition starts with a vowel then it will be preceded by an –r- when combining it with either wo or da. ( unter -> darunter)
  • bei = by -> wobei – dabei
  • durch = through -> wodurch – dadurch
  • für = for -> wofür – dafür
  • gegen = against -> wogegen – dagegen
  • her (prefix) = coming from -> woher – daher
  • hin (prefix) = going to -> wohin – dahin
  • mit = with -> womit – damit
  • nach = after -> wonach – danach
  • an = on, at, to -> woran – daran
  • auf = on -> worauf – darauf
  • aus = out of, from -> woraus – daraus
  • in = in -> worin – darin
  • über = over, above -> worüber – darüber
  • unter = under, underneath -> worunter – darunter
  • von = from -> wovon – davon
  • vor = before, in front of -> wovor – davor
  • zu = to, at -> wozu – dazu

5. Wo– Words

In addition to the question words you learned about in Unit 1, more complex question words exist that follow the same approach as da– compounds. By prefixing any preposition with wo– or wor-, a “what?” (German was?) question is posed.
Womit schreiben Sie? With what are you writing? Worauf stehen Sie? On what are you standing?

Wo– words also appear sometimes as equivalents to relative pronouns when they refer to inanimate objects:

Das Haus, worin ich wohne, ist neu. The house in which I live is new.

This sentence has the same meaning as the sentence: Das Haus, in dem ich wohne, ist neu.

Der Stuhl, worauf sie steht, ist unsicher. The chair on which she is standing is unsafe.

This sentence has the same meaning as: Der Stuhl, auf dem sie steht, ist unsicher.

. Da-compounds replace “preposition + accusative/dative pronoun”: 

mit ihm/ihr ==> damit = “with it” [Damn it! = Verdammt!]; auf ihn/sie/es ==> darauf = “on it”; von ihm/ihr ==> davon = “from it” etc.
Marsmensch: Was macht man mit einem Messer? Erdling [=Earthling]: Man kann mit ihm/damit [=with it] schneiden.Mutter: Was hast du mit dem Messer gemacht? Norman Bates: Ich habe mich damit geschnitten. Verdammt! ]
Jason: Wo ist meine Axt [=axe]? Und wo ist meine Eishockeymaske? Jasons Mutter: Geh mal zu deinem Bett. Die Eishockeymaske liegt auf ihm/darauf [=on it], und deine Axt liegt unter ihm/darunter.
Britney Spears’ Mann: Weißt du etwas über Relativitätstheorie? Britney Spears: Ja, ich habe viel über sie/darüber [=about it] gelesen. Möchtest du eine Pepsi? Britney Spears’ Mann: Ja, ich kann nie genug [=enough] von ihr/davonkriegen [=get]. Britney gibt ihrem Mann die Pepsi, aber sie fällt und schüttet ihn voll Pepsi [=pours Pepsi all over him] Britney Spears: Oje [=Oops, Oh dear!], ich habe es wieder gemacht.

2. Da-compounds cannot be used to refer to people or most animals (“most” means: start using da-compounds at the point where assuming any kind of personality for the animal would be absurd, e.g. for insects): 

Was weißt du über David Hasselhoff?–Er ist mein Idol. Ich weiß alles über ihn/darüber. Ich möchte gern ein Duett mit ihm/damit singen.
Kennst du Arnold Schwarzenegger?–Ja, ich gehe oft mit ihm/damit in die Disco. Er tanzt wie ein Mädchen. Keiner will mit ihm/damit tanzen.
Linus: Wo ist Snoopy? Ich habe einen Knochen [=bone] für ihn/dafür. [Snoopy is a dog ==> can’t use a da-compound to refer to him] Lucy:Charlie Brown ist im Kürbisfeld [=pumpkin patch] spazieren gegangen. Er glaubt immer noch an den “Großen Kürbis”. Linus: Glaubst du an ihn/daran? [Use “an ihn” if you think the Great Pumpkin is a sentient being; use “daran” if you think of it as a “thing”] Lucy: Nein! Ich habe keine Zeit für so einen Quatsch [=nonsense].

3. Da-compounds also cannot replace relative pronouns. In these situations, you can use “preposition + relative pronoun” or wo-compounds (formed just like da-compounds). “Was + preposition” is always replaced by a wo-compound (3rd and 4th examples below).  If you are reading this for German 221/231, you will be reviewing relative pronouns later, so consider this a preview! 

Das ist der Löffel, mit dem/damitFriedrich der Große seine Suppe aß. That’s the spoon with which Frederick the Great ate his soup.
Wir möchten das Bett kaufen, in dem/darin Beethoven geschlafen hat. We want to buy the bed in which Beethoven slept.
Barney ist tot, über was/worüber/darüber ich sehr traurig bin. [Rel. pron. refers to entire clause “Barney ist tot”] Barney is dead, which I’m very sad about.
In diesem Museum gibt es nichts, für was/wofür/dafür ich mich interessiere. [Rel.pron. refers to “nichts“] There is nothing in this museum that (which) I’m interested in.
If you’re not comfortable with recognizing relative clauses at the moment, think of the “which” or “that” in the English translations as a clue that you are dealing with a relative clause. 4. Da-compounds can refer back to entire clauses. Compare the Barney sentence below to the one under (3) above: 
Barney ist tot, und ich bin darübersehr traurig. [Not a relative clause: these two clauses are connected by und] Barney is dead, and I am very sad about that. [about his being dead]
Manchmal erholt sich ein Ökosystem von alleine, aber man kann sich nicht darauf verlassen. Sometimes an ecosystem recovers by itself, but one cannot rely on that. [on the ecosystem recovering by itself]
Wie der Urknall passierte ist immer noch ein Rätsel. Es gibt viele Theorien darüber. How the big bang happened is still a riddle. There are many theories about it. [about how the big bang happened]

5. In jokes, “darauf” or “daraufhin” is often used as a short way of saying “Er/Sie antwortet darauf, dass…” [=”In response to that, s/he replies…”]. Sometimes it also just means “then”:

Zwei Wurmfrauen [=female worms, or maybe “worm wives”] treffen sich im Garten. Sagt die eine zur anderen: “Wo ist denn heute dein Mann?” Darauf die andere: “Ach, der ist beim Angeln [=gone fishing]!”
Ein kleiner Junge raucht [=smokes] auf offener Straße. Ein alter Herr tadelt [=scolds] ihn: “Wenn das deine Lehrerin wüsste.” Darauf der Kleine: “Keine Sorge [=don’t worry], ich geh ja noch gar nicht zur Schule.”
Anglerwitz [=joke for people who like to fish]: Zwei Angler [guys who are fishing] sitzen regungslos [=motionless] am See. Nach drei Stunden schlägt einer der beiden die Beine übereinander [=crosses his legs]. Darauf der andere [=the other one]: “Was ist los? Angeln wir oder tanzen wir?”

6. An interesting detail we are not requiring you to learn: We have learned on this page that for inanimate objects, the combination “preposition + pronoun” MUST be replaced by a da-compound:

Was machst du mit deinem Handy? – Ich mache Fotos mit ihm/damit.

The interesting detail is that the prepositions that cannot form da-compunds, such as ohne, also cannot be used with pronouns referring to inanimate objects. Instead, the noun must be repeated:

Ich liebe mein Handy! Ich kann ohne es/ohne mein Handy nicht leben.
Ich liebe SPAM®! Ich kann ohne ihn/ohne SPAM® nicht leben.
Ich liebe Mücken [=mosquitoes]! Ich kann ohne sie/ohne Mücken nicht leben.

In informal speech, this rule can be violated: Ich liebe Pronomen. Ich kann ohne sie/ohne Pronomen nicht leben 🙂


Wo-compounds are primarily used in questions and indirect questions: Womit = with what, wovon = from what, woraus = out of what, worüber = on what (or: about what), worin = in what, wohin = to where, woher = from where….

Woher kommen Sie? Where do you come from?
Wohin gehen Sie? Where are you going to?
Wofür ist das? What’s that for?
Worüber spricht er? What’s he talking about?
Womit kann man das reparieren? What can one repair that with?
Woraus ist das gemacht? What’s that made out of?
Wohin soll ich das stellen? Where should I put that?
Wonach suchst du? What are you looking for?
Ich weiß nicht, wofür das ist. [indirect question: implies the question: “Wofür ist das?”] I don’t know what that’s for.
Ich möchte wissen, wohin diese Straße führt [indirect question: implies the question “Wohin führt diese Straße?”] I’d like to know where this street goes to.

Anticipatory Da-Compounds

Da-compounds can anticipate subsequent clauses. They are then called anticipatory da-compounds. This happens with prepositional verbs and adjectives, i.e. verbs and adjectives that require a preposition [a list of such verbs and adjectives is given below for reference]. Compare the following examples: 

a. Ich freue mich auf die Klasse. Du freust dich auf das Konzert. Wir freuen uns auf dich.
b. Freust du dich auf das Konzert? Ja, ich freue mich darauf. Freust du dich auf die Klasse? Ja, ich freue mich darauf.
c. Ich freue mich darauf, dass du kommst. Ich freue mich darauf, in das Konzert zu gehen.
In (a), the object of the preposition (what you are looking forward to) is a noun or pronoun (die Klasse, das Konzert, dich). No need for an anticipatory da-compound. In (b), the object of the preposition is a noun that was previously referred to (das Konzert, die Klasse). For the combination of preposition + pronoun, a da-compound is used, but it refers back to something, so it is not an anticipatory da-compound. In (c), the object of the preposition, the “thing” you are looking forward to, is not a noun, but a whole clause:not you, but “that you are coming”; not the concert, but “going to the concert.” This is where anticipatory da-compounds are used. The literal English equivalents are: “I am looking forward to it, that you are coming,” and “I am looking forward to it, to go to the concert.” In decent English: “I am looking forward to your coming,” and “I am looking forward to going to the concert.” More examples: 
Ich freue mich darauf, Kafkas Die Verwandlung zu lesen. I’m looking forward to reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Gregor Samsa freut sich nicht darüber, dass er sich in ein Ungeziefer verwandelt hat. Gregor Samsa is not happy that he turned into a bug. [Gregor Samsa is the protagonist of Die Verwandlung]
Für Peter Parker ist es auch schwer, sich daran zu gewöhnen, ein Spinnenmann zu sein. For Peter Parker it’s also hard to get used to being a spider-man.
Einer staunte darüber, wie leicht er den Weg der Ewigkeit ging; er raste ihn nämlich abwärts. [Aphorismus von Franz Kafka] One man was amazed at how easily he was walking the path of eternity; for he was speeding along it downwards.
Mutige Leute überredet man dadurch zu einer Handlung, dass man dieselbe gefährlicher darstellt, als sie ist. [Aphorismus von Freidrich Nietzsche] One persuades courageous people to carry out an action by representing it as being more dangerous than it is.
Es kommt nicht darauf an, was man hat, sondern was man ist. [Aphorismus von Jeremias Gotthelf (1797 – 1854)] It’s not important [literally: it doesn’t depend on] what one has, but rather, what one is.
Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es kommt darauf an sie zu verändern. [Karl Marx] Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; what’s important [literally: it depends on] is changing it.

And two tasteless examples:

Ich freue mich darauf, mir den Rücken zu rasieren. I’m looking forward to shaving my back.
Kommst du heute Abend mit in die Disco?– Ich weiß nicht. Es kommt darauf an, wie lange ich brauche, mir den Rücken zu rasieren. Are you coming along to the disco tonight?–I don’t know. It depends on how long it takes me to shave my back.


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