Spoken German Bits – “Da-Words Undone”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of Spoken German Bits. In this series, we look at all the stuff that you can only find in spoken German – weird grammar, new phrases, slang and colloquinsali.. colonilasi… man this word and beers really don’t go together very well. I mean all the stuff that people say every day but that isn’t part of those stupid textbooks.

Today, we’re gonna be dealing with one topic you all reeeeaaaally love. No, not gender. No, not cases either. What? Adjective endings?! No, we’re not gonna be talking about those. Oh no and it’s not word order… man you really love quite a bit about German :).
The thing we’ll look at today are what in jargon is called “pronominal adverbs”. We know them as …

The da-words

Sigh, the da-wordsdarauf, darum, daraus, dafür and so on.
The da-words are basically a twisted way to combine a preposition with an article. Instead of saying of that or about that like a sane language would do in German you say thereof and thereabout like you’re some sort of poet or something.
We’ve taken a detailed look at the da-words so if you feel like you want to get the theory down, then check out this post here:

They actually do have a big benefit and they’re really not that difficult once you get the hang of them.
But even if you have the black belt in Da-Word-Fu, you might get really really confused when you talk to native speakers because… there’s a new twist in town.

You see, Germans are really good at splitting things. They split their verbs, they split hairs, they were heavily involved in first splitting the atom, heck they even split their own country once. But it’s never enough. And so they’ve come up with something new. Drumroll please:

the da-word split

And this is how it looks like.
Hmmmmmmm… soooooo tasty. I’d sure love me some da-word split rig…. oh wait, wrong split. Haha.
The da-word split looks like this:

  • “In zwei Tagen fährst du zu dem Festival, oder?”
    “Ja Mann, da freu ich mich schon seit Monaten drauf.”
  • “In two days, you’ll go to the festival right?”
    “Yeah dude, I’ve been looking forward to that for months.”

Da……………… mn.
So let’s take a look at this mess.

The da-word split – What it is

The idea is as simple as it is annoying for the learner. The da-word gets split apart and then stuff gets put between the parts. Here’s an examples with the standard da-word.

  • Katzenprojekt? Davon weiß ich nix (nichts).
  • Cat project? Of that I know nothing.

This is proper German and people do say that, but they also say this

  • Katzenprojekt? Da weiß ich nix von.

or this

  • Katzenprojekt?! Ich weiß da nichts von.

This works with all the da-words and all kinds of contexts and sentences, as long as it is spoken.

  • Ich hab’ da nichts von.
  • Lit.: I have nothing of that.
  • I have nothing to gain by/from that.
  • “Und wie alt ist sie?”
    “Keine Ahnung. Da hab’ ich nicht nach gefragt.”
  • “And how old is she?”
    “No idea, I didn’t ask for that.

  • “Kennst du dich mit String-Theorie aus?”
    “Nee, ich hab’ da zwar ein bisschen was drüber gelesen, aber richtig verstanden hab’ ich’s nicht.”
  • “Do you know string theory?”
    “Nah, I’ve read a bit about it but I didn’t really understand it.”

  • Jeden Tag Meeting… ich hab’ da einfach keine Lust mehr drauf.
  • Meeting every day… I don’t want to do that anymore.
    (Lit.: “I simply don’t have any desire for that anymore”. )

     

  • Ich hab’ da fast 2 Stunden mit meinem Professor drüber geredet.
  • I talked about that with my professor for almost two hours.
  • “Kannst du bitte nicht so rummeckern?”
    “Ich hab’ halt schlechte Laune.”
    “Na und. Da kann ich ja nichts für.”
    (regular would be “Dafür kann ich ja nichts.”)
  • “Could you stop bitching?”
    “I’m in a bad mood, is all.”
    “So what, that’s not my fault.”

  • Das Katzenprojekt? Da hab ich mich, seit ich da mit Maria letztens beim Meeting drüber gesprochen habe, nicht mehr mit beschäftigt.
  • The cat project? I haven’t done anything with that since I talked about it with Maria.

Now, looking at these examples, I’m sure many of you have a few questions so let’s take a look at how the da-word split works in detail… because… there are still some rules, even though it’s strictly colloquial. Grammar gone rogue is still grammar, right?
I mean… it’s not like you’d need to do a proper da-word split in a test or something. Technically you don’t need the mechanics. But I think it’s still interesting because we can get a glimpse into the deeper structures of German.
So, we’ll do kind of a little da-word split Q&A and after that we’ll have a good impression of the whole thing.
Or we’ll be pretty confused and awfully tired :). So let’s find out.

What’s up with the dr-stuff?

The first thing we’ll talk about- and I’m sure you all noticed it in the examples – is the weird dr-stuff. What do I mean by dr-stuff?
Well, I said that the da-word gets split into two parts. So, davon becomes da… von, dafür becomes da…für and so darauf should become da…rauf. But it doesn’t. It becomes da… drauf.

  • Da freu ich mich drauf.
  • I’m looking forward to that.

And believe it or not… saying rauf here would sound pretty wrong. That’s what I mean by dr-stuff. All the da-words where the preposition starts with a vowel, so all the ones that have an r in the middle will get an extra d. Darauf becomes da… drauf, daraus becomes da… draus, darum becomes da… drum and so on.
Now you might be like “Wait, isn’t drauf short for darauf? Do we have a double da now?”
Well, yeah… that’s pretty much how it is. And in fact, doubling down on da is sometimes even done when the preposition alone would be enough

  • Ich hab’ da nichts davon gesagt.
  • I didn’t say anything about that.

or if there’s no da-word split at all.

  • Ich freu mich da drauf. (instead darauf)
  • I’m looking forward to that.

  • Ich hab mich sehr da drüber geärgert (instead darüber)
  • I was very angry about that.

This is not only super colloquial, though, it’s also super not nice. Like… it sounds a bit dumb.
Anyway, so if the da-word has an r, then the da-word split will get an extra d. Cool.
Now let’s talk structure for a bit.

Where do the parts go?

Looking at the examples, you can quickly see the following trend: da comes somewhat early in the sentence. But where exactly?
Well, of course it can come in position 1.

  • Da hab’ ich schon drauf gewartet.
  • I was already waiting for that.

  • Da hab’ ich noch nie von gehört.
  • I have never heard about that.

But position one is NOT a regular part of the sentence and kind of a free for all. What’s more interesting is the area after the verb.
As usual with word order, there are tendencies and defaults and special emphasis and we could spend a whole article discussing all the finer points of where da- goes and how it sounds. But as a wise man once said: finer points are not as cool as finer pints. So we’ll just pick the one aspect that most resembles a fixed rule and leave it at that :).
To sound idiomatic, da- should come AFTER all the pronouns, especially ich, du and es.

  • Gestern hat er da zum ersten Mal von gehört… natural
  • Gestern hat da er zum ersten Mal von gehört. … SUPER strong, almost unnatural emphasis on “er”
  • He heard about it for the first time yesterday.

  • Ich hab’ ihm da gestern von erzählt.
  • Ich hab’ da ihm gestern von erzählt…. sounds quite weird. (lit.: make myself an image of it”)
  • I told him about it yesterday.
  • Ich weiß, dass es da nicht doll von abhängt.
    … , dass da es …. SUPER NOPE! Sounds wrong.
  • I know that doesn’t depend so much on that.

If you’re interested in why this is the case then I’d suggest the mini series on word order (I’ll add a link below) but yeah… if you want to do a da-word split yourself, either put da in position 1 or right after all the pronouns like ich, mich, dir, ihm, es and so on.
Cool. And what about the other half?
And this is is pretty simple and coherent. The second part of a da-word split comes pretty much always right in front of the final verb slot. So it’s either in front of ge-forms or prefixes or other verb left overs or, if the final verb slot is empty, it is at the very end.

  • Ich wart’ da nicht drauf [empty].
  • I’m not gonna wait for that.

  • Ich habe da seit fast zwei Monaten jeden Tag für trainiert.
  • I’ve been training for that every day for almost two months.
  • “Die Katze von meinem Mitbewohner miaut jeden Morgen, wenn die Sonne aufgeht.”
    “Süß.”
    “Schon, ich wach da aber von auf.”
  • “My flatmate’s cat meows every morning when the sun comes up.”
    “Cute.”
    “Well yeah, but I wake up of it.

My god, “...da aber von auf”... this must be soooo confusing for a beginner :).
Anyway, so the second part comes right before the verb. And that actually makes sense. The second part is the preposition and the preposition completely depends on the verb. Warten auf, freuen über, reden von… the preposition is almost a part of the verb so it makes sense that this part comes so late.
And that actually brings us to the last, and maybe biggest question of all.

Da-word Split – Why the hell?

I already mentioned that German has a penchant to splitting thing… like… with the whole verb stuff and all. The native speakers’ brains are trained to this kind of “arch of suspense” and I think Germans subconsciously kind of dig that moment of resolution and closure at the end. So splitting the da-word is not all to crazy a concept to begin with.
But I think there’s more to it. Splitting the da-word fits very well with the underlying structure of German. That’s a huge topic and I don’t want to get into it too much so I’ll just put out there the following two aspects of word order:

  1. the verb as the most defining element is at the end
  2. pronouns and other reference words come very early on

So on the left side we have a bunch of stuff that has been part of the conversation already and on the right side we have the verb. What does that have to do with the da-words? Well, a da-word belongs to both worlds.

  • “Magst du dein neues Fahrrad?”
    “Ja, ich habe sogar davon geträumt.”
  • “Do you like your new bike?”
    “Yeah, I even dreamed of it.”

The da-part is a reference, so it belongs to the old stuff and its natural position would be somewhere on the left. And now… do you remember what the preposition belongs to? Exactly… the verb. The preposition is “supplied” by the verb and that’s why it’s natural position is on the far right (because that’s where the verbs dwell).
A conflict of interest :). The da-word gets pulled in opposite directions and breaking it up is actually kind of natural. Take this sentence

  • He told her about it yesterday at the company party.

He, she and it have been established in the conversation before and telling is the main action of the sentence.

  • Er hat ihr gestern bei der Firmenparty zum ersten Mal davon erzählt.
  • Er hat ihr davon gestern bei der Firmenparty zum ersten Mal erzählt.

Both are technically correct and idiomatic (though the second one does sound a bit stilted) but as you can see, the da-word forces a part out of its natural habitat, so to speak. With the da-word split the parts are where the natural forces pull them.

  • Er hat ihr da gestern bei der Firmenparty zum ersten Mal von erzählt.

Here’s another example.

  • “Wollen wir Sushi essen?”
    “Nee, da hab’ ich heut’ irgendwie keinen Appetit drauf [final slot empty].”
  • “Should we eat Sushi today?”
    “Nah, I don’t feel like eating that today.”

The verb is Appetit haben auf so with the drauf at the end, the preposition is in it’s natural position. And the da, being a reference, is in the beginning and makes for a nice connection to the stuff that has been said before.

All right.
Phew… so this was our look at one of the biggest fads in contemporary spoken German. The da-word split. And I have to say… for something that is purely colloquial this post wound up pretty darn intense.

German® – when even explaining improper language gives you a headache

Seriously though. I hope you got a good impression of the da-word split and have some idea how it works and maybe how it ties in with the deeper structure of German.
It’s really super common these days and I’m sure you’ll hear it sooner or later and if you manage to do it correctly, you’ll “up your native”… big time. Like.. your friends will there be incredibly impressed by :).
If you have any questions about any of this go ahead and we’ll clear it up in the comments. And also… I’m curious. If you’ve spent time in Germany, have you come across the da-word split? Was it confusing? Do you have tricks to understand it? And if you’re a native speaker of German, how is it for you in your region and dialect? Do you know it, is it common? Or were you like “What the hell is he talking about?”.
I’m really curious for your experiences so share them and in the comments.
I’m out for now. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

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