What do darum, daran, davon, danach and all those mean?

Hello everyone,

and welcome to another part of the “German-is-easy learn German online course “… a course just as great as its title is stupid and long. So why not abbreviate it? Well that doesn’t really help … “Gielgoc” … sounds like a Superman-villain. Gielgoc, the mighty, is severely hit by the man of steel but ohhhh, oh noooo, Gielgoc is using his stare of doom, a concentrated … watch it… grammar ray forcing superman to wonder which case to use … guahhahahhahahahahahaaa…. oh what a way to start a post.
Anyway… first let me say, sorry that I haven’t been posting very regularly recently. I have moved into a new flat and my job is getting the best of me at the moment. And then there is this summer here right now and then there is this soccer here too… and all things keep me from writing as much as I had wanted to.

But today we will have a look at something that has bothered generations of learners. No one has ever put it into words more beautifully than a certain young guy who was learning German as a second language 2 centuries ago.

Darum, davor, damit
what’s with all that … uhm… stuff

It may be surprising to hear that this very young man who scratched those words into his wooden desk in despair grew up to be one of the most famous poets in the galaxy… Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
What?… What do you mean ‘he was a native’? … Was he? … oh really … oh … well… uh… well uh… (god this is sooo embarrassing)…
So… uh,… well… today we will talk about one of the most fierce gangsta crews in German language, chillin, hangin’ out on da corner in every other sentence hustling info… it’s “da wordz” maaaan.

daran, darauf, damit, dadurch, danach, dazu, etc

Those da-words seem to be in every other German sentence, and they also seem really hard to translate sometimes.  They actually are a very essential part of German. You cannot talk fluently without them, and you do need to fully master them to pass any higher German language test. So today we will talk about what they are, what they mean and why and when you need them and why they actually SAVE work… yes they do.

And as usual, if a seemingly complicated issue has to be explained, it is best to lay out some context first. So let’s look at the bigger picture… language itself.  So zoom out zoom out zoom out zoom out… … … …

Of stuff and stand-ins or… a little background won’t hurt

When we say a sentence, what is essentially in there is an action represented by a verb or a group of verbs and a bunch of stuff… persons, things, thoughts, ideas, places… basically stuff… (I’ll just call it stuff but persons/people are included, too). Other than that, there are some function words that link parts to one another just like … joints, but that is it. Here is a rather random sentence with the parts in their respective colors.

  • Marc didn’t get a pony for Christmas because he wanted it too much.

Poor Marc.
So… now if we look at the stuff in that sentence we see that stuff can be spoken of in different ways. One is to “say” the stuff… as in say the word that stands for the stuff in speech. I will use the same colors, but there is no consistent meaning to ’em… just take ’em for each example individually… same color stands for same part now.

  • Marc drinks a hot coffee at that coffee shop.

The other way is to replace it by a stand-in. I’ll use the same sentence here and just replace everything with the respective pronoun/ adverb.

  • He drinks it there.

Stand-ins (pronouns and adverbs) replace stuff that has been said before or will be said soon after. You can talk without stand-ins but your language will sound very very very very… very very repetitive and boring.

  • Jane sees a trailer for a new romantic comedy with George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston and decides to go see it.

Already boring enough but now check it out without stand-ins.

  • Jane sees a trailer for a new romantic comedy with George Clooney and  Jeniffer Aniston and decides to go see the new romantic comedy with George Cloo… bluh bluh bluh… you get the idea.

So… stand-ins are really useful and do, thus exist in most languages world wide.

Now, stuff, be it directly or as a stand-in, can be put into a sentence in different ways… some stuff is just sort of in there, while other stuff has to be connected to the sentence in some way to make sense. Again, the step by step examples. First just plain stuff:

  • Jane brings her daughter upstairs.

Except for the verb brings we have just one stuff after another here: Jane, her daughter, upstairs. Now an example, where stuff is connected.

  • Jane drives with her car to the mall.

The stuff here is Jane, her car and the mall. But here we have connectors… in this case the prepositions with and to. Does it make sense without ’em?

  • Jane drives her car the mall.

Not really… so sometimes the structure requires you to put a preposition in front of your … stuff.
If stuff is represented by a stand-in, there isn’t really a difference as far as the connection is concerned. Here is an example.

  • Maria has a crush on Thomas. She is dreaming of him every night.

There you go… everything clear so far? Cool.
So that was the very big picture – language in general. Now lets zoom back in and look at a part… the German language.

Stuff and stand-ins in German

The explanations up to this point do hold for pretty much any language… so in German it is not any different. Let’s return to the last example we had.

  • Maria has a crush on Thomas. She is dreaming of him every night.
  • Maria hat sich in Thomas verguckt. Sie träumt jede Nacht von ihm.

The German stand-in for Thomas here is the pronoun ihm. Why is it ihm and not ihn or er? Because the connector is von and von wants everything after itself to dress up as dative case.

Now, the last example was dealing with a person. Now let’s do the same with a thing and see what happens.

  • I have a new bike and I like to ride around with it.

Here, a thing is being replaced by a stand-in: the bike – it. Now let’s translate that to German. With means mit and it means es… that is how many people in German 101 see it at least. So with it should be mit es. Unfortunately German has cases and the preposition mit just so happens to be ALWAYS followed by case 3 (dative). The dative dress for es is ihm. So it should be mit ihm right?

  • Ich habe ein neues Fahrrad und ich fahre gern mit ihm rum.

Logically it should be mit ihm, yes… but logic, shmogic. We are talking German here and German does it differently… instead of saying mit ihm it says:

damit

Damn it.

Meaning of the da-words

So that is it. That is the mystery about the da-words. It is just the twisted illogical way of German to say “with it”, “from it”, “for it” and so on.
When you want to replace things that are connected by a preposition you say da-and then the preposition.
The first column of the following examples is how it would be from an English native perspective, the second one uses the correct German cases based on the preposition but the third column is the actual correct German form.

  • mit “es”   – (mit ihm, ihr)  – damit
  • für “es”  – (für es, ihn, sie) – dafür

If this your preposition starts with a vowel, you have to add an r, too as a joint.

  • über “es” – (über es,ihn, sie) – darüber (instead of daüber)
  • auf “es” – (auf es, ihn, sie) – darauf (instead of daauf)

I want to point out again that this whole da-thing is only done when you talk about things… like a table, a dream or a place. If you talk about a living being like a dog or a cat you wouldn’t use it. Those are treated like persons. But let’s do some examples and compare sentences with persons and things. First, female – die Party.

  • I have my book from her (Maria).
  • Ich habe mein Buch von ihr (Maria).
  • I am dreaming of it (the party).
  • Ich träume von ihr (der Party ) — WRONG
  • Ich träume davon.

And the next one is masculine – der Termin.

  • I am thinking of him (my grandpa).
  • Ich denke an ihn (meinen Opa).
  • I am thinking of it (my appointment).
  • Ich denke an ihn (meinen Termin). — WRONG
  • Ich denke daran.

And… you guessed it… one with a German neuter – das Festival.

  • I am looking forward to it (the  festival).
  • Ich freue mich auf das/es (das Festival). — WRONG…. actually superwrong
  • Ich freue mich darauf.

And just for completion one with an animal – die Katze.

  • I play with it (the cat).
  • Ich spiele mit ihr (der Katze). — correct.
  • Ich spiele damit. —- WRONG

So here, although we are not talking about a person, we still use the “logical” version because a cat is not a thing… not because cat is female in German… it is solely because a cat is really not a thing in the German language. And what about a tree? Well, that depends on how you see the tree… both ways are possible, they just differ in attitude and philosophy.

What’s great about da-words

There is one dream, most students of German share, and that is a German in which case and Gender don’t matter… a dream never to be true, or is it????

  • Freust du dich auf die Party?
    Ja, ich freue mich darauf.
  • Are you looking forward to the party?
    Yes, I am looking forward to it.
  • Tanzt Maria auf dem Tisch?
    Ja, sie tanzt darauf.
  • Does Maria dance on the table?
    Yes, she dances on it. (sounds contrived but all it must do is show one thing so please ignore the content :)
  • Bereitest du dich auf das Interview vor?
    Nein, ich bereite mich nicht darauf vor.
  • Are you preparing for the interview?
    No, I am not preparing myself for it.

In the examples we have das Interview, die Party and der Tisch and we have both cases, dative (dem Tisch) and accusative (das Interview, die Party)… but the stand-in in all sentences, the word that we have to use to replace the object we are talking about is always the same… darauf. All those words, damit danach, dadurch, darum, make the dream of a German without gender and case come to life… Neither case nor gender do matter for the da-words… they are always the same. So when you talk and you come to a point where you have to say something like “on it”, “to it”, “from it”, “with it” etc. you do not need to know the German gender of it… just say darum, daran, damit, davon or whatever the preposition may be, and you will be correct… 100% top notch, native speaker correct.
Now, who would have thought that something so cool can come from something that is seemingly sooo confusing. But where does the bad reputation of the da-words come from?

What’s … well …not so great about da-words

One reason, why da-words give learners of German a hard time is the simple fact that you have to change the order of things… instead of saying “with it” you have to think and say “it-with” if you will. If you are not used to it, you will talk and then maybe say “with” still wondering what case needs to follow, but it is already too late… you just can’t get it right anymore and you would have had to have used a da-word.
But there is another issue about the da-words, which I think is the main reason why so many find these words impossible to comprehend, and this reason is the rather stiff German grammar.
Let’s take the verb to dream. To dream can be used as a standalone word.

  • I am dreaming.

But it can also have an object.

  • I am dreaming of a care-bear.

As you can see the object, the cute cuddly little care-bear is connected by a preposition here. It would not be correct to say

  • I am dreaming care-bear.

So… if your action of dreaming has an object, you will use a preposition in English (of or about).
The German verb for dream, träumen, has the very same characteristics. You can just dream, or dream of something.
Now, dreaming of something can literally mean dream of a thing… like a care-bear. You can also dream of something, that cannot be expressed as one noun. You dream of something happening.

  • I am dreaming, that I never have to brush my teeth again, because they have become self-cleaning.

So if you dream of an action, you will express that using a that-sentence. And here is the point where German is a bit stiff. If you dream of something, you have to have an object in your sentence…. and a sentence, a that-sentence is no such object… a table can be an object, a vacation can be an object, but a sentence like “that the bus comes.” cannot. And this is where the da-words step in. They are used as a sort of empty box, that is put into the main sentence just for the sake of having something solid there.

  • Mark träumt von einem sprechenden Delphin.
    Mark is dreaming of a speaking of a dolphin.
  • Mark träumt davon, Präsident zu werden.
    Mark is dreaming of becoming president.
  • Maria wartet auf den Bus.
    Maria is waiting for the bus.
  • Maria wartet darauf, dass der Bus kommt.
    Maria is waiting for the bus to come.

The green part is a dream that involves an action… a new verb. The bus comes, and Mark becomes. A new verb in German will be a new sentence…maybe a minor sentence that can’t stand for itself, but a sentence still. It will be separated by a comma and it is not really part of the main sentence… at least it is not an object therein … therein… hmmm… that does look an awful lot like darin, now does it :).
Anyway… we need an object there because Maria is not just waiting but waiting for something. German is stiff and wants an object then in the main sentence… so we put an empty sign there, that just says “of that”, pointing toward what we will say right after that.
These things are called Präpositionalobjekt, because they serve as an object and they are built using a preposition. You may want to remember the term if you intend to make one of the higher German language certificates… then you will have to have understood the da-words :).
This use of the da-words is kind of hard to get used to if your language doesn’t have those, because they don’t carry ANY meaning. They really mean nothing. They are just a sign pointing to what comes after, and it is just there, because German grammar wants it there. If you forget it, it won’t change any meaning… but you will sound very foreign, because Germans are just so used to their stand in object.
If you translate them to English, French, Italian or Spanish you will most likely just leave them away. The only information they do carry is the preposition, so if a verb works with different ones, the da-word tells you which it is.

  • Ich freue mich darauf, von dir zu hören.
  • I am looking forward to hearing from you.
  • Ich freue mich darüber, von dir zu hören.
  • I am happy to hear from you.

Here are some more examples.

  • Ich denke über meinen Bruder nach.
    I am thinking about my brother.
  • Ich denke darüber nach, meinen Job zu wechseln.
    I am thinking about changing jobs.
  • Ich bin sauer auf meinen Mitbewohner.
    I am angry at my flatmate.
  • Ich bin sauer darauf, dass mein Mitbewohner nie saubermacht.
    I am angry that my flatmate never cleans.

I hope you can see that the da-words really do not translate to anything. They just hang around there and represent. And I see we have a call here, Lionel from Argentina, welcome to the show.
          “Hey Emanuel wie geht es dich.”
Dir, it is … wie geht es dir, but thanks a lot :)… so Lionel… how was it so far. Did you understand everything.
          “I think I did… I might have to listen to it again online though, to fully absorb everything… it was really a lot of information today.”
Oh, I know… sorry, if it was to overwhelming… anyway… what can I do for you.
“Yeah, see, so we have  So… we have learned that the da-words are the equivalent of “to it”,”from it”, “with it” etc. We have also learned that they save you the trouble of worrying about gender or case and finally we have learned that they are sometimes just put into a sentence because the German grammar wants a solid object in the main sentence (before the comma).”
That was a pretty concise summary…
“Thank you, but my question is now, what about that da… I mean… what does it actually mean? Does it mean like er, ihm, ihn, es, ihr, sie, ihr, dem, den, das, der and all those? That seems pretty crazy to me….”

What does “da” actually mean

Well… thank you Lionel for bringing that up: I am sure, a lot of you guys out there were wondering the same.
Technically da seems to replace all those pronouns. But that is not the essence of that word… da replaces all those but it doesn’t technically mean ’em. And now think… what can you do in daily life if you want to refer to stuff without saying it? You simply …. point your finger.
Da is a very very very simple word to pronounce and it is one of the first utterances of babies… they point their finger at their mom and say “da, da, da…”.  And this best captures what this word is… it is just a verbal pointer … like there or that. And even adult German still use this infant way of referring to things in the world :). When it comes to speaking, Germans are all babies after all.
We can answer the question “Where is my key” by pointing to the table and saying “Da”. Da is a verbal pointing finger and it can point to pretty much anything in speech except living beings. So damit does not so much mean “with it” but “therewith”.

  • Das Portrait ist zwar nicht perfekt, aber ich bin zufrieden damit.
  • The portrait is not all perfect, but I am satisfied therewith. (lit.) (with it).
  • Im Kino kommen erst Trailer. Der Film kommt danach.
  • In the cinema, first come the trailers. The movie comes thereafter (lit.)(after that/those).
  • Meine Freundin will Sushi essen, aber ich bin dagegen.
  • My girlfriends wants to eat Sushi but I am there-against (lit.)(against that/it) 

Da points to the painting, the trailers or the Sushi-eating but it carries no indication of gender, number or case… if you are interested in those, you’d have to look at where da points. Da just points. That’s all.
It can point backward as in the example above, but it can also point forward… as it does when it is used for those pointless filler objects we have been talking about.

  • Ich bestehe darauf, dass du dich entschuldigst.
  • I am insisting (thereon), that you apologize.

Here the da points forward. There is nothing to point at before, after all. The thing it is pointing to has to come ASAP. You cannot point with your finger without having everyone looking there right away. So if you say da, and people do not know anything this could point to, yet they expect it to come right away in your speech. You said there, and now you have to give them something to look at or they will be very disappointed :).
So… did that answer your question Lionel?
“It actually did… that makes a lot of sense to me now. Kind of funny to think of a baby saying da da da all the time (laughs)… thanks a lot for clearing that up.”

You are welcome man. So … I think we are done for today… at least I hope so.
If you have ANY questions or find the explanations too long or too difficult please leave me a comment… I really will see to it and try to improve the parts that are unclear.
I also have to say sorry for the random use of colors. I did not write this post all at once (as I usually try to do) so I have no concise system for which colors to use. And I honestly have to say, that I hate proofreading… I will do it some day, but for now, I want to post this tinker so I am sorry for all the typos in here… anyway… I hope you liked it and
bis nächstes Mal.

for members :)

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Natalie
Natalie

and so when is it more appropriate to use ‘dort’ instead of ‘da’? I understand ‘dort’ to be a ‘there’ that is more further away from the speaker than da….

and thank you for such a clear concise explanation. Actually, english has some remnants of this … therein, thereby, thereafter, therefore… and so I read this post on the German da words, >thereby< understanding the concept a little more :)

JEAP
JEAP

What up, yo? this is DA best da-Wordz explanation I found on the net… true that!

Really, it’s been enlightening. I knew how some of them worked, but sentences like “Ich bin sauer darauf, dass mein Mitbewohner nie saubermacht.” were rather confusing.

BTW… the pic reminded me of the wire and all of them niggas

Keep it real, bro!

Pissed
Pissed

What an asshole you are. Why don’t you leave your “niggas” comments at home? Real black men don’t find it cute.

priyanka
priyanka

I liked it too….it was really very helpful and was explained in a friendly manner.
Good going….

gökhan
gökhan

Thank you man, it looks quite explanatory. What i understood?
1) When you have two verbs in a sentence you can bind them with a “darauf” at first sentence, because German do it in this way
2) You can use “da” words only for things not for humans or animals
3) Da is a verbal pointer, means “there”, so damit actually doesn’t mean “with it” rather than that means “there with”

gökhan
gökhan

I guess i got you but sure need a little practice ….. thanks a lot for your interest…

Briguy
Briguy

hey, great post as always.
Maybe you answered this question already, I don’t know, it was alot to read and my attention span ist nicht gut:)
but any way, I noticed that the for the anticipatory da- and wo compounds, you always use a word like dass, wenn, wer ect.
is this unnecessary, or can I get away with writing something like this:
Ich warte darauf, das Bus zu kommen, or dose it have to be
Ich warte darauf, dass das Bus kommt.

Thanks for all the great posts, you make an already interesting language even more interesting!

Pablo
Pablo

Hi!, that was THE BEST explanation I could find!, I´m learning Deutsch in The Goethe Institut, and I was fighting with this subject since last year. I couldn´t get it at all!. Thanks to you know I feel I understand it, and most important I now know how to use it. A big thanks from Argentina.

Laif
Laif

Firstly, thanks again for the lesson!

Secondly, how does one decide which preposition to use in some of these cases? For example, in the sentence “Ich bestehe darauf, dass du dich entschuldigst,” how did you decide to use “auf” in conjunction with “da” instead of another word? And how do you decide whether to add it to the sentence in the first place? I know you said it’s kind of added for some solidarity and acts as a pointer, but I’m a bit lost on the concept I guess.

Currently, I’m trying to write a letter to my penpal. I was trying to write that I heard Berlin is full of tourists, but I wasn’t sure which “da-” conjunction to use or whether to use it at all. My sentence was “Ich habe davon gehört, dass die Stadt sehr viele Touristen hat.” I feel as if “davon” doesn’t fit well, but I’m not sure.

Irina
Irina

Hi,
This is a great article with some great explination! Thank you very much for it. Though, i still have some things that are not clear to me.
I can understand that it is simple when you have verbs that ask for specific prepositions (like träumen von, warten auf, denken an… etc). You know what preposition to use.
In my language (I’m not a native English speaker) some of this verbs if i use them with the german preposition they sound really wird… so, i just learn them with the preposition that they are asking for.
Some situation, like when using the preposition that indicate a place are also easy: zwischen (dazwischen), unter (daunter)…:
Die Bäume sind schon groß. Dazwischen steht ein Hirsch. Ein Jäager versteckt sich mit seinem Gewehr. Damit will er den Hirsch erschießeb. (Dazwischen and Damit are quite easy to understand… between the trees and with the gun…)

But there are some situation that i can’t understand why they are using specific preposition. I have an example from the book that i’m learning from:
Hier steht ein Busch. Und darunter wachsen Pilze. Die Pilze sind rot und haben weiße Punkte. Daran kann man sehen, dass sie giftig sind. Davon kann man krank werden.
– Why are they using daran and davon in this situation? How should we translate this: because of this/it (of the white dots) you can see that they are poisonous? Because of this (because they are poisonous) you will get ill?
If we translate “an” we can see that it means: at; on; by; to
If we translate “von” we can see that it means: from, of, by

I don’t think is the situation where you don’t translate them because they are at the beginning of the sentence, not at the end of it…
Could you help me? I’m lost… :)
Thank you and I’m starting to read some other posts from your blog because theay are really great.
Irina

Anonymous
Anonymous

Fantastic explanations, thanks very much! These “da” words were a real headache, now I feel I’ve really learned something!

Natasa
Natasa

Hallo Emanuel,
I am your avid reader and Deutsch learner. Please keep up with great work!!
I have two questions:
1. Difference between “wozu” and “warum”?
2. When is your next run race?
Thanks,
Natasa

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thank you for a clear explanation.

finnlagun
finnlagun

This has been INCREDIBLY helpful. I’m now living in Austria and have been struggling with these words. Thanks for a clear, coherent and accessible introduction – now I feel it’s time for some practice & reinforcement!

Thanks again,
Finn

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nacho
nacho

God.. Everytime I read one of your posts I just want to cry but at the same time
I’m glad to find a page where I can have claer explanations about german.

Anonymous
Anonymous

It was just a perfectly perfect explanation. I really got it!!! Thanks^^

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi! Thanks for the great summary!

I was practicing some of these “da” constructions with my wife who is German. Though she was taught High German in school, she commonly speaks in her dialect which is “Alemannisch” (Black Forest region). She told me that some of these sound strange to her. Here’s an example:

“Ich freue mich darüber/darauf, von dir zu hören.” (above)
“Ich freue mich von dir zu hören” (my wife)

ie. sometimes she’ll skip the “da” words altogether when an action/verb is involved.

So my question is… are these rules considered strictly high German? Do some of the German dialects deal with them differently?

Thanks!
Greg

AnDrEw
AnDrEw

What about ” because of that ” , ” than that ” and such words , how to build such phrases ????

Sam
Sam

Hey Emanuel,
Really enjoy reading your blog to get the analytic breakdown of German grammar, and I have been recently in the process of integrating the knowledge from your posts to take my German to the next level.
I have a couple questions related to this area of German grammar. I’ve been experimenting with some new words and constructions.

1) Let’s say I’m taking my friend to a restaurant and get lost, so I say:
I was wrong about how to get to the restaurant.
Ich habe mich darin getäuscht, wie das Restaurant zu hinkommen.

2) Let’s say my laptop stops working suddenly:
I’m not sure what caused my laptop to stop working.
Ich bin nicht sicher, was hat meinen Laptop nicht mehr angehen verursacht.

3) I’m going to see a new movie
Ich freue mich auf den Film. (I am looking forward to the movie).
Ich freue mich darauf, der Film zu sehen. (I am looking forward to seeing the movie).

3) Let’s say I quit my white-collar job and will be starting work as a lumberjack this winter and growing out a beard:
I’ve really been looking forward to not having to shave at all this winter.
Ich habe mich mal wirklich darauf gefreut, mich überhaupt nicht dieser Winter zu rasieren.

I know the last example is complicated, but I’m trying to understand proper syntax when mal, reflexive pronouns and adverbs start piling up in a sentence.

So my main questions are;
Are these translations and the word placement right?
-Do clauses that begin with was, wie, warum etc. place the verb at the end like a suco?
-Is there a difference in the case of the word “Film” in example 3(i.e. den vs der)?

I’m sure more answers lie in your other blog posts, and I am really glad to have found your Word of the Day breakdowns!
Vielen dank,
Sam

Bruno
Bruno

Ich habe letztens ‘hierzu’ und ‘hiermit’ entdeckt (zB in “kannst du mir hiermit helfen?”). Könnte man ‘dazu’ und ‘damit’ in einem solchen Zusammenhang benutzen? Was ist dann der Unterschied zwischen ‘Hier’-Wörter und ‘Da’-Wörter?