There are so many words like davon, damit… starting with “da-” in German. Thus, it is a complex matter but in this post I’m going to explain their general use.
Präpositionalpronomen (aka Präpositionaladverb)
The most common use of words starting with “da-” is pronominal. Consequently, they act as pronouns that refer to something mentioned before together with a preposition (hence the name “prepositional pronouns”).
In order to understand the exact meaning of a “da-word”, we need to follow these steps:
- Look for the verb: (1) sprechen, (2) erzählen (3) lernen.
- Identify the preposition: (1) über, (2) von, (3) mit (if the preposition starts with a vowel, we have to put an -r- in the middle: da-r-über).
- Combine them: (1) sprechen über, (2) erzählen von, (3) lernen mit.
- In most cases, the resulting combination is a verb with a fixed preposition: (1) sprechen über (+ Akkusativ) = talk about, (2) erzählen von (+ Dativ) = tell (you can look them up in this table).
- If the verb is not in the table (so maybe it’s not a verb with a fixed preposition), then it’s simply a preposition that makes sense with the verb: (3) Ich lerne mit einem Buch (I study with a book).
- da(r)- means always “this” (referring to something mentioned in the preceding sentence or question. The curious thing in German is that the word order is reverse (da+für = *”this for” → for this). We never say literally “for this” → *”für das” in German, we always say dafür.
Präpositionalpronomen with Wechselpräpositionen
Do you remember the 9 two-way prepositions? They are the ones that can take either accusative (when expressing locomotion: Wohin?) or dative (when expressing position: Wo?).
Here they are: über, auf, unter, vor, hinter, neben, zwischen, in, an.
Very often we use a prepositional pronoun with them. In this case, da(r)– refers always to the place (= object) where something is put, that has been mentioned in the preceding sentence or question.
I know, in many languages it’s not necessary to use a pronoun for the place/object mentioned. You just say “there” or “encima” (spanish: above).
However in German we have to be more specific. You have to distinguish between:
- a position: da
- a targeted motion/movement: dahin
Other uses and meanings
Apart from the more frequent meanings explained above, there are some other special words that look like prepositional pronouns but they are not pronouns. They are adverbs or conjunctions and have a completely different use and meaning.
Here are some of the most important ones:
- darum is an adverb meaning “that’s why / thus / so (answering to the question: why?)”.
- danach is a temporal adverb meaning “then / thereafter / afterwards / later”.
- damit is a conjunction meaning “so (that) (answering to the question: to what end?)”.
- dabei has many different meanings. You can read them in this specific post about dabei.
- daher can mean “from there” or “thus / so / hence”.
- dahin is a local adverb meaning “(to) there, to the mentioned place”. It always expresses a targeted motion/movement.
In this table you can see a summary of all the meanings explained in this post: