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I asked a German friend of mine if da ist and da sind are valid constructions for saying there is/are, and she confirmed my suspicion, though she was unable to explain the difference between those constructions and es gibt construction.

My assumption is that da ist/sind represents something actually being in a certain place, where as es gibt represents something just being … there.

Is this correct? If not, what, if there is one, is the difference?

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up vote 16 down vote accepted

It depends on whether you refer to the abstract concept of possible existence, or the actual presence of something.

Abstract: English: "There are many way to express your feelings." German: "Es gibt viele Wege, Deine Gefühle auszudrücken."

Actual: English: "There is money on the table over there." German: "Da liegt Geld auf dem Tisch". You would not say "Dort gibt es Geld auf dem Tisch.". (Well, you could, but you would be saying something slightly different: That there is money on the table waiting to be picked up for free, English: "Free money on the table, yeayh!".)

So in English, the pure existence of something is described by "There is...", while in German, the term would be "Es gibt...". It is a seemingly subtle, but important difference that can lead to funny misconceptions.

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