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I don't completely understand the da- and wo- compound words. I have an idea of what they are and what they do but I'm not completely sure how they work and how to use them.

If you don't know what I mean I'm talking about the words like daher, dahin, davon, daraus, etc. Here are some examples taken from an article in the Spiegel App.

"Das Problem ist der Begriff Karriere und alles, was damit verbunden ist."

Seeing damit in this sentence, I'm thinking that it means 'with that'. Another sentence from the same article.

"Darauf haben Frauen keine Lust."

Darauf seems to mean something akin to 'about that' or 'for that'. Again, I'm just guessing based on the context.

I'm not going to post all the da- words (and I haven't found any wo- words in this article) but I hope you get what I'm asking.

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@falkb: I'm a she ;_; – CreeperNation Oct 14 '13 at 1:18
In case it helps: Many of these words have English cognates that start with there/where instead of da/wo and end with the cognates of the respective prepositions. E.g. therein is the cognate of darin and wherefrom of wovon. Of course the precise use of these words has diverged a bit. – Hans Adler Apr 17 at 19:25

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

In general you use da- compounds to talk about something you've already mentioned instead of using the complete noun or using prep + es. That's why "wir sprechen über es" has <2000 Google hits while "wir sprechen darüber" has >200,000.

Heute benötigt ihr dieses Buch. Wir sprechen darüber.

Ich kann das Handy nicht finden. Ich suche danach.

In these sentences you already know the people need that book and I can't find my keys, so instead of completely restating the noun you can refer to it with a da- compound.

Wo- compounds are a bit different from da- compounds. You use them where in English you'd say "What/where .... [prep] (Where are you coming from, What's that made of).

Wofür ist das denn? Ich brauche es, um mein Handy zu finden.

Worüber sprecht ihr? Übers neue Buch.

Imagine you're saying "What for is that?" or "What about are you all talking", a word order some people use in English in formal contexts, but you put the question word and preposition into one word.


  1. Da-/Wo- compounds cannot be used for people or animals
  2. Da-/Wo- compounds cannot be used for außer, ohne, seit, gegenüber, uncommon prepositions (ab, dank, entgegen etc.) or any genitive prepositions (that leaves bei, nach, mit, für, von, zu, unter, aus, an, in, auf and über)
  3. If you add a compound before a preposition that starts with a vowel you need to put an r as in daRüber, woRan etc.

Resources that helped me to learn da-/wo- compounds:

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Thank you @thekeyofgb. It's a bit clearer but I think I need to just read and listen more to be able to fully understand. Extra thanks for the link to to the LSA site :) – CreeperNation Oct 15 '13 at 2:48

CreeperNation, thank you for that delightful brain teaser.

There's a memory aid to illustrate the difference:

Womit? Damit! (What with? With that!)

As a first approximation, you can read da- as that-, and wo- as what-/where-.

I can't help thinking of the difference in terms of programming language constructs. Both prefixes serve as a backreference to something already established or implied by context. The da- prefix corresponds to a pointer to an object, the wo- prefix is an interrogative on top of that, like calling a function method of a pointed-to object. I hope this makes some kind of sense... (I wonder if it would still make sense to me if I'd re-read in a few weeks)

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I'm afraid I didn't fully understand the programming example...I mean I know a little bit (a very little bit) about programming but not too much. Although I like the 'womit, damit' aid :D – CreeperNation Oct 15 '13 at 2:47

Additionally to the other usages explained in @thekeyofgbs answer, the wo- compunds can also be used to replace the relative pronoun in sentences.

Das Buch, über das wir heute sprechen = Das Buch, worüber wir heute sprechen

Das Handy, nach dem ich suche = Das Handy, wonach ich suche

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@Jan Corrected. – Soana Apr 18 at 17:07

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