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I'm trying to understand the following sentence:

Freilich verstanden sie sich auf ihre Weise darauf, so wie Blutegel sich aufs Blut verstehen, und auf ihre Weise handelten sie danach

I understand bits of it -- my best attempt is

Of course they were experts in its way, just as leeches are experts in blood, and they acted

But a literal translation would really help me out. In particular, I don't understand the role of 'darauf' and 'danach' in the sentence.

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your rough understanding of the sentence (which is an admittedly obscure one -- where did you find this? I'm curious :) ) goes in the right direction.

The translation would go something like

Naturally they knew all about it* in their own way, just like leeches know all about blood, and acted on it [=their understanding/knowledge]

*) the object of the first main clause is not mentioned in this excerpt; it is to be taken from the context and was probably mentioned in one of the previous sentences

As for the roles of "darauf" and "danach" in this case: they are both part of the phrasal verbs "sich auf etw. verstehen" and "nach etw. handeln" where the noun or pronoun of the object (marked by "etw[as]" in the dictionary forms) gets pulled into the proposition, turning "auf" into "darauf" and "nach" into "danach".

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This is very helpful! It's from 'Momo' by Michael Ende –  Neil D Dec 8 '13 at 17:14
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Literal translation:

Freilich = naturally, of course

sich auf etwas verstehen = to be an expert in sth / to know well about sth

sie = they

darauf = cannot be translated literally in general. It's a concoction of the preposition auf and the pronoun es/das. As the preposition is part of the verb, the literal translation depends on the translation of the verb. The pronoun would be translated as it or even left out.

auf ihre Weise = in their own way

so wie = just like / like / as

Blut = blood

und = and

handeln = to act

danach = accordingly

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It was the 'auf ihre Weise' that was throwing me off - now that you've explained that it all clicked into place. Thanks! –  Neil D Dec 8 '13 at 17:16
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