The phrase

Er ist da

for “He’s in town” is obviously surprising for English speakers. Can one likewise ask

Gibt’s einen Arzt da?

if one wants to know “is there a Doctor in town?” Or if not, in what kind of contexts (if any) might one ask “Gibt’s X da?”, instead of “Gibt’s X hier?”

  • 2
    For me, da represents a previously established place. Er ist da would not mean he's in town unless town has been established in the conversation leading up to the sentence as the place talked about-or implicitly can be taken as spacial context. The same is true for the generalization. Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 6:31
  • The generalization is wrong. Er ist da. doesn't correspond to the pattern Gibt's X da? because questions have a different word order. Ist er da? would be the correct question.
    – Wolf
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 8:01
  • 1
    Your question is unclear: Are you asking for the difference of da and hier or for the translation of in town or the translation of Er ist da. Can you please clarify your question?
    – Wolf
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 8:13
  • 2
    @Wolf, I read it thus: In German you say "Er is da" where an English speaker would say "He's here (in town)". So can you transfer this to questions, asking "Gibt es ... da?" instead of "Gibt es ... hier?". Not really ambiguous for me. Clarification nevertheless appreciated.
    – Stephie
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 8:17
  • 1
    Yes, I got it meanwhile. Sometimes hier and da can be confusing native speakers as well ;-)
    – Wolf
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 15:09

4 Answers 4


It’s all a question of perspective:

If you ask

Gibt es X hier?

you are yourself in the location denoted by here — e.g. in a certain town, in a shopping center, an office, … What exactly is here is clear because you and your conversation partner are at the place.

If, on the other hand, you ask

Gibt es X da?

you might be talking about the same location, but without being in that place yourself. Unlike in the first example, the place you are talking about must be clear to all participants, e.g. having been mentioned before.

Note that this is not an ultra-strict rule, in colloquial language in some regions, the latter phrasing may be used in the place of the former — but never the other way around.

A note about

Er is da.

It may be a description of a prevoisly mentioned place – as in the examples above, but it may also be a fixed phrase meaning

He has arrived.

Again, this need not refer to in town, but could also be at the office, in the swimming pool, basically any place the speaker mentioned previously or — more implicitly — speaker and listener are at themselves. For a German speaker, both meanings are closely linked, based on the logical assumption that a person (or any other moving object like a train) doesn’t stay in the same place all the time.

  • 4
    Now I'm a little confused. Gibt es hier X? and Gibt es X hier? seem both to be valid German questions, but the first word order looked much more common to me. Maybe I have to drink a cup of coffee first. (I revoke my first comment)
    – Wolf
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 8:30
  • 1
    There is an important difference in the meaning and usage of »da« (and »dort«) In Austrian German and German German: In Austrian German »da« is a synonym of »hier« (speakers location), and »dort« can be any place except »da/hier«. In German German »da« and »dort« are synonymes that can mean any place, including the speakers location. »Da drüben« is only valid in German German, not in Austrian German. Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 9:51
  • So is there an unambiguous, idiomatic way to say "in town" in German without context? I couldn't find any on LEO
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 15:22
  • German German also has this ambiguity. Remember Earl Sinclairs catch phrase? "Bin da! Wer noch?"
    – bot47
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 19:55

There are three aspects that are important for answering this question:

  1. There is another word beside »hier« and »da« that needs attention: »dort«.
  2. Word-order.
  3. Usage of omissions.

In reverse order:

Bad style usage of an ommission
»Gibt’s« is colloquial German that can be used when speaking German. But it's usage in written texts is limited. In contrast to English it's bad style to write words like »gibt’s« in German. Exceptions, where it is acceptable to use omissions, are quoting oral speach, poems, or when the context prepares the reader for colloquial usage of German. But keep in mind, that usage of omissions in written German is only acceptable style in such exception.

bad style --> good style
Gibt’s das? --> Gibt es das?
So 'n Blödsinn! --> So ein Blödsinn.
Sie saß auf'm Tisch. --> Sie saß auf dem Tisch.
Wie du's haben willst. --> Wie du es haben willst.

word order
German word order is flexible, but this does not mean, that any word order is correct.

Gibt es einen Arzt da? = critical word order (see below for details).
Gibt es da einen Arzt? = correct word order.

This is a question, which means that is has to start with the predicate, which is the verb »gibt«, a flexion of »geben«. With any other subject it would mean »to give«, but when the subject is »es« it goes not mean »it gives« but »there is«.
The other elements of this sentence tell you where something is (the locative adverb »da«) and what it is, that is there (the accusative object »einen Arzt«)

The normal place for an adverb is before an accusative object, or behind an dative object. Here we have an accusative object, so the adverb must be placed before it. But this will be overruled if the accusative object is a pronoun. An adverb must always come after a pronoun, even if it is an accusative object.

  1. Es gibt da einen Arzt. correct (adverb before accusative object)
  2. Es gibt einen Arzt da. see below
  3. Es gibt da ihn. wrong (»ihn« is a pronoun which can't stand behind the adverb)
  4. Es gibt ihn da. correct (pronoun before adverb)

About (2):
In most cases this is not good style. But you can use this word order to emphasis the adverb »da«. You can also use this word order in a Question:

Gibt es da einen Arzt? - Focus is on the doctor. You need a doctor, and want to know if there is any.
Gibt es einen Arzt da? - Focus is in the place. You want to know if a doctor is here. (You don't want to know if there is a doctor in the neighbor village.)

da, dort, hier

»Hier« is the speakers place. This is the location where the speaker stands (sits, lays, ...) when he says what he says. This is true in all three standard variations of German.

In Austrian German: Same as »hier« (as long as we are speaking of locative adverbs). When you talk with an Austrian guy and he says »da« he means the place where he is.
In German German: »Da« can be any place. Often it is the speakers location, but very often also any other local focus of speach.
(Sorry, I'm not sure about the meaning of »da« in Swiss German. I guess it is like in Austrian German.)

In Austrian German: The local focus of speach (the place you are speaking of) as long as it is not the speakers own location.
In German German: A synonym for »da« (when used as locative adverb).

But there is a special usage of the locative adverb »da« where it can't be replaced by »dort«:

At last, the bus is here! (It just arrived)
Der Bus ist endlich da!

The word »da« can also be a temporal adverb (»Hie und da esse ich etwas zu viel«) or a conjunction (»Ich konnte nicht arbeiten, da ich krank war). In those functions it can't be replaces by »dort« or »hier«.

  • So Austrian German speakers don't use hier at all? I thought I heard it somewhat often in Burgenland, but maybe that was because people were speaking Hochdeutsch for my sake.
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 15:13
  • I didn't even mention dort because its meaning has never seemed ambiguous to me, but I'm glad to know about the the Austrian differences.
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 15:17
  • @Andy: Which of my sentences do you interpret as »Austrian German speakers don't use ›hier‹ at all«? And what do you think did I mean with »Same as ›hier‹«? To make it clear: In Austrian German »da« and »hier« are synonyms, and »dort« is an antonym to both of them. In German German »da« and »dort« are synonyms, and »hier« denotes a special place, that also can be meant by »da« and »dort«. Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 20:39
  • sorry, I didn't interpret what you said that way, I should have asked "Do Austrian German speakers use hier at all?" :)
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 23:55
  • Though I've seen people say that in German German, dort is usually considered farther away than da. You're saying they have exactly the same meaning in German German?
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 23:56

As others have mentioned, hier, da and dort are used differently in different parts of the German dialect continuum. I present data collected as part of the project Atlas der deutschen Alltagssprache:

First, let’s take a look at the phrase ‘the air is stale in here’ when the speaker is in the room:

hier drin

Most of Germany prefers hier drin(ne(n)) while Austria and Bavaria prefer da herinnen and Switzerland prefers da inne. First lesson: da is not always there. If you’re not in the room, the same sentence is made the following way:

da drin

You can see that now everybody agrees on da. (Data including interpretation in German can be found on the original site.)

Similarly, when told to come here, there is again a clear distinction between hier and da forms (the occasional form omitting both). Da is found a lot further North in this question, and Bavarian is exceptional because it uses a different verb.

hier her

When not talking about right here but about this town, the picture is clearer with the North using hier and the South including Austria and Switzerland using da (although hier is heard in both).

hier in die Stadt

Original data and interpretation can once again be found on the Atlas der deutschen Alltagssprache.

Finally, one can consider cases in which one would use there in English. E.g. ‘can you see the house over there?’ Interestingly, all across Germany and Austria da seems to be the predominant variant, while only Switzerland predominantly uses a variant of dort. However, dort is found everywhere as a second variant (so it is likely understood everywhere).

das Haus da

Concerning a person sitting on the opposite side of a table, again da is prevalent save Switzerland and, interestingly, Saxonia/Eastern Germany.

bei dir da

And, finally, concerning cities that are far away, such as New York. Da is common in the West, far North and South (-East) of Germany, dort in Austria, Switzerland, the South-West and Saxonia and both everywhere else.

dort in New York

Again, the data including interpretation can be found on the website of the Atlas der deutschen Alltagssprache.

Any clarities remaining?

A note on my use of terms here: Whenever I say Switzerland that should implicitly include Liechtenstein and most of Vorarlberg, whenever I say Austria that should include South Tyrol and Western Germany is meant to implicitly include East Belgium and Luxemburg (although the latter could also be part of the South-West). Where applicable, Alsace and Lorrain will also be grouped with the South-West. This is because the respective standards only mildly deviate from the neighbouring German/Swiss/Austrian standards.

  • 1
    Impressive! What you didn't address is da/anwesend and da/angekommen I think this is important for this question. Maybe The Atlas has to say something about it? (finally there is also the meaning of da in Ich bin für dich da.)
    – Wolf
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 15:14
  • @Wolf I think I found every da or hier the Atlas has, unfortunately =C
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 15:16

Indeed in some combinations da almost becomes a part of the verb and looses its meaning of dort. You gave the example da sein (be present, also compare Dasein, existence) or da haben (have in stock or similar). The expression es gibt is already complete, so no such thing happens.

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