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I've just read the following sentence in a mathematics book:

Auf die Reihenfolge kommt es dabei gar nicht an, auch nicht darauf, ob einige Elemente vielleicht mehrfache aufgeführt sind.

My question is about the emphasized part. From context, I infer that it is some kind of way to say, "it doesn't matter". I think I understand the words "ankommen", "gar nicht", and "dabei" in isolation, but I don't get how they come together to form the expected meaning. It would also be very helpful to see some further examples of usage of this construction.

[I didn't know which tag would be appropriate here, please correct if necessary.]

  • For me, it's a bit unclear what you aim at, since you have already got the correct meaning, both of the individual parts as well as of their combination. – Björn Friedrich Sep 25 '18 at 16:50
  • @BjörnFriedrich, that's a fair point, but I still wouldn't be confident about using this expression myself. For example, would this be correct: "Es kommt dabei nicht an darauf, ob Du kommst, oder nicht." (It doesn't matter whether you come or not.) And in what situations such a formulation would be used as opposed to other more straightforward expressions. – GermanMathLearner Sep 25 '18 at 16:55
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    Regarding the etymology of drauf ankommen dass, I would like to refer you to @Christian Geiselmann's question: german.stackexchange.com/q/47177/25241. – Björn Friedrich Sep 26 '18 at 8:41
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Individual parts:

  • dabei → in doing so / in that
  • gar nicht → simply not / not at all
  • darauf ankommen → to depend (on that) / to matter
  • auf etwas ankommen → to depend on something

Combinations:

  • Dabei kommt es darauf gar nicht an. → In doing so, it simply doesn't matter.
  • Dabei kommt es auf die Reihenfolge gar nicht an. → In that, the order doesn't matter at all.

These are only examples; there are various other possibilities. For example, I would translate the last sentence simply as

This doesn't depend on the order at all.

The word this already refers to what's been said before, which is why the word-by-word translation (dabei → in doing so) is not needed.

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    But could you, Björn, explain the genesis of this expression? GermanMathLearner is right that this is a puzzlingly complex idiom, and it is not clear how its constituents started to mean, when combined, what they mean when combined... Earliest citation of "drauf ankommen" in German literature? – Christian Geiselmann Sep 25 '18 at 21:15
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The basic phrase would be

Es kommt nicht auf [die Reihenfolge] an,

which as you rightly guessed means that the order doesn't matter, or more literally, that (whatever is talked about) is not dependent on it (es kommt auf X an describes that there is some kind of choice possible with respect to X, on which some situation depends).

Now, both dabei and gar are adverbs modifying this phrase. The gar in general makes the negation stronger, or more total -- "it doesn't depend on the order at all" would be a good literal translation. However, in a case like this, it has more pragmatic function; I would say that could also indicate something like "contrary to what one might expect".

The dabei is a so-called Pronominaladverb. It consists on a demonstrative da "here, there", and the pronoun bei, which on its own means "at", and is used anaphorically, relating to a topic (proabably a mathematical concept) introduced right before. This is not the other meaning of dabei "present", but should be interpreted as something like a relative "concerning this, ..." or perhaps, "for that".

So:

For that, the order doesn't matter at all, and neither does...

We might also say that in combination with the negation, the dabei has an adverserial aspect:

The order doesn't matter at all, though, and neither does...

But in maths, dabei is usually used to add more specific information the topic before, such as

[x >= y wenn P gilt;] dabei ist x = y genau dann, wenn...

  • @BjörnFriedrich Good point, thanks. I was mislead to quickly, then... – phipsgabler Sep 25 '18 at 18:03

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