When do you put a da-(preposition) phrase in an (independent?) clause preceeding a dependent clause? The website I’ve attached made it seem as if you put one of the phrases before every instance of a dependent clause-“dass” but I’ve seen many counterexamples. Is it when the main verb of the independent clause collocates with a preposition, that you use the “da-“ form?

More generally (and more importantly), what are the rules for “da-“ clauses?

Examples: Wir denken oft daran, nach Deutschland zu reisen. Ich glaube, dass die Umgebung es vielleicht merkt, bevor die Person es selbst einsieht.

Website: https://courses.dcs.wisc.edu/wp/readinggerman/category/12-da-compounds/

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    Where is the connection between "da-"-word and "dass"?
    – IQV
    Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 7:31

2 Answers 2


The thing to remember about da- and subclauses is that German does not have a construction that is well-established in English: it cannot have a clause governed by a preposition. The unremarkable sentence

I often think of what she said.

cannot be recreated in German. Our prepositions takes nouns or substituting pronouns - never verbs.

The closest possible equivalent is a relative clause, and relative clauses have to refer back to something. This is where the da- comes in. Its two functions are (1) to provide something that that preposition can govern: "daran" == "an das". (2) to mark what it is that the relative clause refers back to: "daran, was" == "an das, was". Hence,

Ich denke oft daran, was sie sagte.

As often, once you actually parse how this construction works you start to realize that it's remarkably unintuitive compared with the streamlined English version. But that's the way the language developed up to now. In this particular corner, even native speakers will admit that English simply has the better solution and that's that.

(Surprisingly, I can detect no hint of this changing any time soon either. Modern German in general is undergoing great changes, almost always in the direction of resembling English more closely, but apparently not in this corner.)

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    I think the reason is the very different word order approach in German and English. German word order is all about nested parantheses while English word order is about listing things in a certain order. For the parantheses idea, you need marker words which open a new paranthese level, and daran and friends certainly are.
    – Janka
    Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 8:42

The hier- and da- adverbs are shortcuts for demonstrative expressions. Some verbs require a prepositional object, some may or may not command one.

Wir denken oft.

We often think.

Wir denken oft an diese Sache.

We often think about that thing.

Wir denken oft daran.

We often think about that.

What you may find odd is the requirement to use that demonstrative expression even if the real object —the object or infinitive clause— follows immediately.

Wir denken oft daran, dass wir nach Deutschland reisen.

Wir denken oft daran, nach Deutschland zu reisen.

We often think about going to Germany.

This requirement arises because German speakers tend to avoid the following expression —at least in writing—, which closely resembles the English one:

Wir denken oft ans Reisen nach Deutschland.

People prefer the infinitive clause even in speech over the English-like construction with a substantivized verb. The reason is the missing opportunity to add further explanations:

Wir denken oft daran, nächsten Sommer nach Deutschland zu reisen.

Wir denken oft ans Reisen nächsten Sommer nach Deutschland.

The latter sentence is broken beyond repair while the former is excellent.

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