A German text I am reading about the Middle Ages has these sentences:

Es gab eine klare Hierarchie. Ganz oben stand der König, die Herzöge und Grafen. Darunter standen die Mönche und Ritter.

Is darunter correct here or should it not be "Unter ihnen"? I thought that da-words only stand in for inanimate objects (https://yourdailygerman.com/da-words-meaning-german/).

  • 1
    Even though it's not part of your question: it should be Ganz oben standen der König, die Herzöge und Grafen.
    – Olafant
    Oct 17 '19 at 6:12
  • 1
    "darunter" doesn't represent people here. The monks were not part of the group of the nobles. They were (figuratively) below them. So it relates two groups of people, which is unproblematic. Oct 17 '19 at 9:23

Possibly confusion arises here from darunter meaning below vs. among/amongst. In the following sentences I try to explain how this ambiguity is usually resolved:

1) In den oberen Geschossen wohnten wohlhabende Bürger, darunter Aristokraten.

2) In den oberen Geschossen wohnten wohlhabende Bürger. Darunter Aristokraten.

3) In den oberen Geschossen wohnten wohlhabende Bürger, darunter dann Aristokraten.

4) In den oberen Geschossen wohnten wohlhabende Bürger. Darunter wohnten Aristokraten.

1) resolves darunter as among, though while it may be spoken like this, it may not be entirely grammatically sound. This is also somewhat ambiguous.

2) introduces a distinction between the first sentence and darunter, so darunter is less likely to refer to the previous sentence and readers are likely to read this as below. As with 1) I think 2) is not entirely grammatically sound.

3) This is an example how then is introduced to resolve ambiguous meaning of darunter. This sentence resolves darunter to below and is not ambiguous.

4) With respect to grammar, this is probably the correct one. It resolves the ambuguity by introducing a verb. In this example darunter is unambiguous and resolves to below. Introduction of a verb to signify context does have an exception though - sind. Sample sentence: Sechzig Demonstranden sind vor Ort, darunter sind zwanzig Studenten.

The meaning of darunter is - at least in spoken speech - sometimes a bit ambiguous, but usually clearly resolved by context.

As for reference to an inanimate object I agree with Janka's answer. The previously described (by naming its occupants) stage in the hierarchy is what darunter refers to and could be expanded to darunter in der Hierarchie in this example.

  • Please note - while I am not certain about the grammatical validity of some of these examples (e.g. in 2) the second sentence is missing a predicate), as mentioned in my answer, all of them will sound right to a native speaker. If I read any of those in a book, none of those should trip me up or sound strange. Oct 19 '19 at 1:50

Darunter standen die Mönche und Ritter.

Unter ihnen standen die Mönche und Ritter.

While the latter phrase is clearly better, I don't cringe on the first one. I think because it's not about persons but about the ranks. In contrary

Da war erstmal der Graf Koks. Und darunter stand Ritter Kunibert.

sounds really odd.

  • 5
    Ich störe mich an „the latter phrase is clearly better“. Können Sie erklären, warum? Ich persönlich würde, ohne es genau begründen zu können, die erste Variante verwenden. Tatsächlich hatte ich die zweite Variante beim ersten Lesen zunächst als irritierend empfunden, da ich unter ihnen ganz automatisch als inmitten interpretiere. Oct 17 '19 at 7:17
  • Das ist doch aber nur eine Betonungssache. Im Übrigen genauso bei darunter.
    – Janka
    Oct 17 '19 at 20:43
  • What is slightly confusing at least to me, is that "darunter" also can mean "among", not only "under".
    – Beta
    Oct 18 '19 at 17:30
  • As well as unter ihnen. But you can tell it apart in speech by the different stress. 'darunter == unter 'ihnen == among. da'runter == 'unter ihnen == below.
    – Janka
    Oct 18 '19 at 23:31
  • 1
    The Ritter Kunibert example doesn't soumd odd to me, precisely because it is also about ranks, isn't it? Oct 19 '19 at 14:37

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