I have heard the following sentence in the TV series "How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)" (season 1, episode 1, -08:22):

Niemand weiß, was unter Wasser so vor sich geht.

My first attempt of translation doesn't make any sense: Nobody knows what goes itself before like this under water.

  • What does "so" mean here?

  • Is "vor sich geht" the verb "vorgehen" = to go on, to happen? I have never seen the separable prefix in this position. Moreover, shouldn't the prefix come together with the verb in a subordinate clause like this one?

  • This Redensarten-Index gives the meaning of the idiom in question. As near as I can tell, the sentence means "No one knows what's happening underwater." I have no idea how that idiom is derived though. It would help if you gave an episode number and time index so those of us with a Netflix subscription can play along at home. Some additional context might help as well for those of us without a Netflix subscription.
    – RDBury
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 6:06
  • @RDBury: The core of the question appears to be about how to parse the sentence grammatically, and understand the meaning of the individual word parts. I do not think much context is required for that. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 7:07
  • so (see 6b)
    – user6495
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 8:23
  • "vor sich gehen" is bacially synonymous to "vorgehen" but it is not the same verb.
    – user6495
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 8:24
  • 1
    @RDBury I had provided context by providing the previous lines of the dialogue, but my question has been edited and the extra lines have been removed. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 11:25

1 Answer 1


"Vor sich gehen" is a verb or idiom that means "to happen", "to take place", "to go on".

"So" in this case is one of those modal particles that Germans love to use. They ever so slightly shift the emphasis or meaning of the sentence. You can mostly understand the sentence without these. In this case, "so" adds a bit of vagueness.

Without so:

Niemand weiß, was unter Wasser vor sich geht.

This translates to

Nobody knows what's going on underwater.

I'm not sure my English is sufficient to translate "so" in this case well. Maybe something like

Nobody knows whatever's going on underwater.

  • 1
    The "so" in this case is a particle that expresses indefiniteness or vagueness, which gives the sentence an offhand vibe. See the second case in this Duden entry. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 12:14

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