What do the words wobei and dabei mean? And what is the difference in their usage?

Sie gab mir das Buch, wobei sie vermied, mich anzusehen.
Sie gab mir das Buch, dabei vermied sie, mich anzusehen.

Do they mean at the same time? Which one is formal, wobei or dabei?

  • Which one is formal? Wobei or dabei? Dec 21, 2013 at 22:17
  • 1
    From grammar, both are correct, the meaning differs. But I think, somebody else is more competent then me to explain the difference. I will take a look for the question. If there is now answer next time, I will try an explanation.
    – knut
    Dec 21, 2013 at 22:32

2 Answers 2


There is no semantic difference in your example, but consider this one:

Sie gab mir das Buch, dabei bemerkte sie, dass der Umschlag verdreckt war.

Wobei only states that things are happening at the same time, dabei can also imply that the second action is a consequence of the first one. Therefore, dabei is preferable in this case. Be aware that this is just a weak additional meaning, the main meaning still being “at the same time”.

Both words are equally formal. Colloquially, wobei can also be used to state an objection or relativization:

Man kann hier gut essen, wobei man sagen muss, dass es ein bisschen teuer ist.

Edit: As Emanuel pointed out, while Duden claims this is colloquial, it is also used in written language. I changed the example to a better one he gave in the comments.

  • 1
    In your last paragraph you're stating that the objection-wobei is colloquial and it has to be initial. That is not true IMO... wobei actually USUALLY has this "objection" idea in it and the mere happening at the same time is done by "während"... "Man kann hier gut essen, wobei man sagen muss, dass es ein bisschen teuer ist". THere is no temporal aspect at all in this example. I think you should maybe work that into your answer.
    – Emanuel
    Dec 22, 2013 at 21:52
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    Duden claims it's colloquial and that's also my experience. It's true that it does not necessarily has to be used initial with this meaning, and in spoken language, this may even be the usual meaning. I can't remember it being used in written language much, but I was unsure, so I looked it up in Duden. während is another thing, it describes something that is happening while another action is ongoing, which is slightly different to two things happen at the same time.
    – flyx
    Dec 23, 2013 at 10:04
  • That is surprising with the Duden but oh well, I removed the downvote. Anyway, I would be really interested in an example or an explanation how exactly 2 things happening at the same time and something happening while something else is happening (which is "another action is ongoing) are different.
    – Emanuel
    Dec 23, 2013 at 12:01
  • Example: „Der Postbote kam, während ich außer Haus war.”. You cannot use wobei or dabei here.
    – flyx
    Dec 23, 2013 at 12:11
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    Okay. But my issues with the "colloquial" are back. You can't really say it isn't written: google.de/… It is. I can find you more examples.
    – Emanuel
    Dec 23, 2013 at 12:32

Both dabei and wobei are semantically identical. They only differ in syntax.

  • dabei is an adverb which can be roughly interchangeably used to während and thus can but need not start main clauses.
  • wobei is a relative pronomial adverb and thus always starts subclauses.

Consequently, your first proposal is grammatically correct whereas your second proposal has a slight grammatical error: The two sentences Sie gab mir das Buch. and Dabei vermied sie(,) mich anzusehen. are syntactically not connected. Dabei refers to Sie gab mir das Buch. but only semantically. Syntactically, it's a fully autonomous adverb in the second sentence. So, if you want to connect these two sentences into one, you should use a semicolon instead of a comma:

Sie gab mir das Buch; dabei vermied sie(,) mich anzusehen.

But you can and for the sake of simplicity should keep both sentences separate:

Sie gab mir das Buch. Dabei vermied sie(,) mich anzusehen.

  • +1 for the the semicolon and for the optional comma.
    – Em1
    Dec 23, 2013 at 13:13

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