Unlocking the Mysteries of Da- and Wo-Compounds with Dative Prepositions in German

If you have seen words like “damit”, “womit” “davon” and “danach” in your German learning and aren’t quite sure how to use them, stick around as I untangle this bag of snakes. I learned German through the old school methods, high school and university. Since then I’ve been teaching German to a new generation of German learners both in person and online via YouTube. I figured out how to use da- and wo- compounds and if you want to figure them out, too, this lesson will help you on that quest. 

I’ve already made two lessons about da- and wo-compounds. The first one talked about them in broad strokes, rules, usage, that kind of thing. The next one talked about the combinations of accusative prepositions with da- and wo-. This time I am focusing on the dative prepositions: aus, bei, mit, nach, von and zu. 

If you are wondering what happened to the other dative prepositions like “außer” or “seit”, they can’t be combined with da- and wo- like these other prepositions. If you are wondering about prepositions like “an” and “in”, those are Wechselpräpositionen, which can use either the accusative or dative case and I am saving those for the next video. 

How to Use Da- & Wo-Compounds

Before we get into the da- and wo-compounds for today, here is a quick reminder of how they work. Take a preposition and add da- in front of it to say something like “out of that” or “with that”. Add wo- instead of da- to get something like “out of what” or “with what”. In many instances, these words take on new translations instead of just the preposition translation plus “that” or “what”. If the preposition starts with a vowel, add an R between da- or wo- and the preposition. 

Which Dative Prepositions Can Be Da- & Wo-Compounds?

In the chart below you will see a list of the dative prepositions that can be used in da- and wo-compounds and what they mean. With a few exceptions these are mostly translated as a combination of the preposition and “that” or “what”. 

Dative Prepositions
aus – out of, fromdaraus – out of that,
from that
woraus – out of what
bei – at, near,
by, with
dabei – thereby,
with it/that
wobei – whereby, with what
mit – withdamit – with that, so thatwomit – with what
nach – after, to danach – after that,
in the direction of that 
wonach – after what,
in the direction of what
von – from, of  davon – of thatwovon – of what
zu – to, at dazu – to it/that, with it/thatwozu – to what, with what

aus, daraus, woraus

Let’s take a look at the preposition “aus”. This preposition generally translates as “out of” or “from” when used alone. “Daraus” means something like “out of that” or “from that”. The wo- version “woraus” is like “out of what” or “from what”. For example: 

Woraus schließt du das? –
From what do you conclude that? 

Er nimmt nichts davon. Daraus kann man schließen, dass er kein Interesse hat. –
He isn’t taking any of it. From that one can conclude that he has no interest. 

The Difference Between aus and von

Quick side note here: Don’t forget, when deciding between “aus” and “von” to say “from” in German, if you can say “out of” in English, you can use “aus” in German. If you can’t say “out of” without it being weird, you probably need “von” in German. You don’t get a letter “out of” your mother. You might get one “from” her, but “out of” her sounds weird at best and gruesome or morbid at worst. 

My last two examples don’t really help us with distinguishing between “von” and “aus”. The combination of “schließen” and “aus” is one of those verb and preposition pairings that don’t really translate well that some people call “verbs with fixed prepositions”. I have a couple of older lessons about these, but I will be coming out with a fresh take on those in a few weeks. I’m looking forward to spending more time with these and helping you really understand how to use them. 

Short version of why we use “aus” with “schließen” to say “to conclude” is because you make a conclusion “out of” the information at hand. You are using “out of”, like I just mentioned. When you want to avoid repetition, you can use “daraus” instead of saying “out of the information I just mentioned” or some other repetitive phrase. In English, however, this forces us to use “from” instead of “out of”, as “out of that” just doesn’t sound right. Anyway, back to the examples of “woraus” and “daraus”. 

More woraus and daraus Examples

Woraus besteht ein Haus? –
What does a house consist of?
(What constitutes a house?)

Es gibt viele Zimmer. Normalerweise zumindest ein Schlafzimmer, ein Bad und eine Küche. Daraus besteht dann ein Haus. –
There are many rooms. Normally at least a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. That’s what makes up a house. 

Woraus ist dieser Tisch gemacht? –
Out of what is this table made?
(What is this table made of?)

Es gab früher einen Baum hinter meinem Haus. Daraus ist der Tisch gemacht. –
There used to be a tree behind my house. The table is made out of that. 

bei, dabei, wobei

The da- and wo-compounds with “bei” can be a bit confusing at first glance. This is due to the complicated translations of “bei”. The best I can do is to translate it as “at” most of the time. This avoids confusion with “mit”, but adds confusion with “an” and “zu” in various phrases. When I introduce this preposition to my students in my physical in -person classes, I say something like “at, near or with”. It is similar to being within a particular space around an object. 

This complicated nature often makes translating “dabei” and “wobei” difficult. The easiest translation for “dabei” is usually “with that”, but even then, the translation falls short. For example: 

Er macht sein Zimmer sauber und singt dabei. –
He is cleaning his room and singing all the while.

In this case, I could have said “with that” instead of “all the while”, but the word “that” in the English translation would have to refer to the cleaning of the room, which is not a function it can perform in English. Let’s try again. 

Die ganze Familie ist ins Kino gegangen, aber mein Bruder war nicht dabei. –
The entire family went to the movies, but my brother was not there. 

Again, “with that” could have been used instead of “there”, but “with that” would refer back to the family. This, again, does not work in English. 

How to Really Translate dabei

So how do you really translate “dabei”? Something like “at the same time” often works, as “dabei” is often interchangeable with the conjunction “während”, but not always. For example: 

Die Kinder spielten im Wohnzimmer, während ich mit ihrer Mutter in der Küche sprach. –
The children were playing in the living room, while I spoke with their mother in the kitchen. 

You could also phrase it as: 

Die Kinder spielten im Wohnzimmer. Dabei sprach ich mit ihrer Mutter in der Küche. –
The children were playing in the living room. At the same time, I spoke with their mother in the kitchen. 

Notice that I had to split the sentences apart, as “dabei” is not a conjunction and cannot be used to connect two clauses like “während” does. These examples work, but here is an example when you have to use “während” and not “dabei”. 

If you were to use “dabei” as a conjunction in that sentence, it would change the meaning of the sentence. 

Die Kinder spielten im Wohnzimmer, dabei sprach ich mit ihrer Mutter in der Küche. –
The children were playing in the living room, despite me speaking with their mother in the kitchen. 

It now implies that the children playing in the living room was forbidden for some reason. 

Das Paket wurde ausgeliefert, während ich nicht zu Hause war. –
The package was delivered, while I was not at home. 

In order to use “dabei” here, we would have to rephrase the entire expression, which would in turn change the meaning. 

Das Paket wurde bei mir zu Hause ausgeliefert. Die Fernbedienung war nicht dabei. –
The package was delivered to my house. The remote was not there (in the package). 

How to Use wobei

While you can use “wobei” as a more traditional question word to mean something like “at what” or “with what”, it is much more common to use it as a sort of conjunction. While all of the wo-compounds can be used as conjunctions to connect a subordinate clause to a main clause, the da-compounds, with a few exceptions, cannot. “Wobei” can be used as a conjunction that introduces a clause that either adds an objection or a bit of necessary context to a situation. For example: 

Die Jacke sieht sehr gut aus, wobei man sagen muss, dass sie auch sehr teuer ist. –
The jacket looks very good, although it must be mentioned that it is also very expensive. 

mit, damit, womit

Now on to my favorite da- and wo-compounds: damit and womit. As an English native speaker, I can’t help but see the words dammit and vomit when I read these. Damit even made my list of words that sound dirty in German, but aren’t (link in the description for that fabulous video). That said, they are actually quite harmless. They simply mean “with that” and “with what” respectively. For example: 

Womit schreibst du? –
With what are you writing? 

Ich habe einen Bleistift auf dem Fußboden gefunden. Damit schreibe ich. –
I found a pencil on the floor. I am writing with that. 

Ich habe vergessen, womit ich das Fenster putzen sollte. –
I forgot with what I should clean the window.

Womit kann ich Ihnen helfen? –
With what can I help you?

Damit kann ich Ihnen nicht helfen. –
I can’t help you with that.

Damit kann ich nicht einverstanden sein. –
I can’t agree with that.

Kannst du mir sagen, was auf der Prüfung sein wird, damit ich mich besser vorbereiten kann? –
Can you tell me what will be on the test, so that I can prepare better?

Damit as a Conjunction

Wait! I thought you said da-compounds can’t be used as conjunctions. Isn’t that how you just used “damit”? Yes. It absolutely is used as a conjunction, but it is one of the “few exceptions” I mentioned when I said “wo-compounds can be used as conjunctions to connect a subordinate clause to a main clause, the da-compounds, with a few exceptions, cannot”.

I cover the conjunction use of “damit” in a lot more detail in my subordinating conjunctions lesson, but the short version is, when it is used as a conjunction, it means “so that”. It also pushes the conjugated verb to the end of the clause, just like other subordinating conjunctions do. Here are a couple more examples of how to use “damit”. 

Ich habe heute meine Hausaufgaben gemacht, damit ich morgen frei habe. –
I did my homework today so that I have tomorrow off.

Er schläft jeden Abend 8 Stunden, damit er nicht während des Tages müde wird. –
He sleeps 8 hours each evening, so that he doesn’t get tired during the day. 

nach, danach, wonach

The preposition “nach” generally means “after”. It can also be used to mean “to” or “towards”. When you add da- or wo- to it, it becomes “after that” or “towards that” and “after what” or “towards what”. There are also some idiomatic phrases that are used with the preposition “nach”. You can still express these phrases through the use of da- and wo-compounds. Here are a few examples of danach and wonach. 

Wonach hat er dich gefragt? –
What did he ask you about? 

Wonach riecht sein Auto? –
What does his car smell like? 

Wonach sehnt sich dein Herz? –
What does your heart desire? 

Wir lesen die Rezensionen. Danach werden wir uns entscheiden. –
We are reading the reviews. After that we will decide. 

Sie hat ihre Schlüssel verloren. Danach haben wir lange gesucht. –
She lost her keys. We searched for it for a long time. 

Sie nimmt ihre Medikamente. Danach fühlt sie sich besser. –
She takes her medicine. After that she feels better. 

von, davon, wovon

I mentioned the preposition “von” earlier when talking about “aus”, as they are very similar in their translations into English. While “aus” generally means that something was once inside of something else, “von” is a more generalized “from”. Here are a few examples of how to use “davon” and “wovon”. 

Wovon träumst du nachts? –
What do you dream of at night? 

Wovon redest du? –
What are you talking about? 

Wovon handelt der Film? –
What is the film about?

Mein Hund ist von zu Hause weggelaufen. Davon abgesehen, war es ein guter Tag. –
My dog ran away. Aside from that, it was a good day.

Davon habe ich nichts gehört. –
I haven’t heard anything about that. 

zu, dazu, wozu

The preposition “zu” can mean “to” or “towards”, which is usually how it is used when combined into a da- or wo-compound. “Dazu” is like “to that” and “wozu” is like “to what”. You can also use “dazu” to say something like “on top of that” or “in addition to that”. You may also recognize “wozu” from my video about question words that translate as “why”. Don’t forget to check out that lesson if you want to take a deeper dive into “wozu”. Here are a few examples of how to use “wozu” and “dazu” in context. 

Wozu brauchst du so ein großes Messer? –
Why do you need such a big knife? 

Wozu ist dieses Ding gut? –
What is this thing good for? 

Wozu gratulierst du ihm? –
For what are you congratulating him? 

Ich nehme den Rinderbraten und bestelle eine Portion Pommes dazu. –
I am taking the roast beef and ordering a large serving of fries with it. 

Der Schuldspruch wird wahrscheinlich dazu führen, dass Menschen auf der Straße protestieren. –
The guilty verdict will likely lead to people protesting on the street. 

Dazu empfehle ich diesen Rotwein. –
I recommend this red wine to go with that. 

If you are ready to continue learning about da- and wo-compounds, check out the links below for articles that explain every aspect of the da- and wo-compounds from the basics of how and why to use them through the specific use of each preposition combination.

More Posts in This Series

Learn More About German Prepositions

Accusative Prepositions
Dative Prepositions
Two-Way Prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen)
Genitive Prepositions
Verbs with “Fixed Prepositions” Don’t Exist
Verbs Commonly Used with Dative Prepositions
Verbs Commonly Used with Two-Way Prepositions & the Dative Case
von vs vor
German Prepositions Songs
Download all of Herr Antrim’s materials about Prepositions here!

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