Da- and Wo-Compounds

Da- and Wo-Compounds in German can be confusing to the uninitiated. Have you ever come across a word in German like “davon”, “damit” or “darüber”? How about “wovon”, “womit” or “worüber”? Sometimes in German you can replace a prepositional phrase with an adverb. These adverbs are known as da- and wo-compounds, because they have da- or wo- followed by the preposition. These adverbs are widely used in idiomatic expressions in German and in conversational German. They cut out unnecessary extra words and make the conversation flow better. You can use these adverbs with most of the prepositions in German, but there are some that you cannot use.

The easiest way to understand how to use these adverbs is by seeing them used in sentences. Today I’m going to show you some examples of how to use the prepositions themselves followed by examples of how to use the da- and wo-compounds that you can make out of them. I’ll also show you some common mistakes that German learners make and how you can avoid them and colloquial phrases that are commonly associated with these words.

You can get a copy the video script for da- and wo-compounds along with a worksheet and answer key and mp3 version of this video here.

Table of Contents

Da- and Wo-Compounds Rules

A few general rules before we get started. The da-compounds are used to express the preposition in question followed by “that”. For example: darauf means “on that”. To change this into a question, use wo- followed by the preposition. “Worauf”, for example, means “on what”. You may have also noticed that I added an extra letter, -r, between da- and wo- and the preposition “auf”. That is going to be consistent for all of the prepositions that begin with a vowel. If there is a vowel as the first letter of the preposition, add -r between da- and wo- and the preposition. This aides in the pronunciation of these words, as “daauf” is very difficult to say.

für – for, dafür – for that, wofür – for what

A: Das ist mein Elefant. Du kannst ihn nicht haben. Ich kämpfe für die Freiheit meines Elefanten.
A: This is my elephant. You can’t have it. I fight for the freedom of my elephant.

B: Wofür kämpfst du?
B: For what are you fighting?

A: Ich kämpfe dafür?
A: I am fighting for that.

B: Wofür?
B: For what?

A: Für die Freiheit meines Elefanten.
A: For the freedom of my elephant.

Common Mistake with “dafür”

“Dafür” does not mean “therefore”. Use “deshalb”, “darum”, or “deswegen”. “Wofür” does not mean “wherefore”. (O, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?) Use “weshalb”, “weswegen” or “wozu” or simply “warum” instead. (O, Romeo, Romeo, warum bist du Romeo?)

um – around, darum – around that, worum – around what

A: Der Elefant läuft um die Säule.
A: The elephant is running around the column.

B: Worum läuft er?
B: Around what is he running?

A: Er läuft darum.
A: He is running around that.

B: Worum?
B: Around what?

A: Um die Säule.
A: Around the column.

Common Mistake with “worum”

Don’t confuse “worum” with “warum”. The word “warum” is an interrogative pronoun (fancy word for question word) and means “why”. The word “worum” is also a question word of sorts, but it is used to ask the question “around what” or more commonly it is used with idiomatic expressions. For example:

A: Dieses Buch ist toll.
A: This book is great.

B: Worum handelt es sich?
B: What is it about?

A: Es handelt sich um die deutsche Sprache und Grammatik.
A: It is about the German language and grammar.

B: Darum handelt es sich? Das ist doch toll. Ich mag diese Autorin auch.
B: It is about that? That is great. I like this author, too.

A: Ich mag sie auch. Darum habe ich es gekauft.
A: I like her, too. That’s why I bought it.

Side Note: “You go me on the cookie!”

The book I held up in the video really is fantastic. It’s written by one of my fellow YouTubers, Dana Newman from the YouTube channel “Wanted Adventure”. It teaches you about her experience with learning the German language and encountering some weird quirks that the German language has. Talking about wer, wen, wem, and wessen. Why do we have so many question words? Why are there so many words for “the”? And all kinds of other fun little things that are in here. One day I will finally have enough time to do a full review of this book, but until then, you should still buy a copy of this. “You go me on the cookie!”: Learning Deutsch – mein abenteuerlicher Weg

durch- through, dadurch- through that, wodurch- through what

A: Das ist der Drache. Das ist der Mund des Drachen. Der Ball geht durch den Magen des Drachen.
A: This is the dragon. This is the mouth of the dragon. The ball goes through the stomach of the dragon.

B: Wodurch geht er?
B: What is it going through?

A: Der Ball geht dadurch.
A: The ball is going through that.

B: Wodurch?
B: Through what?

A: Durch den Magen des Drachen.
A: Through the mouth of the dragon.

ohne- without, darohne- NO NO NO NO NO!!!!

This preposition can’t form these kinds of compounds. It just sounds wrong.

gegen- against, dagegen- against that, wogegen- against what

A: Was denkst du über das Essen von Kuscheltieren?
A: What do you think about the eating of stuffed animals?

B: Ich bin gegen das Essen von Kuscheltieren.
B: I am against the eating of stuffed animals.

A: Wogegen bist du?
A: What are you against?

B: Ich bin dagegen.
B: I am against that.

A: Wogegen?
A: Against what?

B: Gegen das Essen von Kuscheltieren.
B: Against the eating of stuffed animals.

A: Ich auch. Ich verstehe gar nicht, warum jemand ein Kuscheltier essen würde.
A: Me, too. I don’t understand at all, why someone would eat a stuffed animal.

aus- out of/from, daraus- out of/from that, woraus- out of/from what

A: Ich nehme den Ball aus dem Mund des Drachen.
A: I am taking the ball out of the mouth of the dragon.

B: Woraus nimmst du den Ball?
B: Out of what are you taking the ball?

A: Ich nehme ihn daraus.
A: I am taking it out of there.

B: Woraus?
B: Out of what?

A: Aus dem Mund des Drachen.
A: Out of the mouth of the dragon.

außer- besides, daraußer- NO NO NO NO NO!!!

This one can’t be used with these compounds either. Again, it just sounds wrong.

bei- at/by/near/with, dabei- at/by/near/with that, wobei- at/by/near/with what

A: Der Elefant hilft mir bei der Arbeit.
A: The elephant helps me with the work.

B: Wobei hilft er dir?
B: With what does it help you?

A: Er hilft mir dabei, meine Arbeit zu erledigen.
A: It helps me with that, to complete my work.

Common Mistake with “wobei”

The word “wobei” is also used to inquire about the way in which something is/was done. “Dabei” then can be the answer to this question.

A: Wobei ist der Stuhl kaputt gegangen?
A: How did the chair break?

B: Ich habe mich darauf gesetzt und er ist dabei kaputt gegangen. Vielleicht sollte ich Diät machen.
B: I sat on it and it broke while doing that. Maybe I should go on a diet.

A: Nein. Du bist perfekt genau wie du bist.
A: No. You are perfect just as you are.

mit- with, damit- with that, womit- with what

A: Ich fahre mit dem Fahrrad.
A: I am riding the bicycle. (I am driving with the bicycle.)

B: Womit fährst du?
B: With what are you driving?

A: Ich fahre damit.
A: I am driving with that.

B: Womit?
B: With what?

A: Mit dem Fahrrad.
A: With the bicycle.

Common Mistake with “womit” and “damit”

Many of my students mispronounce the word “womit” and end up saying vomit, which in German is actually “das Erbrechen” or “die Kotze”. They also end up saying “damn it” when they mean to say “damit”. (To be honest, I’m sure that some of them are pronouncing it this way on purpose, but that’s high school for you.) It is a good reminder that all of these da- and wo- compounds have the same stressed first syllable. DAmit WOmit

nach- after, danach- after that, wonach- after what

A: Nach dem Spiel bin ich ausgeflippt.
A: After the game, I flipped out.

B: Wonach bist du ausgeflippt?
B: After what did you flip out?

A: Ich bin danach ausgeflippt.
A: I flipped out after that.

B: Wonach?
B: After what?

A: Nach dem Spiel.
A: After the game.

seit- since, daseit- NO NO NO NO NO!!!!

This is another example of a preposition out of which you cannot create a da- or wo-compound.

von- from/of, davon- from/of that, wovon- from/of what

A: Der Elefant läuft von dem Drachen weg.
A: The elephant is running away from the dragon.

B: Wovon läuft der Elefant weg?
B: What is the elephant running away from?

A: Er läuft davon weg.
A: It is running away from that.

B: Wovon?
B: From what?

A: Von dem Drachen.
A: From the dragon.

zu- at/to, dazu- at/to that, wozu- at/to what

A: Ich gratuliere dir zum Geburtstag.
A: I congratulate you on your birthday.

B: Wozu gratulierst du mir?
B: What are you congratulating me for?

A: Ich gratuliere dir dazu.
A: I am congratulating you for that.

B: Wozu?
B: For what?

A: Zu deinem Geburtstag.
A: For your birthday.

B: Heute habe ich keinen Geburtstag. Meinen Geburtstag habe ich erst in drei Monaten.
B: I don’t have a birthday today. I don’t have my birthday for another three months.

Common Mistake with “wozu” & “dazu”

The use of “wozu” and “dazu” is not commonly used in the way I did in the previous example. The question word “wozu” and its answer “dazu” are more commonly used to ask about and answer the reason for something.

A: Ich brauche diese Sonnenbrille um gut auszusehen.
A: I need these sunglasses in order to look good.

B: Wozu brauchst du die Sonnenbrille?
B: What do you need these sunglasses for?

A: Ich brauche sie dazu.
A: I need them for that.

B: Wozu?
B: For what?

A: Um gut auszusehen.
A: To look good.

an- at/by/on/to, daran- at/by/on/to that, woran- at/by/on/to what

A: Ich denke an meine Gesundheit.
A: I am thinking about my health.

B: Woran denkst du?
B: What are you thinking about?

A: Ich denke daran.
A: I am thinking about that.

B: Woran?
B: About what?

A: An meine Gesundheit.
A: About my health.

Bonus Tip: Verb + an

The preposition “an” is commonly used with a bunch of different verbs in German. This makes these da- and wo-compounds with this preposition very useful. Verbs like: arbeiten an (to work on), denken an (to think of), sich erinnern an (to remember), sich gewöhnen an (to get used to), glauben an (to believe in), hängen an (to be attached to), liegen an (to be due to), sterben an (to die from/of), teilnehmen an (to participate in) and many more.

auf- on, darauf- on that, worauf- on what

A: Ich stehe auf dem Teppich.
A: I am standing on carpet.

B: Worauf stehst du?
B: What are you standing on?

A: Ich stehe darauf.
A: I am standing on that.

B: Worauf?
B: On what?

A: Auf dem Teppich.
A: On the carpet.

Common Mistake with “aufstehen”

When you use the verb “stehen” with the preposition “auf” like I just did, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are standing on something. It is often used to mean that you like something or someone. That being said, it can be used to say that you are standing on something. When you mean that you like something, use the accusative case “Ich stehe auf den Teppich.” or if it is an option leave out the article “Ich stehe auf Teppich.” “Stehen auf” can even be used figuratively as in “auf dem Kopf stehen” (to stand on one’s head) or “auf dem Schlauch stehen” (to be stuck or not understand, literally to be standing on the hose).

hinter- behind, dahinter- behind that, wohinter- behind what

A: Der Elefant ist hinter der Scheune.
A: The elephant is behind the barn.

B: Wohinter ist der Elefant?
B: What is the elephant behind?

A: Er ist dahinter.
A: It is behind that.

B: Wohinter?
B: Behind what?

A: Hinter der Scheune.
A: Behind the barn?

Bonus Tip: “wohinter”

Use this one sparingly. It feels weird to me to say “wohinter” out loud. This can be said. It is a real word. It can be used like this, but it isn’t very common. “Dahinter” is definitely more common than “wohinter”, but it is still one of the more rare da-compounds on our list for today.

in- in, darin- in that, worin- in what

A: Der Ball ist in dem Papierkorb.
A: The ball is in the trash can.

B: Worin ist der Ball?
B: What is the ball in?

A: Er ist darin.
A: It is in that.

B: Worin?
B: In what?

A: In dem Papierkorb.
A: In the trash can.

neben- next to, daneben- next to that, woneben- next to what

A: Der Elefant sitzt neben der Scheune.
A: The elephant sits next to the barn.

B: Woneben sitzt der Elefant?
B: Next to what is the elephant sitting?

A: Er sitzt daneben.
A: It is sitting next to that.

B: Woneben?
B: Next to what?

A: Neben der Scheune.
A: Next to the barn.

Bonus Tip: “woneben”

“Woneben” is another one that is used pretty rarely. So rarely, in fact, that when I typed up the script for this video in Google Docs, it underlined it and asked if I meant “daneben”. “Daneben”, on the other hand, is pretty normal.

über- over, darüber- over that, worüber- over what

A: Ich rede über die deine Mutter.
A: I am talking about your mother.

B: Worüber redest du?
B: What are you talking about?

A: Ich rede darüber.
A: I am talking about that.

B: Worüber?
B: About what?

A: Über deine Mutter.
A: About your mother.

Bonus Tip: Verb + über

“Über” is another commonly used preposition with a variety of verbs, which makes “darüber” and “worüber” pretty common. Verbs on this list include: sich ärgern über (to get angry about), sich beklagen über (to complain about), berichten über (to report about), entscheiden über (to decide on), sich freuen über (to be happy about) and many more.

unter- under, darunter- under that, worunter- under what

A: Was machst du hier?
A: What are you doing here?

B: Ich habe mein Handy verloren. Es ist unter der Couch.
B: I lost my phone. It is under the couch.

A: Worunter ist dein Handy?
A: What is your phone under?

B: Es ist darunter.
B: It is under that.

A: Worunter?
A: Under what?

B: Unter der Couch.
B: Under the couch.

Bonus Tip: “worunter” & “darunter”

While “worunter” and “darunter” aren’t the most popular ones on the list and they do sound a bit odd when I say them, they are definitely more used than “wohinter”. There just isn’t much opportunity to use this one, as there aren’t very many expressions that require “unter”.

vor- in front of, davor- in front of that, wovor- in front of what

A: Der Elefant ist vor der Scheune.
A: The elephant is in front of the barn.

B: Wovor ist der Elefant?
B: What is the elephant in front of?

A: Er ist davor.
A: It is in front of that.

B: Wovor?
B: In front of what?

A: Vor der Scheune.
A: In front of the barn.

Bonus Tip: Verb + vor

Again there are a number of verbs that are commonly used with this preposition, which means the da- and wo- compounds that you can make with it are also pretty common. Angst vor etwas haben (to have fear of something), schützen vor (to protect from), warnen vor (to warn about) and many more.

zwischen- between, dazwischen- between that, wozwischen- between what

A: Der Elefant sitzt zwischen der Scheune und dem Drachen.
A: The elephant is sitting between the barn and the dragon.

B: Wozwischen sitzt der Elefant?
B: Between what is the elephant sitting?

A: Er sitzt dazwischen.
A: It is sitting between that/them.

B: Wozwischen?
B: Between what?

A: Zwischen der Scheune und dem Drachen.
A: Between the barn and the dragon.

Bonus Tip: “wozwischen” & “dazwischen”

This one is also pretty rare. Again, there just aren’t that many opportunities to use “between those” or “between what” in German.

Genitive Prepositions with Da- and Wo-Compounds

There are no genitive prepositions that can be used as da- or wo-compounds.

anstatt- instead of, daranstatt- NO NO NO NO NO!!!!
trotz- despite/in spite of, datrotz- NO NO NO NO NO!!!!
während- during, dawährend- NO NO NO NO NO!!!!
wegen- because of, dawegen- NO NO NO NO NO!!!!

While you can’t make da- and wo-compounds out of the genitive prepositions, you can make other compounds, which function similarly.

statt – instead of, stattdessen – instead of that

Sie wollte nicht ins Kino. Stattdessen gingen wir essen.
She didn’t want to go to the movie theater. Instead of that, we went out to eat.

trotz – in spite of, trotzdem – in spite of that

Mein Auto ist heute Morgen kaputt geworden. Trotzdem bin ich rechtzeitig angekommen.
My car broke down this morning. In spite of that, I arrived on time.

während – during, währenddessen – meanwhile, in the meantime

Meine Eltern waren nicht zu Hause. Währenddessen habe ich eine große Party gehabt.
My parents weren’t at home. In the meantime, I had a large party.

wegen – because of, deswegen – because of that

Es regnet. Deswegen spielen wir in dem Haus.
It is raining. That’s why we are playing in the house.

Bonus Words Time!

You may be familiar with the words “hin” and “her” and you are almost certainly familiar with the wo-compounds for them, but you didn’t even realize you were using them. “Hin” roughly translates as “to” and “her” as “from”. Add in wo- and you get “wohin” (to where) and “woher” (from where). You would think you can answer those questions with “dahin” and “daher” respectively. While this works for “dahin” and occasionally for “daher”, “daher” is more often used like the word “therefore” in German.

A: Wohin gehst du?
A: Where are you going (to)?

B: Ich gehe dahin.
B: I am going to there.

A: Aber wohin ist dahin?
A: But to where is to there?

B: Ich gehe in das Geschäft.
B: I am going into the store.

A: Woher kommst du?
A: Where do you come from? (Where are you from?)

B: Ich komme aus den USA.
B: I come from the USA. (I am from the USA.)

A: Ich komme auch daher.
A: I come from there, too. (I am from there, too.)

Er war krank. Daher konnte er nicht zur Schule gehen.
He was sick. That’s why he couldn’t go to school.