Da- & Wo-Compounds

Hallo, Deutschlerner. In this lesson you will learn the basics of how to use da- and wo-compounds in German. Let’s explore what these words are, how to form them, how to use them and why you should learn to love them. 

Da- & Wo-Compound Basics - B1 German Grammar

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

What are Da- & Wo-Compounds in German?

Da- and Wo-Compounds are combinations of either da- or wo- with prepositions to create a kind of adverb. Adverbs are little words that modify the way something happens in the sentence, which can tell us about the time, the conditions and a whole lot more about the action of the sentence. Since these words function as adverbs, when you use a da-compound, they go where adverbs go in statements, after the verb that they modify. 

Wo-compounds or Wo-Komposita are a type of question word that are made up of a preposition and the prefix “wo”. For example, you can add “mit” to “wo” to make “womit”, which is like asking “with what”.

These words can be formed using a large percentage of the prepositions in the German language, but for today we are going to focus on the rules and general use of them. In future videos I will focus on the various groups of prepositions in German. 

How to Translate Wo-Compounds

Generally, you can translate a da-compound with the preposition used followed by “that”. Wo-compounds follow a similar pattern, but are a type of question word, so they are followed by “what”. Let’s take a look at a few examples of how this works to figure out what I am talking about in more concrete terms. 

Was machst du mit dem Bleistift? –
What are you doing with the pencil? 

Ich schreibe damit. –
I’m writing with that. 

Womit schreibst du? –
With what are you writing? 

Mit dem Bleistift. –
With the pencil. 

“Mit” is by far one of the easiest prepositions in German to translate into English. With very few exceptions, you can translate “mit” as “with”. When we add in “da-”, it becomes “with that”. When combined with “wo-”, we translate it as “with what”. You can think of it as abbreviating a prepositional phrase. Instead of repeating the phrase “mit dem Bleistift” over and over again, we can simply replace it with “damit”. When asking a question about the prepositional phrase, we can use “womit”. 

When to Add R in Da- & Wo-Compounds

When you combine da- or wo- with a preposition that starts with a vowel, such as “über” or “an”, you need to add R between the prefix and preposition. For example: über becomes darüber and worüber while an becomes daran and woran. Here they are in sentences. 

Worüber sprecht ihr gerade? –
What are you talking about right now? 

Meine Hündin hat gestern Welpen bekommen. Darüber sprechen wir. –
My dog had puppies yesterday. We are talking about that. 

Woran denkst du gerade? –
What are you thinking about right now? 

Erinnerst du dich immer noch an dieses Restaurant, in dem wir zu unserem vierzehnten Hochzeitstag gegessen haben? Das Steak war so lecker. Daran denke ich. –
Do you still remember that restaurant at which we ate for our fourteenth wedding anniversary? The steak was so delicious. I’m thinking about that. 

Rules for Da- & Wo-Compounds

#1: Not for People or Animals

There are a few things to keep in mind while working with da- and wo-compounds. #1: These compounds are not used for people or animals. It is perfectly fine to use them with inanimate objects, but it is not ok to use da- and wo-compounds with people or animals. 

Worauf wartest du? –
What are you waiting for? 

Ich warte auf mein Paket. Ich warte seit gestern darauf. –
I am waiting for my package. I have been waiting for that since yesterday. 

Auf wen wartest du? –
For whom are you waiting? 

Ich warte auf meinen Bruder. Ich warte stundenlang auf ihn. –
I am waiting for my brother. I have been waiting for him for hours. 

#2: Translation is NOT ALWAYS “Preposition + that” or “Preposition + what”

While a lot of the da- and wo-compounds are simply translated as that or what added to the usual preposition translation, this is not always the case and some of the da- and wo-compounds take on an entirely new translation all their own. 

I mentioned “damit” earlier. It can have the basic translation I used before of “with that”, but it can also take on a meaning similar to “so that”. For example: 

Ich esse jeden Morgen Frühstück, damit ich nicht vor Mittag Hunger habe. –
I eat breakfast every morning so that I don’t get hungry before midday. 

#3: Relative Pronouns CANNOT Be Da- & Wo-Compounds

If you are familiar with relative pronouns, you cannot replace them with da-compounds. For example: 

Der Kuli, mit dem ich den Brief geschrieben habe, liegt auf dem Tisch. –
The pen, with which I wrote the letter, is lying on the table. 

No one would say “Der Kuli, damit ich den Brief geschrieben habe…” 

On the other hand, if you have the combination of “was” and a preposition, this will always be replaced by a wo-compound. For example: 

Worüber bist du traurig? –
What are you sad about? 

No one would say “Über was bist du traurig?” 

#4: Some Prepositions CANNOT Be Da- & Wo-Compounds

While you can use da- and wo-compounds with most prepositions, there are some combinations that are more commonly used than others and some prepositions simply cannot be used in da- and wo-compounds. There are four categories of prepositions in German: accusative prepositions, dative prepositions, two-way prepositions and genitive prepositions. I have videos about all of those prepositions linked at the end of this post, so you can learn what they all mean and how you use them outside of da- and wo-compounds when you are done with this lesson.

For a quick reference, on screen now, you will see a list of prepositions in each category and whether or not they can be used in da- and wo-compounds. 

Accusative PrepositionsDative PrepositionsTwo-Way Prepositions Genitive Prepositions
für – dafür, wofür
um – darum, worum 
durch – dadurch, wodurch
ohne NO!
gegen – dagegen, wogegen
bis – NO! 
entlang – NO! 
wider – NO!
aus – daraus, woraus
außer – NO!
bei – dabei, wobei
mit – damit, womit
nach – danach, wonach
seit – NO!
von – davon, wovon
zu – dazu, wozu
gegenüber – NO!
an – daran, woran 
auf – darauf, worauf
hinter – dahinter, wohinter 
in – darin, worin 
neben – daneben, woneben
über – darüber, worüber
unter – darunter, worunter
vor – davor, wovor 
zwischen – dazwischen, wozwischen
anstatt – NO! 
trotz – NO! 
während – NO!
wegen – NO! 
innerhalb – NO! 
oberhalb – NO! 
unterhalb – NO!
diesseits – NO!
jenseits – NO!
seitens – NO!
anlässlich – NO!
laut – NO!
bezüglich – NO! 
kraft – NO!
aufgrund – NO!
Prepositions & Their Da- & Wo-Compounds

You’ll notice that none of the genitive prepositions can be used in da- and wo-compounds and there are a few accusative and dative prepositions that also can’t be used. All of the two-way prepositions, however, can be used with da- and wo-compounds. 

Here is a quick reference guide for all of the German prepositions in each category that can be used with da- and wo-compounds and what they generally are translated as in English. 

Accusative Prepositions
für – fordafür – for that (reason)wofür – for what (reason)
um – arounddarum – that’s whyworum – around what
durch – throughdadurch – through that (through those means)wodurch – through what (by what means)
gegen – againstdagegen – against thatwogegen – against what
Dative Prepositions
aus – out of, fromdaraus – out of that, from thatworaus – out of what
bei – at, near, by, withdabei – thereby, with it/thatwobei – 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
Two-Way Prepositions 
an – on, at  daran – on that, about that, at thatworan – on what, about what, at what
auf – ondarauf – on thatworauf – on what
hinter – behinddahinter – behind thatwohinter – behind what
in – in, intodarin – in thatworin – in what
neben – next todaneben – next to thatwoneben – next to what
über – over, abovedarüber – about that, over thatworüber – about what, over what
unter – underdarunter – under thatworunter – under what
vor – in front of, beforedavor – in front of thatwovor – in front of what
zwischen – betweendazwischen – between that/thosewozwischen – between what
Prepositions That CAN Be Da- & Wo-Compounds

Example Sentences with Da- & Wo-Compounds

Let’s take a look at a few of the most commonly used da- and wo-compounds so we understand the concept. I’ll take a deeper dive into the da- and wo-compounds in each category of prepositions in future videos. 

Woran arbeitest du heute? –
On what are you working today? 

Mein Fahrrad ist kaputt. Ich arbeite daran. –
My bicycle is broken. I’m working on that. 

Woran ist er gestorben? –
What did he die of? 

Er hatte seit sechs Monaten Krebs. Er ist daran gestorben. –
He has had cancer for six months. He died of that. 

Worauf muss man in Deutschland achten? –
What does one have to pay attention to in Germany? 

Die Fahrkarten für öffentliche Verkehrsmittel sind manchmal kompliziert. Darauf muss man achten. –
The tickets for public transportation are sometimes complicated. You have to pay attention to that. 

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

Ich mag Essen. Ich träume davon. –
I like food. I dream of that. 

Er hat gestern mit mir Schluss gemacht. Und er lachte dabei! –
He broke up with me yesterday. And he laughed all the while. 

Ich hätte gern eine Bratwurst und auch noch eine große Portion Pommes dazu. –
I would like a bratwurst and also a large serving of French fries with it. 

Obviously, I haven’t given enough examples throughout this post and I haven’t gone into as much detail as I would like. This is why this is just the first in a series of lessons about these compounds. Rather than make one lesson that is forever long about these words, I will make another three lessons to cover the accusative, dative and two-way prepositions that can be used like this. This lesson is just a quick overview of how to use these words.

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!

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

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