Let’s talk about the most efficient word in the German language. A word that our students ask us about in our German courses here in Melbourne all the time. I thought it’s time to share the answer with you.
The magic word I’m talking about is: da
Da, it’s only one syllable but it can cause so much confusion amongst German learners.
Certainly, da is the most efficient word in the German language, because you can use it in so many situations and in so many different ways. You can use it for just about anything.
Only this little word is needed to express all of these English words (and everything that’s similar): this, that, here, there, over there, near here, this one or that one.
I’d even say it’s the word Germans kids learn right after Mama and Papa.
Pointing at things
Most likely you are pointing at something when using da.
Das da ist ein Porsche. (= This (one) is a porsche.)
Das da ist ein Volkswagen. (= That (one) is a volkswagen.)
Das Eiscafé ist da. (= The ice cream shop is over there.)
Da kannst du Haie sehen. (= There, you can see sharks.)
Nein, es ist nicht da, es ist da. (= No, it’s not here, it’s there./No, it’s not there, it’s here.)
Da kommt die Bande. (= Here comes the gang.)
Der Vogel sitzt da oben auf dem Haus. (= The bird is sitting there, on top of the house.)
All these examples have something in common. They have to do with distance. Something that we point at is either close to us or it’s farther away. It’s either here or there. It’s also either this one here, or that one there.
Since Germans don’t seem to distinguish between this, that, here or there much, we tend to point at the thing we actually mean while using da. In fact, it’s necessary to understand what is meant. It’s the context that helps us understand. We’ve talked about how much Germans rely on context before, for example when (not) using the future tense.
Da without any context
If you don’t have any context though, da can turn into a challenge. I’ve had hilarious situations when out riding my bike with friends. The person guiding the way really shouldn’t use da that often when pointing isn’t an option (like sometimes in the heat of the moment on a bike).
Instead cardinal directions, street names and corners or simply, like in English, hier (here) and dort (there) will be more advantageous:
Da müssen wir dann rechts. Und da links, aber bevor wir dahin kommen, geht’s noch ein bisschen geradeaus.
We have to turn right over there (or here?). And left here (or there?), but before we make it there (where?), we must go straight ahead for a bit.
Da or dort?
Talking about dort. We use dort when we speak about something that is farther away. But, please note that in this case, you can use da and dort alternatively.
Ich will die Flasche da. (= I want this bottle.)
Ich will die Flasche da/dort. (= I want that bottle. )
When distance doesn’t matter in English
Since it doesn’t really matter if the object is very close to us or farther away, we can use da when distance is not a factor in English also.
Ist sie heute im Büro? -Nein, sie ist nicht da. (= Is she at the office today? – No, she’s not in.)
Ist es in der Kiste, die ich dir gegeben habe? -Nein, es ist nicht da. (= Is it in the box I gave you? – No, it’s not in there.)
Da opposed to das
It’s not only beginners who confuse da and das. The difference is quite simple though:
Da ist ein Auto. (= Here/there is a car.)
Here, we are pointing at a car. “Here (or there) is a car. Look at it. Bicycles look way better.”
Das ist ein Auto. (= This/that is a car.)
With this sentence, we explain to someone else that “This (or that) is a car. You know, it’s not a bike.”
Das da as well?
You can also use das and da together: das da. It’s the situation where you are pointing at something and ask
Meinst du das da? (= Do you mean this/that one?)
Ja, ich meine das da. (= Yes, I mean this/that one.)
It’s totally fine to use them together. Actually, you’ll catch Germans use it all the time. It’s a great idea to keep them together, especially if you want to say this or that one. Please also don’t forget to point or nod at what you mean. That’ll do.
Awesome. Let’s wrap it up.
- If distance doesn’t matter, Germans use da.
- If distance does matter, Germans use either, da (here/there) or dort (further away).
- Use das when explaining a word, a situation or
- Use das da when wanting to say this/that one.
- Always point or node at what you mean.
Let me know about your favourite sentences using DA. I’m sure there’s even more than I was able to cover in this post. Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.