Saying “there” in German (da vs. dort vs. hier)
When learning any new languages, one of the hardest things for most people to do is to stop translating word for word from their first language to the new language. Even if you have a large vocabulary doing this will still render more incorrect sentences than correct ones. The same is true from between German and English.
How can one overcome this hurdle? The answer is to learn expressions and grammatical structures. Within the first two hours of German instruction most people learn that the phrase: “Ich möchte …” means “I would like …” for ordering.
This week I’d like to address one English word that causes confusion and the simple expressions to learn and avoid many mistakes.
The word “there” has seven different meanings in English. We often use there, not to suggest a place, like “Over there …”, but rather as a subject as in “There are many public swimming areas in Zurich.” If you look up “there” in a German-English dictionary you will find four general translations. The first two suggest the “there” for a place. It is only the third that provides the meaning of “there” as a subject — in this case “es”.
Careful! While we translate the “there” with “es”, what we are generally wanting to say is something like: “There is a book by Carl Jung about dreams.” or “There are far too many people in the train.” So we want to express the idea: “There is …” / “There are …” In German this is translated with “Es gibt …”
Because “es” functions as the subject, “gibt” does not need to be conjugated.
Es gibt eine Bar gleich um die Ecke.
- There’s a bar right around the corner.
Dienstags gibt es Live Musik da.*
- There’s live music there on Tuesdays.
Wegen die tolle Stimmung gibt es immer viele Gäste.*
- Because of the good atmosphere there are always many guests.
*Note: The verb “gibt” is in the second position and because another element is in the first position (time, reason) the subject comes in the third.
If you would like to ask a yes/no question ie. “Is there …?” or “Are there …?” simply start the sentence with “Gibt es …?”
Gibt es ein Opernhaus in Zürich? — Ja, es gibt ein Opernhaus in Zürich.
- Is there an opera house in Zurich? — Yes, there is an opera house in Zurich.
Gibt es viele aktive Leute in der Schweiz? — Ja, es gibt viele aktive Leute in der Schweiz.
- Are there many active people in Switzerland. — Yes, there are many active people in Switzerland.
If you would like to practice building sentences with “es gibt” try out these activities from the BBC: http://bbc.in/fDRV05
Speaking of “there” many people ask about the word for “there” as in a place. Is it “da” or “dort” and what about “here”, is that “hier” or “da”. And if “da” is “there”, how can “da” also be “here”. It sounds confusing, but is actually quite simple if we chart it:
In the Southern German speaking realm (Southern Germany, Switzerland and parts of Austria) more people tend to use “da” over “hier”. To avoid confusion either use the more formal variations (you’ll always be clear and correct) or use hand gestures.
Reference to da/dort/hier from the Universität Augsburg: http://bit.ly/gHtNrA