German Wo Compounds

Overview

German Wo compounds are not difficult to master. Wo + preposition is useful when asking questions for clarification such as in Worauf wartet er? (What is he waiting for?) Notice that the translation for worauf is "for what"—not a literal translation. That's because many of the wo + prepositions replace the simpler and incorrect German word combination preposition + was. (Incorrect -> Für was ist das?, correct -> Wofür ist das?) Since the incorrect German version of preposition + was most closely resembles the English translation, English speakers find it difficult to overcome this natural tendency of question formation. 

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In English and in German, there are some verbs that are used extensively with certain prepositions. In English, these are called “phrasal verbs”. Adding a preposition to a verb changes the meaning slightly. For example, the verb “to run”. By itself, it means to move swiftly using your legs. But we can also “run into” someone. Someone can “run for” something, or we can “run something by” someone. We have changed the original meaning of the verb “run” simply by adding a preposition. 

There are many verbs in German as well that are used with a preposition. For example “warten” (to wait). I can simply “wait”, but I can also “wait for” something. (warten auf). In German, we added the preposition “auf” to alter the meaning of the original verb slightly. 

These prepositions can be combined with “da(r)” if we wish to refer back to the object of the preposition, without repeating it. 

Example:
Wartest du auf dein Paket? Ja, ich warte darauf
Are you waiting for your package? Yes, I am waiting for it. 

The same way that we can build “da” compounds, we can also build “wo” compounds. 

2. “Wo” Compounds. 

“Wo” compounds are formed the same way that “da” compounds are formed. They are a combination of the question word “wo”, and a preposition. If the preposition begins with a vowel, we simply add an extra “r”. 

The difference between a “da” and a “wo” compound, however, is that “da” compounds are used in statements, and “wo” compounds can only be used in direct or indirect questions or, in some cases, as a relative pronoun. 

Example:
Freust du dich auf das Konzert? Ja, ich freue mich darauf. (statement, “da” compound). 
Are you looking forward to the concert? Yes, I am looking forward to it. 
Worauf freust du dich? -Auf das Konzert. (question, “wo” compound). 
What are you looking forward to? – To the concert. 
Kannst du mir sagen, worauf du dich freust? (indirect question, “wo”compound)
Can you well me what you are looking forward to? 

Like “da” compounds, “wo” compounds are also only used for inanimate objects. And just as “da” compounds, There are some prepositions that cannot be used with “wo”: außer, gegenüber, ohne, & seit. Some directional adverbs, such as hin, her, hinein, can be used with “wo” as well (e.g. wohin, woher).

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

Writing:
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
Reading:
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
Listening:
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.