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The Different German Prepositions for Woher, Wo and Wohin

I admit, the German language is quite complex regarding its many prepositions with different uses depending on the questions where from, Where orwhere. In this post, I'm going to offer you a table with the most common places as well as some rules.

I. General Rules

1. Where from?

When we come from a place, we use of or out. The difference between these two prepositions is the following: We use out when we come from inside a place, this includes countries and cities (because you have been inside them). Of means we are coming from being near a place, or from a flat place like a square (see point II.2.).

2. Where to?

When we say where we go (to), we also have 2 main prepositions: to other to. The general rule is we use to with places without articles (countries, cities, islands, regions) and to for places with article (the post office / the doctor) as well as people (Sarah) and places with concrete names (McDonald’s, Zara…).

The only exception is the term Home: We say I go home (to go home) but I'm home (to be [at] home).

II. More Detailed Rules

1. Countries, cities, regions (for islands, click here)

The same rules apply for countries, cities and regions:

  1. Where are you from? - I come from Austria / Lisbon / Andalusia.
  2. Where are you? - I'm in Sweden / Helsinki / Calabria.
  3. Where are you driving to? - I'm going to Liechtenstein / Hamburg / Siberia.

Only if the country or region has an article (Switzerland / Turkey / Ukraine / Normandy / Tuscany, the Netherlands / USA, Iraq / Iran / Yemen), it takesin (+ accusative) also withwhere: where are you going?- I'm going to the Czech Republic / Brittany. (If you ask Where, in takes dative case.)

2. Places with a (big) surface

Like in English, in German we consider to be on (on) a flat place or open space such as: the square, the balcony, the terrace, the country / field / village (the same concept applies for islands) and also the toilet is a place we sit on!

  1. Where are you from? - I come from Barbarossaplatz / balcony / terrace / toilet.
  2. Where are you? - I'm on the square / balcony / toilet / work.
  3. Where are you driving to? - I drive to Alexanderplatz / go to the toilet / balcony.

3. People (s Places)

We have special prepositions expressing that you are in / at → at, or go to someone’s place → to. It may be a simple given name (Hanna) or a profession (hair stylist).

  1. Where are you from? - I come from Hanna / from the hairdresser / doctor.
  2. Where are you? - I'm with Hanna / the hairdresser / doctor.
  3. Where are you driving to? - I'm going to see Hanna / the hairdresser / doctor.

4. Places You Go to or Enter

In German, we distinguish between going to (direction) or being near a place (e.g. when I meet someone at the door, or there's a busstop ...) → to. The other aspect is entering or being inside a place (e.g. when I meet someone inside, or I want to buy something) → in. When we come from near a place → of, when we get out of the inside → out.

  1. Where are you from? - I'm from the hospital / post office. (I've been inside.) / I'm from the hospital / post office.
  2. Where are you? - I'm in the hospital (or: at) the post (I am inside). / I'm at the hospital / post office (very near / next to the post office).
  3. Where are you going? - I go to the post office (direction). / I'm going to the post office (I go inside because want to buy / send something).

The same happens with types of water (Sea / beach, lake, river): directionto, staying near / next to it → at:

Where are you going? - I go to the beach (direction). / I go to the beach (= I'm planning to stay on the beach).

For more detailed examples click here.

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