Tricky, tricky — nach vs. zu

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Tricky, tricky — nach vs. zu

One feature of language that will cause most anyone grief is prepositions. Why are prepositions so difficult? Well it is perhaps because they are used in so many ways with different meanings and also used differently in different dialects, pretty much irregardless of language.

Two somewhat troubling prepositions in German for suggesting direction towards something are “zu” and “nach”. Already in the first few weeks of any German course you will encounter these two prepositions.

“Ich fahre nach Zürich.”

  • I’m going to Zurich.

“Ich gehe zum Zahnarzt.”

  • I’m going to the dentist.

In German we use “nach” to indicate direction towards geographic places and points on a compass.

Ex.

“Ich fliege nach München.”

  • I’m flying to Munich.

“Ich fahre mit dem Zug nach Innsbruck.”

  • I’m taking the train to Innsbruck.

“Der Wind weht von Süden nach Norden.”

  • The wind is blowing from south to north.

“Am Sonntag fliegen die Lohris nach Kanada.”

  • the Lohris are flying to Canada on Sunday.

We use “zu” for most other cases where in English you would say to, such as people, shops, businesses. We can also use “zu” to mean too (adverb). Whereas “nach” being used to indicate direction rarely needs and article, “zu” does.

Ex.

“Geh zu Mutti!”

  • Go to your mum!

“Am Sonntags gehen sie immer zur Kirche.”

  • They always go to church on Sundays.

“Wir fahren schnell zum Bahnhof.”

  • We’re going quickly to the train station.

“Helena geht zur Universität.”

  • Helena is going to the university. (the university is her destination).

Wir fahren schnell zum Bahnhof.

Both “nach” and “zu” are dative prepositions so the articles after them must be in the dative case. We often shorten the preposition and articles together when using “zu

Masculine: zu + dem = zum

Feminine: zu + der = zur

Neuter: zu + dem = zum

Plural: zu + den (no short form)

The most typical mistake that English speakers make is between “zu Hause” and “nach Hause”.

You can avoid this mistake only by learning what these mean and using them as a collocation (set phrase).

“Ich bin zu Hause”

  • I’m at home.

zu Hause = at home

“Ich gehe nach Hause.”

  • I’m going home.

nach Hause = in the direction of home

Exercises:

  1. Am Dienstag fliegen wir __________ Wien.
  2. Der Wind weht von Westen _________ Osten.
  3. Geht ihr _________ Bäckerei?
  4. Wie komme ich _________ Stadtzentrum.
  5. Michelle fährt mit ihrem Mann _________ Spanien.
  6. Geht sie _________ Kirche?
  7. Komm doch _________ uns!
  8. Willkommen an Bord der ICN _________ Zürich, Zürich Flughafen, Winterthur, St.Gallen. Wir wünschen Ihnen eine angenehme Reise.
  9. Xavier’s Zahn tut ihm weh. Er muss _________ Zahnarzt.
  10. Von Bern _________ Basel ist es 96 Kilometer.

Answers:

nach, nach, zu der (zur), zu dem (zum), nach, zu der (zur), zu, nach, zu dem (zum), nach

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