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The English verb phrase “to go to” is a real all-rounder when it comes to tell someone that you are going to a particular destination. You can say that you are going to a friend, to a another city or foreign country, but your interlocutor still does not know how you will get and whether you intend to ever come back or not. This is different in German, that is, you cannot simply translate English “to go to” into German “gehen zu/nach” – which exists indeed – and use it in every situation because in German there are several ways to express English “to go to”. Which one should be used is first of all dependent on how you move along and, secondly, how precise your destination is.
The English verb “to go” has, at least, three common German translations: gehen (to go; to walk), fahren (to drive), and fliegen (to fly). In German, we usually make clear HOW we get to our destination. In other words, we let others know whether we walk, go by car, bike or any public transportation, or by plane.
All three German verbs: gehen, fahren, and fliegen can be used with both German prepositions “zu” and “nach”. Which one you have to use is dependent on the object. You can only use the German preposition “zu” when you talk about a concrete person, and “nach” when you go to another city, country or continent. I will discuss this in detail below.
When we want to say, in German, that we go/walk to a particular destination, for example, to a friend (or any other concrete person), we use the German verb “gehen” (go) and the German preposition “zu” (to).
Ich geh(e) zu Michael. – I’m going to Michael(‘s place).
Ich geh(e) zu Oma and Opa. – I’m going to grandma(‘s) and grandpa(‘s place).
Ich geh(e) morgen zu Claudia. – I’m going to Claudia(‘s place) tomorrow.
Note: I put the “e” of first person singular “gehe” into brackets because you can omit this sound or letter in speech and writing, respectively, and still be grammatically correct.
When you use the German verb “gehen” with the preposition “zu” and a concrete person it always suggests that this person lives near you, so, a longer traveling is not necessary in order to get there.
When you go by bike, car, or any kind of public transportation to get to a concrete person you usually use the German verb “fahren”.
Ich fahre jetzt (mit dem Fahrrad) zu einer Freundin. – I’m going (by bike) to a (female) friend(‘s place) now.
Ich fahre jeden Tag (mit dem Bus) zu meiner Oma. – I go (by bus) to my grandma(‘s place) every day.
Nächste Woche fahre ich (mit dem Zug) zu Stefanie. – I will go (by train) to Stefanie(‘s place) next week.
Note: Since the verb “fahren” does not provide any kind of information by which vehicle you get to someone, you can additionally add this information to your sentence. It also does not matter whether a person lives in the same city as you or if going there would take several hours. It is the form of locomotion that is emphasized. When a person lives in the same city as you, you can also use the verb “gehen” (see above) but when your ‘going-there’ implicates a longer journey (e.g. going by train) it is always better to talk of “fahren”.
When you have to go by plane in order to get to someone you usually have to use the verb “fliegen” in German.
Ich fliege morgen zu David und Susanne. Ich lebe in Berlin, und sie wohnen in München. – I will go (by plane) to David and Susanne tomorrow. I live in Berlin, and they live in Munich.
Ich fliege nächste Woche zu meiner Brieffreundin in Deutschland. – I will go (by plane) to my pen pal in Germany next week.
So, when you know that you will go by plane it is common to use the German verb “fliegen”. The verbs “gehen” and “fahren” would be rather misleading here.
To be continued…