The German prepositions “zu” and “nach” – “to” Posted by Sandra Rösner on Jul 15, 2011 in Grammar, Language
Sometimes it can be very hard for learners of German to choose the correct preposition. This may be especially the case with the German prepositions “zu” and “nach”, which both mean “to” in English. Even some Germans have difficulties to distinguish “zu” and “nach” or use other prepositions when actually “zu” or “nach” are obligatory. This results in catastrophic phrases that harshly grate on my ears. For example, some Germans say “Ich gehe bei Oma.” or “Ich gehe nach Oma.”, which should mean “Ich gehe zu Oma.” (I go to grandma.). You see Germans themselves are also not always right when it comes to grammatical correctness. Since I don’t want you to repeat everything in a parrot-fashion you can find below an explanation and some examples when you should use “zu” and “nach” when you talk of movement.
The preposition “nach”
The preposition “nach” is used to indicate a destination or direction. You use it when you refer to continents, countries, cities, and points of the compass. Furthermore, when the preposition “nach” is used the following noun is not used with a definite article.
Er fliegt morgen nach Amerika und sie nach Zürich.
(Tomorrow he will go to America and she to Zurich.)
Eva möchte am Wochenende nach Paris fliegen.
(Eva wants to go to Paris on the weekend.)
Schau mal nach Osten. Dort geht gerade die Sonne auf.
(Look to the east. The sun is just rising there.)
Er kam spät nach Hause.
(He got home late.)
An der nächsten Kreuzung biegen sie rechts ab.
(Turn right at the next intersection.)
Dreh dich nach links.
Note: In German you always say how you move to a destination or target. That is to say, when you go by plane you say that you ‘fly to …’ and when you go by car, train, ship or bus you ‘drive to …’; regardless whether you steer a vehicle or not.
The preposition “zu”
The preposition “zu” is used when you want to stress that the target of movement is a person or thing. Very often the following noun has a definite article
Ich gehe zu meiner Oma.
(I go to my grandma.)
Am Wochenende fahren wir zu Claudia.
(At the weekend we go to Claudia.)
Ich komme zu dir.
(I come to your place.)
der Bus fährt zum Bahnhof.
(The bus ‘drives’ to the railroad station.)
Wir gehen zur Bushaltestelle.
(We go to the bus stop.)
Company names are also treated like personal names. For example, when you want to express that you go to a supermarket you use “zu”: Ich gehe zu Aldi. (I go to Aldi.)