In this article, we’ll be talking about 3 essential ways to talk about place in German. Words that help us do this are called "adverbs of place". Now, "How can that be essential?", you might ask.
Let’s imagine: You’ve just arrived in Germany after a long, exhausting trip. You’re getting hungry when you realize that your internet connection is gone and the only person that you meet on the street doesn’t speak a word of English.
In a situation like that, you can just ask:
- Entschuldigen Sie bitte, wo kann ich etwas essen? (Excuse me, please, where can I eat something?)
And, of course, you’ll have to be able to understand the answer to this question.
If they say:
- Hier gibt es keine Restaurants, versuchen Sie da drüben. (There aren’t any restaurants here, try over there.),
...you’ll definitely need to know what hier and da drüben mean.
See? It’ll be essen-tial for you in that situation 🙂 (essen in German means “to eat”).
Quick grammar explanations
Before we get straight to the point, we need to know the difference between these two pairs of terms:
- adverbs vs. adverbials
- adverbs of place vs. adverbs of direction.
Adverbs vs. adverbials
Adverbs are cute little words that describe other words in a sentence: verbs, nouns, adjectives or even other adverbs. They provide valuable information about time, place, manner or reason.
- Kommst du mit? (Are you coming along?)
- Was machst du da? (What are you doing there?)
If an adverb is a single word, an adverbial is its ‘married’ sibling. These can be individual words, phrases or even whole sentences.
- Da drüben ist ein Restaurant. (There is a restaurant over there.)
- Das Bild hängt an der Wand. (The picture hangs on the wall.)
Adverbs and adverbials have a lot in common because they do the same thing: they modify other parts of a sentence and give us information about time, place, manner or reason. In this post we’ll be using the term "adverbial" often, because it's the most useful when we're talking about place.
Adverbs of place vs. adverbs of direction
Adverbs of place indicate position and answer the question “where?” (wo?) like in the examples from the beginning of this post:
- hier (here)
- da (there)
- da drüben (over there)
Adverbs of direction provide information about direction and answer the question: “where from?” (woher?) or “where to?” (wohin?). Here are some examples:
- vorwärts / rückwärts (forward / backward)
- bergauf / bergab (down the hill / up the hill)
- her / hin (read more about “hin” and “her” here.)
Ok, enough with the introduction and “warming up” for the topic. Are you ready to party here (hier), there (da) and everywhere (überall)? 🙂
Let’s take a look at 3 different ways to express information about place in German.
3 ways to express information about place in German
For fresh starters: 1 word
The first scenario is the simplest one: using a single adverb.
Here is more or less a complete list of the adverbs of place:
- hier (here) / da (there) / dort (there);
- oben (at the top of) / unten (at the bottom of);
- vorn (up front) / hinten (at the back);
- außen (on the outside) / innen (on the inside);
- draußen (outside) / drinnen (inside);
- mitten (in the middle of);
- nebenan (next door);
- links (on the left side) / rechts (on the right side);
- überall (everywhere);
- irgendwo (somewhere);
- anderswo (somewhere else);
- nirgendwo / nirgends (nowhere),
- auswärts (not at home).
These are single words and often they're the only information about place in a sentence. But they also often pair up with other pieces of information about place to give us more detail.
Ready to see place adverbs in use? Here they come.
hier is maybe one of the first words that you’ll ever learn in German. It means “here” and indicates a place close to you:
- Ich wohne hier. (I live here.)
- Was ist hier los? (What’s happening here?)
dort is also one of the first words that you’ll learn in German. It refers to a place away from you:
- Sie arbeitet dort seit Juni. (She has been working there since June.)
- Ich bleibe dort bis Sonntag. (I’ll stay there until Sunday.)
“da” mostly has the same meaning as “dort”, but people tend to use it more often in everyday German.
The first example can often be heard in horror movies:
- Ist jemand da? (Is somebody there?)
- Der Mann da fragt nach dir. (The man there asks about you.)
“da” can also mean “here”, especially in southern Germany and Austria. Remember when you were at school, teachers used to ask “Who’s not here?” or “Who’s absent?” at the beginning of class? You can say that in German like this:
- Wer ist nicht da? (Who’s not here? / Who’s absent?)
In business you can often hear something like:
- Kann ich Frau Müller sprechen? - Sie ist nicht da. (Can I speak to Ms. Müller? - She is not here.)
oben (at the top of)
Some interesting examples for oben would be:
- “Harry Potter” steht ganz oben im Regal. (“Harry Potter” is right at the top of the shelf.)
- Ich höre Stimmen oben im zweiten Stock. (I can hear voices on the second floor.)
unten (at the bottom)
Some people love to keep all their stuff on shelves:
- Meine Schuhe stehen ganz unten (im Regal). (I keep my shoes at the bottom of the shelf.)
If you’re taking exams, you definitely don’t want to hear the following sentence:
- Sein Name stand ganz unten auf der Liste. (His name was at the bottom of the list.)
vorn (up front)
When you’re showing your old class photo to someone, you might want to explain who/where you are in it:
- Ich stehe vorn links. (I'm standing at the front left.)
- Wer ist das vorn rechts? (Who’s that at the front right?)
There’s also an interesting phrase with this word in German: “die Nase vorn haben”. Literally it means “to have the nose ahead”, but it actually means “to be/do something better than anyone else”:
- Wer hat bei AI die Nase vorn? (Who takes the lead in terms of AI?)
Of course, AI means “artificial intelligence”, or “künstliche Intelligenz” auf Deutsch.
hinten (at the back)
Please make sure that you never have to say the following sentence when it comes to getting a slice of cake:
- Ich stehe immer hinten in der Reihe. (I'm always standing at the back of the line.)
Or that you have to ask somebody to leave, for any given reason:
- Der Ausgang ist hinten. (The exit is in the back.)
außen (on the outside) / innen (on the inside)
außen and innen refer to the outer or inner surface of something. For example:
- Die Glastür ist außen schmutzig. (The glass door is dirty on the outside.)
- Der Becher ist außen und innen vergoldet. (The cup is gold-plated on the outside and inside.)
draußen (outside) / drinnen (inside)
These two words sound similar to “außen” and “innen”, but they refer to being physically away from an object or contained within it.
- Kinder spielen draußen. (Children are playing outside.)
- Warten Sie bitte draußen. (Please wait outside.)
- Ich möchte lieber drinnen bleiben. (I’d like to stay inside.)
This seems simple, but be careful how you use “drinnen” and “draußen”. If you say “nach draußen/drinnen” it implies movement and will automatically become information about direction:
- Ich gehe nach draußen. (I’m going outside.)
mitten (in the middle of)
Here are some examples:
- Mitten im Garten steht ein Tisch. (There is a table in the middle of the garden.)
- Er lebt mitten in London. (He lives in the middle of London.)
It’s interesting that “mitten” can be used not only to express information about place, but also information about time, like “mitten in der Nacht” (in the middle of the night).
This word is really fascinating because it describes “a person or an object that lives or is placed right next to my home”. It tells a whole story!:
- Er wohnt nebenan. (He lives next-door.)
- Die Wohnung nebenan ist leer. (The apartment next-door is empty.)
- Der Park liegt direkt nebenan. (The park is right next to it.)
links (on the left) / rechts (on the right)
Here are some examples:
- Dritte Tür links/rechts. (The third door on the left/right.)
The following example is a phrase with the meaning “he is totally confused”:
- Er weiß nicht mehr, was rechts und was links ist. (He doesn't know what right and left is anymore.)
Similar to nach draussen und nach drinnen, if you say nach rechts (to the right) or nach links (to the left) it’ll imply movement and will be information about direction and not about place:
- Biegen Sie nach links/rechts ab. (Turn left/right).
irgendwo, überall, anderswo and nirgendwo are indefinite place adverbs. These adverbs can be very helpful if you’ve lost something and are trying to find it, just take a look at the these examples:
- Meine Tasche ist weg! Es muss irgendwo hier sein. (My bag is gone! It must be here somewhere.)
- Hast du es schon irgendwo gesehen? (Have you seen it somewhere?)
- Ich habe es überall gesucht. (I was looking for it everywhere.)
anderswo (somewhere else, elsewhere)
- Es ist nicht hier. Versuch’s anderswo. (It’s not here. Try somewhere else.)
nirgendwo / nirgends (nowhere, not...anywhere)
- Ich kann es nirgendwo finden. (I can’t find it anywhere.)
auswärts (not at home)
We can use this word in German if we speak about eating or about sports:
- Ich esse gern auswärts. (I like to eat out.)
- Ich esse relativ viel auswärts. (I eat out relatively often.)
- Das Team musste viel auswärts spielen. (The team had to play a lot away from home.)
For more advanced learners: 2 or more words
2 or more words can also give information about place.
Earlier, I mentioned that adverbs of place often pair up with other pieces of information about place to give us more detail:
- mitten im Garten (mitten + im Garten: in the middle of the garden)
- oben im zweiten Stock (oben + im zweiten Stock: upstairs on the second floor)
- unten im Regal (unten + im Regal: at the bottom of the shelf)
- irgendwo hier (irgendwo + hier: somewhere here)
- hinten in der Reihe (hinten + in der Reihe: at the back of the line)
- vorn links (vorn + links: at the front left).
There are also many other examples, like the one from the beginning of this blog post:
da drüben (over there)
- Wo kann ich essen? - Versuchen Sie da drüben. (Where can I eat? - You can try over there.)
- Siehst du das Haus da drüben? Dort ist Mozart geboren. (Do you see the house over there? Mozart was born there.)
Many word groups with prepositions (prepositional phrases: preposition + noun) also belong to this category. Let’s list some of them:
zu Hause (at home)
- Wo bist du? - Ich bin zu Hause.
(Where are you? - I’m at home.)
auf dem Land(e) (in the countryside)
- Wo wohnen deine Eltern? - Sie wohnen auf dem Land. (Where do your parents live? - They live in the countryside.)
- Ich verbringe viel Zeit auf dem Lande. (I spend a lot of time in the country.)
in der Nähe (von) (near)
- Ich wohne in der Nähe von der Bushaltestelle. (I live near the bus stop.)
- Gibt es eine Buchhandlung hier in der Nähe? (Is there a bookstore somewhere here?)
There are also many, many other examples of prepositional phrases that provide information about place, just to list some of them:
- am Markt (at the market)
- an der Wand (on the wall)
- auf dem Spielplatz (on the playground)
- auf dem Hof (in the yard)
- an der Uni (at the university)
- auf dem Seminar (at the seminar)
- auf der Party (at the party)
For experts: whole sentence
Finally, information about place can be expressed with a whole sentence in German. In this case, a verb comes into play. Let’s take a look:
- Er wohnt dort, wo seine Eltern wohnen. (He lives there where his parents live.)
- Da, wo du bist, ist mein Zuhause. (My home is where you are.)
- Wo normalerweise das Bett steht, hat jetzt ein Schreibtisch seinen Platz. (Where the bed normally stands, a desk now has its place.)
These sentences also answer the question wo? (where?) as any other information about place.
How to use German adverbials of place in a sentence correctly?
This chapter should answer the question: where should I put the adverbials of place in a sentence?
The most important thing is that you consider the information about place as one whole or one unit. It doesn’t matter if it is 1, 2 or 3 words or a whole sentence, they build one whole and take their place in a sentence as a whole.
Once you know this, it will be much easier for you to build a sentence with information about place in it, as long as you keep all other rules of the word order in mind. 😉