German Directional Adverbs


German signifies directional movement (vs. position) in several ways that English does not. The adverbs hin and her are examples of this indication of movement in a particular direction or from a point of origin.


Adverbs never modify or describe nouns. Adverbs are used to modify verbs (hence the name adverb), but they can also be used to modify adjectives (sehr gut – very good) or another adverb (sehr gern – very gladly). In English, we can easily make an adverb out of an adjective by adding the suffix “-ly”.

The car is beautiful. (adjective) 
The car drives beautifully. (adverb) In German, we do not have an equivalent of “-ly” adverbs. However, a word can be used as an adjective in one sentence, and an adverb in another. For example, we can use the word “nett” (nice) as either an adverb or an adjective. 

Der Mann ist nett.The man is nice. (adjective). 
Der Mann lächelt nettThe man is smiling nicely. (adverb) 

Notice that the adverb “nett” did not change. Adverbs in German are classified as “unveränderlich” (unchangeable), because they do not change regardless of subject or verb. (Note: a handful of adverbs can be used in comparison, which does add comparative or superlative endings). In general, adverbs help us describe the circumstances under which a verb is done. We can describe a circumstance based on location or place (Lokaladverbien), time or frequency (Temporaladverbien), manner (Modaladverbien), or cause (Kausaladverbien). This is something that they have in common with prepositions, which adds to the confusion. But remember, an adverb describes how a verb is done. 

An adverb of place can be used, more specifically, do indicate direction. “Hin” and “her” (there and here), are two common examples. Directional adverbs can even be combined with prepositions to express more nuanced information about direction.

For example, one can say, “Komm her!” This can be translated as “Come here!” However, when the preposition ‘ein’ is added to ‘her,’ it indicates an enclosed space for the addressee to enter (“Komm herein!” / “Come in (here)” ; also “rein” for short). There are many variants, but, generally speaking, the following directional adverbs indicate certain meanings:

ab = down     →     bergab = downhill (literally “down the mountain”)
auf = up, to the/on top of     →     bergauf = uphill (literally “up the mountain”)
aus = out (of)     →     heraus (raus) = out of here (“Raus!” = Get out of here!)
da/dort = there     →     dahin/dorthin = (to) there, thither*
her = here     →     herab = down from (here)
hier= here     →     hierher = here, hither*
hin = there     →     hinauf → die Treppe hinauf = up the stairs
unter = under      →     herunter (runter) = downward

*These are obsolete directional adverbs in English, but they give a sense of what the German is imparting.

There are also a few expressions using directional adverbs, but to express time. 

hin und her = back and forth (can also be directional)
hin und wieder = occasionally
schon lange her = a long time ago
schon viele Jahre her = many years ago

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