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.


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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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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.