Word of the Day – “hin”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And this time, we’ll take a look at the meaning of one of your least favorite words…

hin

 

Hin is really confusing for a lot of learners and even advanced speakers often make mistakes with it. Or better, without it. Like here…

  • Ich bin da gegangen.

This is wrong, it should be:

Forgetting hin is a really really common, I’m sure many of you have made it. And even though you’ll still be understood, a missing hin sounds quite bad and really really ruins your language swag. Kind of like this:

  • I drinks a beer.

It’s just a letter, it’s understandable, but it sounds like I am an A2 student.
Today, we’ll take a thorough look at hin and see what it does and why it sounds so bad if you forget it. And we’ll talk about its weird nature and how it can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a prefix or not.
So, are you ready to jump in?
Let’s go…

The purpose of language is ultimately to convey information – of any kind. Be it facts, opinions or feelings. There’s an unlimited amount of information to choose from and for the most part, what we say depends on what we … well… want to express. But to an extent, it also depends on the language we’re using. Because each language has a different focus on certain aspects of reality.
Arabic for instance finds it really important to make a grammatical distinction between “you two” and “you many”.
Japanese and other Asian languages abound with information about the status of the speakers in relation to each other.
Many of the Slavic languages really care about whether an action is brought to an end (perfektive) or not and English, while generally quite easy going, does care about whether something is ongoing or not.
And German?
Many of you are probably now silently screaming “gender”. And yes… German does care what grammatical gender a freaking chair has.
But besides that, there’s another area where German cares a great deal to be precise.
And that is … location.

German and OCD

Courses and textbooks usually don’t talk about that, because it’s not generally considered “a thing”, but German actually makes a big effort to be precise and explicit about spatial relations. All those prepositions, the two way prepositions, hin and her… all these are symptoms of German really caring about being precise in that area.
And there’s one aspect in particular that German really is kind of OCD about and that is… OCD!
The distinction between origin, current location and destination.
Well, actually it’s mainly the distinction between current location and destination, but then it wouldn’t be OCD.
Anyway, let’s look at an example in English:

  • I am coming  from the market.
  • I am                       at the market.
  • I am going             to the market.

Obviously, English also expresses that by using prepositions. But in comparison with German, English (and many other languages) are pretty chill. In particular, they don’t bother with the distinction between destination and current location.

  • I am                           there.
  • I am going                there.

English leaves this up to Captain Context and he does a pretty fine job.
German on the other hand can’t help it but to make it explicit, resulting not only in it being super clear, but also in a massive headache for learners because they have to deal with seemingly pointless bits of grammar.
One tool German uses for that are the so called two-way prepositions.
Just in case you don’t know what those are, here’s a fictional example with a fictional character…

  • Thomas kotzt unter dem Tisch.
  • Thomas kotzt unter den Tisch.

Both sentence translate to “Thomas vomits under the table.”. But the Dative in the first one marks “under the table” as a fixed location, where the vomiting takes place while the Accusative in the second one marks “under the table” as the destination of the vomit. This is gross, by the way. I really need to have a talk with my peons… erm… I mean interns.
Anyway, so yeah… these two-way prepositions are one way for German to make clear whether or not something is a destination.
And another important tool is hin.

The core of hin

Hin is a cousin of her and hier and together they form a trinity that is kind of similar to the OCD one we just learned about.

her hierhin

Hier is the stationary here, the current location of the speaker.
Her expresses a very general idea of toward the current location/speaker, while hin expresses the very broad notion of outward, toward another location.
Here’s an example

  • Ich jogge immer her.     (I always run here.)
  • Ich jogge immer hier.    (I always run here.)
  • Ich jogge immer hin.     (I always run there.)

The first sentence says that I’m jogging to here, the second sentences says that here is where I do my running, and the last one expresses that I run to there from here. As you can see in the translations, English doesn’t mark these things.  The first two sentences are the same and we’d need context to tell what they mean. And the last sentence could also mean that I do my running there.
In German, it’s clearly marked whether we’re in one location (hier) or not  (her, hin) and where the new location is.
Now, technically her and hin both express directed motion. But her has this vibe of inward, toward the speaker and in essence it’s only referring to one location: here. Sure, “here” can be anywhere but in any situation there’s just one of it.
Hin on the other hand with its notion of outward, away from the current location can refer to any location other than here. So it’s much more general. And that’s basically its core function:

Hin is used to establish a generic destination that is not “here”

And that makes it a very useful word because we’ve learned just how important this is for our favorite language (German, I mean German).
Now, hin can be used in two slightly distinct ways. The first one is as a sort of destination-tag.

hin – #destination

Take this sentence:

  • I’m going there twice a week.

When people want to say this in German, a LOT of times they say

  • Ich gehe zweimal pro Woche da.

All the words are translated correctly. And yet, it’s wrong. And with what we’ve learned about German’s OCD, we can understand why.
You see, the German word da is a metaphorical pointer to a location. Just like there. The problem is that it can only answer at the question “at what place”.
The sentence, however, is obviously about me going to some place. So the location is in fact a destination and giving an answer to the question “to what place.
You’re probably like “Okay… so what.”
And English is like “Yeah, whatever, it’s fine.”
But German REALLY flips its shit.
“WHAT?! You’re trying to answer to what place with an element that answers at what place?!?! OMG, this is outrageous! I … I’m out of words.”

And that’s what we need hin for.

Hin is basically like a hashtag #destination that’s added to the static location da.
Here’s another example.

Again, the sentence involves a destination. But hier by itself only indicates a fixed location. The directional part is missing and we can add that by using our little tag hin.

Now you might think like “Ah okay… so I’ll add hin whenever there’s a destination.”
But not so fast, young Jedi. Work that will not.
Take this sentence:

  • I’m going to the gym five times per week.

It’s the same as the one above, only that I’m serious about my fitness goals this time around, and there’s this really hot Pilates trainer there. She is so freaking gorgeous it’s unreal. Makes me get off topic if I even think about her. Where was I… oh yeah… hin.
So yeah, the other difference in the example is that we now replaced the generic da/there with an actual location (the gym).
Now what would you say… which of the following translations is considered correct, or at least idiomatic. Number one, number two or both?

  1. Ich gehe fünf mal pro Woche ins Fitnessstudio.
  2. Ich gehe fünf mal pro Woche ins Fitnessstudio hin.

The answer is… only number one is considered correct.
Why?
Well, for one thing,  the location is already unambiguously marked as a destination by the preposition (and case) we’re using.

  • to the gym
  • ins Fitnessstudio

Those two phrases are clearly destinations, they answer the question “to what place” , so there’s no need for an extra marking.
But the bigger problem, the thing that makes it sound really weird to add hin to that is the fact that hin isn’t only a tag – it can actually be a destination itself.

hin – the generic destination

Take the following sentence:

  • I’m putting the book.

This sounds wrong, right?
The reason is that to put involves a location, a destination to be precise. It wants an element that answers “to what location/whereto” but no such element is in the sentence.
You could add it by sayingon the table for example. But there are also more generic options you can use

  • I’m putting the book down/away.

And in German, the most generic option for a destination is … hin.

As you can see, hin fills up the “whereto”-slot of the sentence. And now we can understand why the sentence we had earlier sounds at least weird.

  • Ich gehe fünfmal pro Woche [ins Fitnessstudio] [hin].

We have two fully functional, complete sounding answers to to what place here: ins Fitnessstudio and hin. And that sounds weird, and often wrong.
Cool.
Time for a quick recap:

Hin expresses the notion of “destination (other than “here”).
It can add this notion to words like da or hier, which by themselves can only answer “at the place”.
And it can be used to “fill” the “to what place”-box by itself. 

This is pretty much all you need to know if you want to understand what hin means and does.
What we haven’t talked about yet, is the grammatical side of it.
Is it a prefix? Is it a stand alone? What about wohin? Is it da hin or dahin?
And that’s what we’ll talk about in part two.
Yup, that’s right… we’ll take a break here :). Originally, I wanted to do it in one post, but besides grammar, I also want to go over the most common phrasings with hin and I realized that all of it together would have been a little too much for one article.
So, for now just let that sink in and test yourself in the little quiz we have prepared.
And of course, please ask all your questions and your friends’ questions in the comments and I’ll try to clear them up. Oh, and let me know if you found this clear and helpful so far. Using hin correctly isn’t the most crucial thing in terms of being understood but it makes a huuuuuuge difference in how your German sounds, so it’s really important to me that you understand what’s going on.
So yeah, let me know your questions and feedback in the comments.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

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1040

Test yourself on "hin".

1 / 5

Which is the idiomatic translation for the following sentence:
"I fell down."

2 / 5

Which one is NOT a translation for the following sentence:
"I want to go there."

3 / 5

Which of the following statements is idiomatic?

4 / 5

Which of the following is NOT a function of "hin"?

5 / 5

Which word captures the essence of "hin"?

Your score is

The average score is 76%

 

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daschles
daschles

“But to an extend, it also depends on the language we’re. ” ugh. “But to an EXTENT, it also depends on the language we’re “USING” (?) “IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH” (?) TORTURING (?).

As usual just a wonderfully idiosyncratic way of ripping apart grammar.

thanks

daschles
daschles

And now it makes more sense to me about da itself – it is a needy little thing demanding something else to complement it – da vorn, da hinten, da oben da drüben etc. It

Napay 1

First time on my phone, everything good as always but a bit tricky to log in

SuperEllipse
SuperEllipse

Thanks for the article. I think instead of “to what place” “to which place” probably sounds right. Can you also cover hinaus and heraus, they really stump me, when native speakers just sepate the root verb and add hinaus at the end and i am supposed to get it. Great work, thanks for making it fun

Aaaa AAA
Aaaa AAA

Aargh, the iMprecision!!!! I CAN’T!!!

When someone mixes up IN- , IM- and UN-
:))))) Great articles – keep going!

Ein Deutscher
Ein Deutscher

I am wondering about the second question in the quiz. You are asking what is NOT a translation for “I want to go there.”
The options you give are:
1. Ich will da hin.
This is a viable translation, where ‘go’ is the seen as the generic verb for getting somewhere, as the closer equivalent to the German sentence would be “I want to get there.” or “I want to make it there.”

2. Ich will da hingehen.
This is a straightforward translation, very similar to your example “Ich bin da hingegangen.” But for some reason you mark this as not a translation (ie the “correct” choice.)

3. Ich will da gehen.
This is a viable translation (although it feels odd when the other options put you into a ‘go to destination’ mindset), where ‘da’ indicates where you want to go at, for example the route you want to take.

So as far as I can see, none of your options is correct as “not a translation”, but the one you choose seems to be the most straightforward translation of them all…

Jake
Jake

I thought the correct answer to #2, i.e., what’s NOT a translation for “I want to go there”, would be “Ich will da gehen.” Am I missing something?

Божидар
Божидар

Yea, me too… Can someone please explain?

Elisabeth Schabus
Elisabeth Schabus

Du hast Recht. Signed: the German native speaker :)

Amy
Amy

I’m wondering the same thing.

Jeanne
Jeanne

Me too!

pmccann
pmccann

Hmm: seems question 2 is either inordinately tricky, or you’ve chosen the wrong answer, slashing my dreamed-of 100% down to a miserable 80% *just because you can*. Ah well, a moral victory will have to do… ;-)

Reinhard Pflug
Reinhard Pflug

Ich jogge immer her. Ich jogge immer hin. Beide Saetze wirst Du nicht gesprochen oder geschrieben finden. Ich jogge immerhin. Koennte die Antwort auf eine Beschwerde Deiner Frau sein dass Du nich genung Sport treibst. Frage mal Deine Inerns ein paar bessere Beispiele zu finden.

Shailendra Gahlot
Shailendra Gahlot

I still d don’t understand the answer to the second question

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Montreal, eh? Takes me back – my mother was shot in the leg on a visit to Montreal when I was about 10 years old. Otherwise, it’s a nice place.

Anonymous
Anonymous

wow thats crazy – if it isn’t prying too much, what happened?

aoind
aoind

I’m so glad you decided to do this article Emanuel. Definitely one that will benefit from your clear explanations.

Is it idiomatic to drop the “gehen” from “hingehen” in some circumstances? For example might a taxi driver ask “Wo wollen Sie hin?”

Can I make a little comment on your sentence “I’m going to the gym five times per week.”? This would normally be a stative use of “to go” (i.e. “I go to the gym…”) since it seems to be referring to something repeated and habitual. It could be dynamic (“I’m going to the gym…”) if you are expressing that this is not habitual but an aberration applying only to the current time frame, like you might say “I’m going to gym five times a week… at the moment/ for as long as I can hack it/ as part of my new year’s resolutions”.

Elsa
Elsa

Hello!
Nice to know you’re having a great time in Canada!
You have NO TYPOS this time, at least none I have detected!
As a visual learner, I found your little diagram her – hier – hin extremely useful! I do admit I get very, very confused with “her” meaning away, as it’s so similar to “here”, but I guess it’s a question og getting used to it!
When I was reading the article, I thought I’d need to ask why “da hin” and not “dahin”, but I see you’ll be writing about it soon! Please don’t take a year to write the second half ;)
A question about the quiz: in question 2, why is “Ich will da gehen” not a wrong translation, considering that “Ich bin da gegangen” is wrong. Is it me or is it because the question is formulated the other way round?
Another question:
Would we say “Ich by davon hergekommen” to say we’re coming from there (some place already referred to)?

Bis bald!

Sumitra Kannan
Sumitra Kannan

Thanks for this. This is precisely the kind of help I need.

Paul Ed
Paul Ed

This is just what I was thinking about last week. I’ve always found ‘her’ confusing … there seems to be sentences where ‘her’ is used both with the verb AND again to signify something (location?) … presumably the same thing happens with ‘hin’?

Elisabeth Schabus
Elisabeth Schabus

Good thing I’m a native German speaker. “Ich will da hingehen” ist sehr wohl eine richtige Ausdrucksweise. Just sayin’

Anonymous
Anonymous

I’m also confused by the answer to number 2…

Alan
Alan

Useful, it has never been explained to me like that.
Cheers!

Christian
Christian

Hello Emanuel,

nice post about this tricky little word, but I hope you don’t mind me nitpicking a little as a native speaker? My cell phone keeps suggesting your posts to me since it runs on English system language and whenever I leave the city I study at, it thinks I’m taking vacation in Germany (when I’m really just visiting my family back home…).
There’s three little things I would like to point out.

First off, about ‘her’. I think your explanation about it is extremely simplified, but this was a blog entry about understanding ‘hin’ and you contrast what you wanted to, so it’s okay. That word definitely has its own Eigenleben though, in particular:
“Ich jogge immer her. (I always run here.)”

This is a sentence I don’t think any German speaker (below ~40 years of age?) would ever say. Of course, I cannot account for everyone in this country at once, but my impression is that ‘her’ is not really used without ‘hier’ in spoken language when it comes to marking the origin of an action. I would always instead say: “Ich jogge immer hierher.” I don’t think I can even remember reading a sentence like yours in a book from the top of my head.
The sentence is not incorrect though and you might not want to edit this for the sake of making the comparison easier. I wanted to point it out, though, because ‘her’ is one of those words that is used in one way in PRINCIPLE, but not in reality. (There are other contexts, of course, like “Her damit!” or “Ich kann nicht glauben, dass das schon so lange her ist.” where you could never even say hierher instead.)

Secondly, about two of the questions at the end. As many other people have already pointed out, the correct answer to question two is of course “Ich will da gehen” since it is the wrong sentence, but I’m sure you just clicked on the sentence that was correct and forgot how you phrased the question.
More importantly, for the first question… I know you said “proper” translation, but I cannot really agree with the fact that “Ich bin gefallen.” isn’t a viable translation for “I fell down.”. ‘Fallen’ can be used with hin, sure. “Ich bin hingefallen.” is probably the more “proper” translation, if you wanted to call it that. But there isn’t anything inherently wrong with “Ich bin gefallen.”, since ‘fallen’ isn’t one of those words that actually needs a destination. I think this is one of those cases where there just is no other context available and over time people stopped caring about the ‘hin’, despite the theoretical inprecision. Maybe other native speakers might also feel differently about this? But I personally wouldn’t discourage anyone from believing that this is a correct sentence, because I can assure you, you will hear somebody say this in Germany sooner or later.

Sorry for the long rant, but I thought you might appreciate input from a different point of view.

Freundliche Grüße,

Christian

Ilona Goynes
Ilona Goynes

Christian, deine antwort war klasse.Ich bin seit 1976 in den USA. Ich fand den kleinen test bei zufall. “German is easy”
Danke fuer deinen beitrag. Ich habe noch nie so genau ueber hin und her gedacht. Euch allen schoene gruesse aus Oklahoma.

Ilona

Dance with Shadows
Dance with Shadows

Initially I thought that one part of the cartoon at the top of the thread was a joke. But now I am not so sure. I observe another German native speaker referring to inprecise. The word in English is imprecise/imprecision.

Anonymous
Anonymous

it was indeed a great help. I always wanted to have a clear explanation for this part of the German Grammar.