German Word of the Day – “her”

komm her

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a look at the meaning of:

her

 

Her is a really common word and it actually comes up very early on in the German learning journey when you learn to talk about where you’re from.

  • Wo kommst du her?

So I am sure all learners know that her is a thing most probably also know that it is related to here and has something to do with location.
And yet, forgetting her or using it the wrong way is a REALLY common mistake of intermediate learners, and it happens because most people don’t really know what her actually is – a powerful idea, a free spirit roaming the vast plains of a German sentence, sometimes as prefix, and sometimes at the heart of some of the greatest stories of mankind. Like Her-cules, Her-r der Ringe, Herry potter and Supher Man.
Epic!
But seriously, understanding and using her is not so much about a translations, but about a function. And that’s what we’ll explore today, so are you ready to jump in?
Then let’s go.

Her is basically the brother of German hier and both are of course related to English here. And to really understand her we actually need to understand a general feature of the German language that we could call spatial OCD. When it comes to talking about location, German is extremely precise and explicit.

You see, when you take a location pin on Google maps, that pin can have three roles: an origin, a current location or a destination.
And what German does is that it mark these differences explicitly in language, particularly the distinction between a fixed location and a destination.

That’s for instance the essence of the two way preposition, where the case is used to make this mark. And it’s also the key to the difference between hier and her. Because hier is about a current location, her is a destination.
Both can refer to the same location, mind you. They’re just giving it a different role.
Here’s an example…

  • Ich bin hier.
  • I am here.
  • Komm her!
  • Come here!

In the first sentence, I am talking about my current location, so I am using hier. In the second example, I am telling someone to come to that location that I just called “hier”, but now, for the person, it is a destination and so I am using her.
English is like “Look Bro, I can do it with just here. The verbs make it clear.”
But German is like “Naahh, I think imma use two different words.”. And itll go into drama mode, if you get them wrong.

  • Ich bin her…. NOPE
  • Komm hier!… NOPE

These two are not just “normal” wrong, they’re “stick out”-wrong. Why? Well, because the roles of hier and her (location vs destination) are hard wired in the brain of a native speaker and combining the verb sein in the first example with a destination just makes no sense. It’s like saying

  • I am to the park.

It’s just really really really weird.
So yeah… we can basically think of her as “to here“. Or as here #destination. That’s the essence.
And I am sure at this point there’s a question slowly creeping up in many of you… and that question is something along the lines of

“Wait, doesn’t her mean from?”

The paradox of German “her”

As we mentioned in the intro already, beginners meet her very early on as part of the question about where someone is from.

  • Wo kommst du her?
  • Where do you come from?

So in terms of a location pin, we’re actually talking about an origin here, NOT a destination.
The thing is… in this case, ENGLISH is actually the one making an explicit marking. By adding from.

  • Where are you? (current location)
  • Where are you from? (origin)

But German is like “You know what… imma skip that origin marking. I’m still gonna mark the destination though.”.
And English is like “Isn’t that super confusing then?”
And German’s just like “Yeah!”
So here’s what’s going on…

  • Where do you come from [to here].
  •  Wo kommst du         [       ] her.

Her is NOT a translation for from. It’s an element that simply doesn’t exist in the English sentence. And the from is just missing in German. The translation for that would be von and actually, we can also phrase the question that way. We just need to make sure that von is in front of the wo.

  • Von wo kommst du?
  • From where do you come?

And sometimes, people even combine the two…

  • Von woher kommst du?

The literal translation of this is:

  • From where do you come to here?

So yeah… you can either ask von wo, which literally means from where, or you can use wo in combination with her, which means the same, but technically, it has skipped the from-part entirely.

And once again, I feel like there’s a question creeping up to many of you. So… let’s answer it :)

woher…  vs.  wo… her

We’ve used both versions in this article already and you’ll also find both versions in most learning material.

  1. Woher kommst du?
  2. Wo kommst du her?

And the question is of course if there is any difference.
And the answer is … no!
Both mean the exact same thing, so you can pick the one you like better.
To me, woher sounds a bit more formal and official and I prefer wo… her. And I think that might be a general preference, at least for colloquial German, because it has this typical VATE™-pattern (German’s trademarked “Verb At The End” thing).

In fact, in a structural sense, the her in wo… her is actually prefix. Something we can make visible if we add a pinch of side sentence to the mix :)

  • Ich habe sie gefragt, woher sie kommt.
  • Ich habe sie gefragt, wo sie herkommt.

See what I mean? herkommt is one word in the second version, so the verb there is herkommen, while in the first version it is just kommen. It doesn’t make a difference in meaning, and Germans are not even really aware of this, until the have to spell it.

  • Ich frage mich, wo sie diese Hose herhat/her hat.
  • I ask myself, where she got these pants.
    Lit.: “…, where she has these pants from.”

If you have German friends, ask them which is correct. I’m sure many of them will at least have doubts or second thoughts.
But generally, her isn’t a standalone very often and often it is structurally part of the verb.
And in fact, it’s actually a pretty common prefix with a function beyond what we’ve discussed so far.

her- as a prefix

Like many prefixes, her- broadens its core idea into an abstract theme. So it takes the notion of “to here” that we’ve discussed and makes it into a rather generic “toward the speaker“. That CAN be the speaker’s actually location

  • Meine Mutter kommt später noch her.
  • My mom will come here later.

but it can also be a more general sense of “this reality”.

  • Wo kommt deine schlechte Laune her?
  • From where does you bad mood originate?

And sometimes, it is essentially just a generic stand-in…

  • Gib das her!
  • Give me that!

Giving is an act (a verb) that implies that there is some sort of recipient. So there is a direction, a destination. In English that’s me and in the German version, her basically takes fills that role. We could also say mir but then we’d normally take her out because otherwise we’d have two indications of destination. Which is not wrong, but it sounds a bit awkward.

Another great example where her is incredibly generic, is herstellen, which is the German word for to produce, to manufacture. Like… you “put” something “into reality”. It’s kind of a childlish word, if you think about it.

  • BMW stellt Autos her.
  • BMW produces cars.

And I guess we should also mention also mention those r-prefixes, like rein or raus or rauf. Those have slowly grown into units of their own, but originally they’re just shortened versions of herein, heraus and so on. And the her really has no meaning here except indicating a direction in space.

Some textbooks or smarty pants teachers might claim that we still have this notion of “toward the speaker” in these,  but I think that’s really missing the realities on the ground. People use r-versions and her-versions regardless of whether the direction is toward here or to there. And there are some regions where people don’t use them at all, but use the hin-versions for both directions.
“OMG, we were gonna ask about hin? That’s kind of the opposite of her, right?”
Well, yes… at the core of hin is the idea “toward there” and I actually have an awesome article about that, as well. I’ll leave the link to that below.
And actually, we’re almost done for today, but there’s one more important thing we need to talk about real quick. And that is her in context of time.

“her” and time

Now, we’ve learned that the origin of her is the spatial domain, but of course we all know what Einstein said.

“Time and space is kinda sorta the same stuff.”

(Albert Einstein)

And so it makes sense that her is also used in context of time, to express how long ago something is.

  • Es ist lange her, dass ich richtig betrunken war.
  • It has been a long time  since I have been really drunk.
  • Es ist 3 Jahre her, dass ich in Paris war.
  • It’s been 3 years since I was in Paris.

When learners see this, they’re tempted to think that her is the counterpart of ago, but that’s a bit misleading, as we can see if we plug in our core theme that we learned earlier…

  • It is 3 years to here, ….

I hope that makes sense, to you. It’s definitely  a phrasing that you should add to your active vocabulary.
And last but not least, the other really important use in the time domain is the word vorher, which essentially expresses the idea of “before that”…. just from angle of “before here”.

  • Ich gehe schlafen. Vorher putze ich mir die Zähne.
  • I go to bed. First/before I brush my teeth.
  • Ich muss zur Arbeit gehen, aber vorher muss ich meine Brille finden.
  • I have to go to work but first I have to find my glasses.

In all honesty, vorhier would actually make more sense in this case, because we’re NOT talking about a destination here, but oh well… there will always bee little glitches in the matrix like that.

Anyway, I think that’s actually it for today. This was our look at the meaning and function of her. The core takeaway is that it is basically like a #destination and because German is so OCD about marking the distinction between a location pin and a destination pin, her is basically your best friends annoying new girlfriend… you see her way too often for your taste.
*badum tishhh
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

further reading:

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Fancypantser
Fancypantser
1 year ago

Wow! Hence the words Herkunft and Zukunft.
German is like the IKEA of languages, fit together these small bits and you get an entire coherent…umm…bookshelf. All of these small bits can be reused in other contexts with the same meaning to build new words with related meanings. This makes German easy to understand.

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

took away from it that the difference generally speaking ,between ”her” and ”hin” was that the former generally

indicated movement towards here ,from somewhere and the latter indicated movement away from the observer .

With that in mind you had an example of going outside that i attached a screenshot from .

There the action of you going from where you were ,in your house, to the outside , should be i assumed expressed with the word ”hinaus” or ”Ich gehe hinaus”.

The example however uses ”raus” or ”heraus” as in ”Ich gehe heraus”, which has me a bit confused .

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

oh ok ,i guess thats just one of the things that makes it more interesting :D

patrik.osgnach
patrik.osgnach
2 years ago

The phrase “Das Wetter ist schön. Deshalb gehe ich raus” sounds paradoxical. If raus stands for heraus then that phrase would make sense if I am already outside and I invite you to join me. Dh, come out here where I am. If I want to go out, I would say “Ich gehe hinaus”, oder?

turntablesong
turntablesong
2 years ago

What happened to the article about “hin”? IT cannot be found any more. Could you please reupload it?

Poyma
Poyma
3 years ago

In english we still have ancient remnants of something like her and hier. I’d like to nominate “hither” and “thither” as most useful of the forgotten adverbs.

anerbenartzi
anerbenartzi
4 years ago

Fantastic post. Not only did it clarify her/heir, it gave me the missing linguocultural understanding that German speech specifies direction, whereas English leaves it ambiguous. (yes, I made up linguocultural just now.)

Ian
Ian
6 years ago

I find the attempted explanation of the “missing from” in “woher” somewhat confusing and ultimately unnecessary. Consider the symmetry of these two statements and their English transalations (with implied translation in brackets):

Woher kommst du? Where are you coming from (to here)?
Wohin gehst du? Where are you going to (from here)?

Both English translations make explicit the place we are heading towards or coming from, ie the “there”. The location of the speaker is implied in both cases. The “here” is not explicit in either case. The reason is that the speaker in both cases is seeking information about the “there”. So this works logically, intuitively and naturally for me and does not require any mental gymnastics.

neimisnotimportant
neimisnotimportant
6 years ago

Im not sure did my message come through?

neimisnotimportant
neimisnotimportant
6 years ago

to make it simple: hinein/herein = rein. hinaus/heraus = raus. and thats how they usually use it. you understand what the other means just by the verb. “komm rein” (for example. the speaker is inside and says to his friend “komm rein” who is outside). “geh raus” (the speaker is inside and says to his friend, who is also inside, to go out). komm raus ( the speaker is outside and his friend is inside, the speaker tells him to come outside) geh rein (the speaker is outside and tells his friend to go inside). same goes for many other as well.

nitish
nitish
6 years ago

Wow. This is awesome.

This site has become my default site for clarifications. I find it much more useful than sites with grammatical explanations. Thanks for all your work.

I have a question. If hin is the opposite of her, wouldn’t “Wohin kommst du?” be more suitable for “Where are you coming from?” rather than the convoluted one with “Woher”? Any theories for this :) ?

Damian
Damian
6 years ago

Hi!

I am a big fan of yours. I am learning a lot thanks to your haaaaard work here, as you can explain everything through an “easy way”.

I understand more or less the difference between “her” and “hin”, but I still don’t get something… maybe because my mother language is not English and I misunderstood something or… because the german language is weird. Maybe both. :P

Here is my problem:

– Ich gehe raus.
– Ich gehe hinaus.

Are both correct? If the answer is yes, when do I say “raus” and when “hinaus”?

Thanks a lot in advance.
Damián

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

If raus is short for heraus, which involves movement towards the speaker, then why does raus mean out? It’s a bit illogical.

Oliver
Oliver
6 years ago

Hab eine Frage hier ^^

Ich stellte mir diese Frage… sind hierfür, hiermit usw… Synonyms mit dafür, damit usw… ?

Z.b = Der Kampf um Rohstoffe.

Die einzigen Lösungen, die mehr schlecht als recht funktioniert…

Das beste Beispiel hierfür ist die Europäische Union und ihr Kampf ums Überleben.

Danke im Voraus wie üblich und vielen Dank für allen diese wervolle Informationen. =D

siadanielsson
7 years ago

Thank you for the help! :)

Just a little note in English:

Es ist lange her, dass ich richtig betrunken war.
It is a long time, that I haven’t been really drunk.

This doesn’t really make sense and you can’t use ‘that’ here. A better translation keeping this structure would possibly be ‘since’, i.e. ‘It’s been a long time since I’ve been really drunk’, but sounds a bit komisch. I’d say personally: ‘I haven’t really been drunk in a long time’, or ‘I haven’t been properly drunk in such a long time’.

siadanielsson
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I think it’s because you’re on Google.de! I went on google.co.uk for example and all it is is foreigners asking what’s the correct grammar haha!

It’s definitely not a regional thing, it’s just a generally flat out wrong in this particular context; sorry! I can’t think of a sentence where you’d ever say ‘it’s a long time that’, only ‘it’s been a long time that’. I’m trying to think!

“It’s a long time that we had together, but now it’s over” perhaps works for example but still very clumsy; more like “we knew each other for a long time, but now it’s over.”

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

Ich gehe schlafen. Vorher putze ich mir die Zähne.

Can I instead say:

Ich gehe schlafen. Davor putze ich mir die Zähne.

We can also use “davor” with the meaning “before that”, can’t we?

berlingrabers
7 years ago

There are two sets of English words that are now mostly obsolete that share some of the idea of “hin/her”: “hither/thither” and “hence/thence.”

“Hither” = “to here”; occasionally you might still here somebody say “come hither” to be cute and sound kind of Shakespearean or King James-y.

“Thither” = “to there”; never used conversationally, unless somebody who wants to sound highbrow uses “hither and thither” (though “hither and yon” is probably more common) to mean “all over the place, over a wide range.”

Those both have to do with destination in space exclusively. The corresponding question word is “whither”: “Whither goest thou, dude?” “Thither, but I’ll come right back hither afterward.”

“Hence” and “thence” are the opposites, meaning “from here” and “from there” respectively.

“Hence” is the most common in contemporary English, mostly with its more abstract meaning, which is pretty close to “therefore” or “thus” but works a little differently in syntax. You’re really not supposed to use it to introduce a whole clause, just a noun/noun phrase: “He’s been unemployed for the last nine months, hence his encyclopedic knowledge of daytime TV programming.” It might help to think of it as meaning “this explains.” But in older English usage it also had the spatial meaning: “Get thee hence!” = “Go away!” or “Off with you!”

“Thence” pretty much always sounds old-fashioned or high-toned. Then you’ve got the question word “whence,” so the Shakespearean translation of “Woher kommst du?” would be “Whence comest thou?” (sample answer: “Greenwich Village. Many a fine bard came thence in the ’60s.”)

Anyway… ich denke, dass ich die “her”-Idee relativ gut verstehe und ich kann sogar begreifen, warum es “(he)raus, (he)rein” usw. heißt aber es fällt mir schwer, die entsprechenden “hin-“-Wörter zu kapieren. Ich fänd es klar, wenn “herunter” die Bedeutung “down this way” bzw. “hinunter” die Bedeutung “down that way” hätten (und es ist doch schon so, kinda sorta?) aber scheinbar ist der eigentliche Fall etwas komplizierter, oder? Ich kenne ein paar abstrakte “hin-“-Phrasen, wie z.B. “darüber hinaus,” wobei die Logik mir ziemlich klar ist. Es bleibt aber schwierig, “hin-” im allgemeinen zu verstehen, denn “her-” hat keine klare “to(ward) here” Bedeutung.

Also dem Wunsch nach “hin” als Word of the Day stimme ich ganz stark zu. :)

Chris
Chris
7 years ago

Thanks for your great german website! Would it be possible to include a comparison between “hin” and “her”? I couldn’t find “hin” as a word of the day. Thanks!

Sam
Sam
8 years ago

So a question that has been confusing me persistently (I don’t think I’ve asked it yet) is talking about past events in two ways:

1) You did something in the past and are no longer doing it. (I **did do** something)
2) You started doing something in the past and it is continuing into the present. (I **have been** doing something)

-Ich habe Deutsch gelernt
– I studied German. (and I am no longer actively studying German)

Can this first example also be translated to “I have been studying German” ?

– Ich habe Deutsch 3 Jahre lang her gelernt.
– I’ve been studying German for three years (now). (I started studying German in the past and I still am)

My main question boils down to how to communicate actions that started in the past and continue into the present (as indicated by “has been/have been” in English)

Danke im Voraus

Jeannie
Jeannie
8 years ago

I read the debate above with interest, and then looked up “her” and “hier” in Duden, which is pretty clear that her = destination and hier = location. As a student of German, I think it’s important to be precise even in the early stages of learning because German is a more exact language than English. Anyway, I do have a question in regards to something mentioned: von wo vs. wovon. My understanding is that wo + a preposition (ex., womit, woran, etc.) translates the wo as “what” and not “where,” so that “wovon” means “from what” and NOT “from where,” whereas “von wo” does in fact mean “from where.” Is that correct, or am I misunderstanding something? By the way, I find your blog very helpful when I’m searching for more detailed explanations. Most basic to intermediate German texts aren’t very in-depth, which I find frustrating. Thanks!

Jeannie
Jeannie
8 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks–yes, I understand. Destination/location are just the shorthand words I use for myself, as in something/someone is moving to a destination rather than in a fixed location. And thank you for responding so quickly. I may have to ask more questions now!

jacbop
jacbop
7 years ago
Reply to  Jeannie

Is it safe to say, that the wo- words would be (in a more logical, parallel universe) better called was- words? They really have nothing to do with “wo”, right?
wovon = von was
womit = mit was
worauf = auf was
And it is always a “was”, because with people we would not use a wo- word (sonst mit wem, von wem).

This post was precisely what I needed today. I’m trying to make sense of German’s hyper precise sense of Lage und Richtung bei der Bewegung.
I’m trying to wade through the seemingly endless compound her/hin words, including Abkürzungen:
Ich gehe hinauf. Du kommst herauf.
Ich gehe rauf. Du kommst rauf.
Ich gehe nach oben. Du kommst von oben.
Ich gehe aufwärts. Du kommst aufwärts.

So my assertions (which are very likely flawed / wrong) are:
0) with an explicit “hin” or “her” word, the direction of movement in unambiguous.
1) prepositions can be used to clarify “to here”/”from here” (von/nach). Sometimes they are mandatory (nach rechts, von links)
2) shortened forms like raus/rüber can switch hit as ‘her’ or ‘hin’ words and the verb and context clear it up. (runter gehen, runter kommen)
3) It seems like words like abwärts and aufwärts function like the shortened forms above: verb and context make it clear if it is “to here” or “away from here”?

Bin ich auf dem Holzweg?

Tausend Dank

http://www.mein-deutschbuch.de/lernen.php?menu_id=72

James
James
8 years ago

Emanuel, Thanks! This helps, the idea of one aspect being motion (her) and the other being location (hier) makes sense!!