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I've tried to look here:

http://www.wordreference.com/deen/queren

http://www.wordreference.com/deen/%C3%BCberqueren

But it's not clear to me. Also I don't understand why über-queren should literally translate as over crossing.

Can you help me?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Überqueren requires that you cross something that's physically located beneath you. Take

Die Straße überqueren (crossing the street)
Im Flugzeug den Kanal überqueren (crossing the Channel by plane)

as examples.

Queren describes a traversal where the movement is roughly perpendicular to a (often implicitly) contextually defined preferred orientation of what is being crossed.

Examples:

  1. Die Nordwand queren [alpinism] (traversing the north face).

    • The contextual orientation is vertical while the mountaineer climbs from one side of the face to the other, though often not strictly keeping his altitude.
  2. Ein querender Fußgänger (a pedestrian crossing our path).

    • The contextual orientation is your own bearing.
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One might note that queren is not as widely used as überqueren or durchqueren. Are there more? –  Carsten Schultz Feb 23 at 14:09
    
queren need not be perpendicular. It just has to cross the path, no matter in what angle. –  Toscho Feb 23 at 17:12
    
@CarstenSchultz unterqueren. @Toscho: the two intersecting trajectories needn't be perpendicular, but the more oblique the angle the more likely you would use another term, e.g. schneiden (to cut) –  collapsar Feb 24 at 10:46
    
I don't think I've heard unterqueren yet, except perhaps in a slightly mocking tone - it is certainly not in common use around here (although there is no lack of opportunities in the form of bridges and tunnels) –  Hulk Feb 24 at 16:32
1  
@Hulk the canonical way to express the notion of a tunnel beneath a river is to use unterqueren as in Die A7 unterquert die Elbe westlich des Hamburger Hafens (the [motorway] a7 crosses the river Elbe west of Hamburg seaport). It's also in frequent use describing pedestrian underpasses of railroad tracks, e.g. in the communities along the middle section of the Rhine between Bingen and Bonn. Granted, the verb rarely occurs in spoken language (i'd say mostly when giving very precise directions to somebody asking the way or among experts or civic officers as part of their technical jargon). –  collapsar Feb 24 at 18:09

Both verbs indeed mean "to cross" (i.e. a river). The "über" can be used to indicate two things in the sentence "Wir überquerten den Fluss":

  • Either to say that you went over the river (by using a bridge) and not under it (by using a tunnel).
  • But it can also just be thought as meaning "hinüber" (the words relate in meaning, not in grammar). So "Wir überquerten den Fluss bei der Furt" is also right, although now indeed you went trough the river.

So without an extra indication on the means how you got over the river, the two terms can be used exchangeably, except that you cannot say "überqueren" if you meant to go under it.

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hinüber is an adverb and not a preposition. So etwas überqueren is derived from the preposition über (etwas) and not from the adverb hinüber. –  Toscho Feb 23 at 17:14
    
Then why do you still say "Wir überquerten den Fluss" if you actually wadded trough it? –  PMF Feb 23 at 19:21
    
Because überqueren is the most common way to queren something. So überqueren became partially synonymous to queren which fell out of common use. But this is just the ethymology and doesn't concern the grammatical derivation. –  Toscho Feb 24 at 15:10

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