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What is the difference between umher and um?

  1. Ich gehe um den Park.
  2. Ich gehe im Park umher.
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

These are different words: gehen (to go, to walk) and umhergehen (to perambulate). You are either walking around the park, or walking around in the park.

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1  
Perambulate? Why not simply to stroll? I'm strolling in/through the park. – Em1 Dec 10 '13 at 9:46
    
Slightly different register, I think. But I'm really fine with either. – Ingmar Dec 10 '13 at 9:54

Ich gehe um den Park.

is a short form for

Ich gehe um den Park herum".

So you are searching the difference between "ich gehe herum" (Verb: "herumgehen") and "ich gehe umher" (Verb: "umhergehen").

The Duden says both mean the same

Herumgehen - Duden

Umhergehen - Duden

but there is some difference between them.

When you use "herumgehen" you have to differ if you walk around a certain point (um den Park herum). In this case, "herumgehen" means to walk around something. If not, it means the same as "umhergehen": to walk aimlessly around (Im Park herum).

So, your sentences mean the following:

  1. Ich gehe um den Park : I'm walking around (outside of) the Park.
  2. Ich gehe im Park umher: I'm (aimlessly) walking inside of the Park.
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