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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?

10

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.
  • One might note that queren is not as widely used as überqueren or durchqueren. Are there more? – Carsten S Feb 23 '14 at 14:09
  • queren need not be perpendicular. It just has to cross the path, no matter in what angle. – Toscho Feb 23 '14 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 '14 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 '14 at 16:32
  • 2
    @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 '14 at 18:09
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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.

  • 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 '14 at 17:14
  • Then why do you still say "Wir überquerten den Fluss" if you actually wadded trough it? – PMF Feb 23 '14 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 '14 at 15:10
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While queren may be used interchangeably with überqueren, the word überqueren has a stronger connotation with acts of motion while queren is used more in a geometrical sense.

If you google "überquert den Fluss" (Fluss = river) you will mostly see search hits concerning entities (humans, animals, cars) actively moving from one side of the river to another.

On the contrary, if you google "quert den Fluss", you will find search hits that rather discuss geographical situations in the sense that a bridge or street is crossing the river.

Therefore, saying...

Die Brücke überquert den Fluss

...is formally correct, as it physically crosses the river from above (~ über), but it also arouses the association that the bridge is an enitity that is actually capable of movement and is currently engaged in the activity of traversing the river.

Die Brücke quert den Fluss

Would remove the connotation mentioned above and make it clearer that "the bridge crosses the river" in a geometrical sense.

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