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I was talking with my partner about when he would be arriving home and when our guest would be arriving. I didn't know the word for "arrive" and Google translate didn't provide much enlightenment. I settled for "Wann wirst du zu Hause gekommen?" and "Sie wird um 6:00 ankommen" but I have no idea why.

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Ankommen vs Eintreffen

There is a difference between ankommen and eintreffen. The former one is much more generic, you can also "ankommen/arrive" at a certain state of mind. If the journey was stressful and long, the host will often say to the eintreffenden (arriving) guests:

"Kommt (or formal: Kommen Sie) erst mal an!"

in the sense of taking off the jacket and shoes, drop your luggage etc. before starting the dinner or other activities.

Eintreffen is (always?) the very short moment of arrive at a location/scene.

Ankommen can be used synonymously, but is also an activity on its own.


Ankommen vs Kommen

In situations like the one that you described (arriving at home at a certain time) it doesn't matter which one you use. In other situation ankommen again means the arrival and kommen can mean the whole travel, too.

For instance, you have to cancel an appointment today:

Ich komme heute nicht mehr. / I won't visit (you) today.

For instance, you will be arriving tomorrow instead of today, because you missed the last leg of your flight:

Ich komme heute nicht mehr an. / I won't be arriving today.

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Wann wirst du zu Hause ankommen?

is just fine for asking someone when the person will arrive at his/her home.

If you live with your partner, you can also say

Wann wirst du nach Hause kommen?

or a bit more informal

Wann wirst du heimkommen?

to ask her when she will come home.

Wann wirst du zu Hause eintreffen?

is fine, but I would consider it a bit too formal for asking your partner.

Sie wird um 6 Uhr heimkommen.
Sie wird um 6 Uhr nach Hause kommen.
Sie wird um 6 Uhr (zu Hause) ankommen.
Sie wird um 6 Uhr (zu Hause) eintreffen.

are all fine as statements (sorted from informal to formal).

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"ankommen" and "eintreffen" are quite the same in the meaning of arriving at a destination or place. So both are fine with both sentences:

Wann wirst du zu Hause ankommen?
Wann wirst du zu Hause eintreffen?
Sie wird um 6:00 Uhr ankommen.
Sie wird um 6:00 Uhr eintreffen.

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Here are the meanings of the three German words in English:

kommen - come
ankommen - arrive
eintreffen - entering a house, a room. etc.

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    I don't agree with "eintreffen" being only for entering. People eintreffen at Unglücksorten every day
    – Emanuel
    Aug 25 '14 at 21:25

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