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When asking where are you from, why is it better to use Woher rather than Woraus? The answer will very often include the verb "aus" in it, as in "Peter kommt aus Auckland".

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If you want an explanation, you have to take a look at linguistic history. Often it is helpful to search for previous meanings, e.g. what the words meant 100 or 200 years ago.

You are, rightly, confused by the word aus included in the answer. But I am not so sure if these three words here used to have the same meaning. Perhaps that's because those persons live in that region (Peter lebt in Auckland). And things that are in something need to get out of it - hence the word aus.

BTW: Woraus has some more meanings:

Woraus asks for the ingredients, as in "What is it made of"? (Woraus ist es gemacht?). You can also use it to ask for logical steps, as in "How do you see that"? (Woraus folgt das?)

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A good question. As a German I'm astonished. We ask "Woher kommst?/ Wo kommst du her?", but we answer with "aus": Aus Italien/Aus Mailand". We don't use "von" which would be the logical thing.

I can't explain it. One has to regard it as an idiomatic thing. Maybe this use of "aus" is very old and and goes back to Latin formulas with ex (out). To verify such an assumption a lot of research work would be necessary.

  • Da man in Italien ist, finde ich es nicht verwunderlich, aus Italien zu kommen. – Carsten S Oct 3 '14 at 14:25
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    Ich kenne aus dem Münsterland noch so ein "ich komm von Auckland her". An der Küste dürfte man beides kennen: "Ich komme vom Meer her" und "ich komme aus dem Meer" (heraus). – Gottfried Helms Oct 4 '14 at 12:06
  • It's a difference, I think, whether we ask someone about his nationality or whether we want to know the route someone has taken. – rogermue Oct 4 '14 at 16:32
  • You can very well ask "Aus welchem Land kommst du?" – tofro Jun 17 '16 at 15:48
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The word "her" actually means "here" as in "toward here". It's the brother of "hier". "Hier" only talks about a fixed location while "her" talks about a destination. Every day English does not make that distinction. So:

Woher kommst du?

technically means

Where are you coming here?

This makes no sense in English. You'd give an indication of origin ("from") and skip the indication of destination ("here").

Where are you from.

The "from" is simply missing in the German question. And that is why we don't see "woraus" or "wovon" here, because those would indicate origin. "her does not replace them. They are just missing and "her" is something else entirely. It just seems to mean "from" in that particular question but 80% of all "her"-uses it does show that it means "toward here"

Gib das her!
Give it to me!

Komm her!
Come here!

This is true in context of travel. Any other "origin", like a material or an idea, will be expresses using the respective preposition (woraus, wovon)

By the way... there is a very similar thing going on when asking about destination. Only that English does the skipping this time.

Where are you going?

This is lacking an indication of destination. In German this indication cannot be skipped.

Wo gehst du? ... is not what you want to ask

Wo gehst du hin? ... is correct.

The equivalent to "hin" in this case would be "to" in English.

For a more detailed look on "her" check out this article on my blog.

  • Apart from a missing question mark, it wouldn't be a "classical" edit. It's just that I didn't just want to delete the last sentence, but I think it's (one of) the reason(s). Another thing could be that you're not directly answering the question "Why Woher? instead of Woraus?" (at least for me it's somewhat hard to follow). – user6191 Oct 3 '14 at 2:50
  • I did not downvote, but the first sentences leave the impression that you fail to realise the distinction between the words hier and her. Also, I do not think that something is skipped when you use where instead of whither. – Carsten S Oct 3 '14 at 12:40
  • @Grantwalzer.. why would you want to delete the last sentence? As for the "woher" vs. "woraus"... you're right that it's probably not entirely clear. The sentence that should answer it is "The from is simply missing...". The point is that German does not give an indication of origin for travel-related "where from"-questions. The prepositions "aus" and "von" do exactly that but since the indication is missing all together so are the prepositions. Why not "woraus"? Because it is a travel-related question? Why "her"? Because German skips the origin all together. If you have an idea how to phrase – Emanuel Oct 3 '14 at 19:25
  • @Grantwalzer.. ctd... that, then feel free to edit or tell me. – Emanuel Oct 3 '14 at 19:26
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    Originally I thought that the downvotes were because of the link to your blog, that's why. Apart from that: I think the projection of "Where are you from?" to "Woher kommst du?" is somewhat forced, since "Von wo kommst du?" is possible, too. – user6191 Oct 3 '14 at 19:56

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