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I had a little disagreement in my German class the other day regarding the use of nach and zu. We were practicing using nach and I said

Ich fahre nach Disneyland.

My teacher made this cringy face of being not sure if that’s correct. I asked my boyfriend, who is a native speaker, and he was also confused. His answer at least was that it was either nach Disneyland or zu dem (zum) Disneyland (as he would definitely say zum Fantasialand). I swear that at some point I’ve learned that you use nach for landmarks.

So, what alternatives are correct or preferrable? And what about other examples, like LAX, Walmart or the Grand Canyon (in case it would depend on a gender of what the landmark is or so).

Edit: For this purpose lets maybe forget about using the prepositions with gehen. This definitely will make more sense using ins, as in @dot_Sp0T's comment. I'm more thinking about using them with verbs such as fahren oder fliegen.

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    Even though that will make it more confusing, I'd probably use Ich fahre ins Disneyland. - I couldn't say why, it just seems to sound right to me – dot_Sp0T Nov 7 '14 at 17:36
  • @dot_Sp0T I could imagine Ich gehe ins Disneyland but this sounds to me like you took your car and drove through the turnstiles haha – Eichhörnchen Nov 7 '14 at 18:47
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    The ones that feel most natural to me are "nach Disneyland" and "ins Fantasialand". "Ins Disneyland" is all right but "zu dem" is awful and sounds plain wrong to my ears (East Germany) – Emanuel Nov 7 '14 at 19:18
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    Sure he didn't meant "zum" instead of "zu dem"? The latter would sound very strange to me, while the former would be rather ok (though it would still sound like he wanted to go there, but not further than the gate). – Matthias Nov 7 '14 at 20:10
  • @Matthias yes he meant zum - I was just emphasizing the use of the article here. – Eichhörnchen Nov 7 '14 at 21:10
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According to Duden – Richtiges und gutes Deutsch (2007), the preposition „in“ (with the accusative case) expresses the direction and means „in etwas hinein“ (“into something”). It could be the reply to „Wohin … ?“ (“Where … to?”). It is used before nouns with article:

in den Wald gehen
in die Stadt fahren
in die Schweiz reisen
in die USA fliegen
Ich fahre ins Phantasialand. („Phantasialand“ is usually used with article: „das Phantasialand“)

However, before nouns without article, the preposition „in“ indicates the position. It could be the reply to „Wo … ?“ (“Where … ?”).

Therefore, before nouns without article, the preposition „nach“ is used for expressing the direction and means „in einen Ort hinein“ (“into a place”):

nach Frankfurt fahren
nach Italien reisen
nach Amerika fliegen
Ich fahre nach Disneyland. („Disneyland“ is usually used without article.)

The preposition „zu“ expresses the direction and means „auf etwas zu“ (“toward something”). It is especially used before names:

zum Arzt gehen
Tom geht zu Eva.
Der Bus fährt zum Zoo. (The bus goes to the zoo, not necessarily into the zoo.)

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    "Ich fahre nach Disneyland" sounds terrible. I believe that it's about dialects. Seems to be fine in your dialect; to me this is plainly wrong. – Em1 Nov 7 '14 at 20:03
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    @Em1 I think it is not dialect, but rather a question of whether you are used to speak of "Disneyland" with or without article. – Matthias Nov 7 '14 at 20:12
  • Good point about the influence of the article. This makes german.stackexchange.com/questions/12078/… a related question. You could add the case of plural words denoting islands (like die Philippinen or die Kanarischen Inseln) - they are used with "auf" instead of "nach / in". – Matthias Nov 7 '14 at 20:17
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    I've never heard "Disneyland" being used without article. So for me it is: Ich war im Disneyland, ich fahre ins Disneyland. Das Disneyland gefällt mir (sehr/nicht)... – Chris Nov 7 '14 at 22:48
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    Disneyland is not a country. So everything other than "Ich fahre ins Disneyland, ins Fantasialand etc" sounds aweful. – Steffen Roller Nov 10 '14 at 20:27
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Native speaker here.

When it comes to movement, I would use the following rules:

  • "nach" only in conjunction with countries, cities, and other such places. "Nach Paris" is correct, "nach Disneyland" isn't.
  • "zu" means to a place, but not necessarily into it. "Ich fahre zum Disneyland", "Ich fahre zum Supermarkt", also used with persons: "Wir fahren zu Oma"
  • "in" always implies entering. Hence "ich gehe in den Supermarkt" is correct, but "ich fahre in den Supermarkt" implies literally driving your car into the building, causing destruction, confusion and havoc. "Wir fahren in die Oma" is also a disturbing mental picture.

So, use "zu" in conjunction with "fahren", and "in" when using "gehen" and implying that you are actually entering the place. Note that "fahren" always implies a vehicle, so "fahren" in conjunction with "in" is rarely correct (e.g. "Der Zug fährt in den Bahnhof"). Note, however, that "gehen" does not imply walking all the way there, "Ich gehe ins Museum" only means you're visiting the museum and does not imply you'll walk the entire way.

With "zu", entering is optional, "Ich fahre zum Supermarkt" literally means you will drive to the store, but also allows the interpretation that you will then leave the car and enter the store. That depends on the context, however: "Ich fahre zum Supermarkt und hole Jonas ab" simply means you will go pick Jonas up at the supermarket.

  • Ich hab mich in meiner Antwort schwer damit getan, den Unterschied zu beschreiben zwischen was es "wörtlich" heißt und wie es im Kontext "interpretiert" werden kann (nicht muss). Du hast es gut auf den Punkt gebracht. +1 – Em1 Nov 9 '14 at 14:37
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    Ich fahre jeden Morgen ins Büro, ohne irgendeine Art von havoc zu verursachen. Die Antwort erklärt außerdem nicht, warum man in die Schweiz oder ins Emsland, aber nach Neuseeland und nach Friesland fährt, und erweckt den Eindruck, in Zusammenhang mit Ländern würde immer "nach" gebraucht. Und schließlich: man muß sich dem Sprachgebrauch von [sic!] Disneyland Paris nicht anschließen, aber wenn man wie der Betreiber der Meinung ist, daß diese Attraktion einfach "Disneyland" heißt und nicht "das Disneyland", dann ist "nach Disneyland" korrekt. -1 – Matthias Nov 9 '14 at 21:25
  • @Matthias Wusste gar nicht, dass der Betreiber von Disneyland Deutscher ist... – Em1 Nov 9 '14 at 22:43
  • @Em1 Hab ich auch nicht behauptet, und muß er auch nicht. Es reicht völlig, wenn er Leute dafür bezahlt, sich Gedanken zu machen, wie er sich seinem deutschsprachigen Publikum präsentieren soll. – Matthias Nov 9 '14 at 22:49
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    Nintendo will auch, dass man die Wii einfach nur Wii nennt, ohne Artikel. "nach Disneyland" ist genauso korrekt wie "nach Hauptbahnhof" – adhominem Nov 11 '14 at 10:55
1

Preposition is one of the most difficult things. It's hardly possible putting this into a rule or explaining it properly.
There are already some question on this site, addressing this or a similar topic:

Regarding your actual questions:
If you go "nach" Disneyland/Phantasialand, you will enter a country which doesn't exist. Good luck.1
If you go "zum" Disneyland/Phantasialand, it sounds a little odd as if you were to go there but wouldn't enter, but it's fine though.
If you go "ins" Disneyland/Phantasialand, you will have a lot of fun. I live close to Phantasialand, so I can assure you this is what people say.

In case of Grand Canyon it's the same. You can use both "zum" and "in" and the latter sounds a little better. "In" really says that you will go into that canyon. "Zum" implies that, too, but it's actually saying that you just go there. If that makes sense?!

It's a little different for Walmart though. "Nach" is still wrong, that's for sure. But you can use both "zum" and "in", at least with the verb "to go". I'm not quite sure about using "in" with "to drive". Here's an example with McDonalds:

A: Komm wir fahren zum Macces.
B: DriveIn oder gehen wir in den Macces?

Nobody would say that we "drive" into McDonalds. I guess you don't want to damage your car. But you can "go" to and into it.
And though, you sometimes hear

Ich fahre in den Aldi, kann ich dir was mitbringen.
Komm, wir fahren innen(=dialect for "in den") Macces. 2

Some backseat driver will comment this, but that's not really funny.
Conclusion: Both "zum" and "in" is fine with Walmart, McDonalds and Aldi.

Finally, I'm not sure if this is a brave statement, but I think "nach" is restricted to countries or cities. I'm almost sure people will disagree about this in comments.


1 Just noticed that the other answer says that "Ich fahre nach Disneyland" would be fine. It sounds horrible to me and if someone said that to me, I would ask if Disneyland is a country on its own of late. Even in a sentence like "Den Zug von Lüttich nach zum Disneyland nehmen" I wouldn't use "nach".
Compare:

  • "Ich fahre nach Frankfurt", but "Ich fahre zum Frankfurter Flughafen"
  • "Ich fahre nach Paris", but "Ich fahre zum Disneyland"

Since other people say that "nach" is fine, I guess that it really depends on your dialect. But for me "nach" isn't fine at all.

2 With McDonalds it only sounds acceptable with the dialectal version "innen". Using standard German is a little strange for McDonalds, but absolutely fine for Aldi.

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    The spelling of "Macces" is confusing. – user6191 Nov 9 '14 at 14:43
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    @Grantwalzer Using such a special slang word (I've NEVER heard it before) that has nothing to do with the question is confusing. But at least the answer starts with a very true statement... – Matthias Nov 9 '14 at 21:29
  • Using "Walmart", "McDonalds" or "Aldi" with an article is more of a Southern German thing. In the North you would say "Ich fahre zu Aldi", "Ich gehe zu McDonalds" etc. "In den Aldi fahren" might (intentionally; people would know what you mean) be misunderstood as actually driving your car through the doors into the supermarket, or crashing into the building. – Raketenolli Jul 29 '16 at 12:34
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nach = it comes with:

  1. countries: Ich fahre nach Deutschland.
  2. cities: Ich gehe bald nach London. (countries with Der, Die, Das, we use 'in')

zu = it comes with:

  1. persons: Ich gehe zu Khaled.
  2. places: Ich gehe zur Universität.

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