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Whilst watching an exercise video about "Präpositionen mit Dativ", I noticed that nach was used with the meaning of about:

Der Tourist erkundigt sich nach dem Fahrplan.

I know that nach primarily means to and after, so why was nach used in this way?

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    Languages aren't always a direct match of word to word; different languages evolved different means of expressing similar concepts depending on the cultural mindset, societal structure, lifestyles, and a bunch of other things. Trying to fit each German word to one English word is a good way to get confused; trying to fit each German word to multiple English words with rules about when it means each is even more confusing. In this case, for example, it's easier to just remember that "fragen nach" is the construct for asking about something. Why? Because that's just how German developed. – anaximander Aug 6 '15 at 12:10
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    That said, English and German do have a degree of crossover, particularly if you look at older English. Indeed, the phrase "to ask after someone" is valid English, usually referring to asking how someone is when they're not there (eg. "So how's Bob these days?"), or sometimes asking if someone is around (eg. "Bob was asking after you; I told him you were out"). It's fallen out of use lately, but it's still valid. – anaximander Aug 6 '15 at 12:11
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    Just to further confuse you, in British English, to "ask after" can mean "ask about". Typically, it would be used when enquiring about a person or people, e.g.: "He greeted her, and asked after her family" – user16831 Aug 6 '15 at 12:16
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"Nach" is a very natural choice for the topic of inquiries. Why? Because it's the preposition that goes with "fragen", which is the default/generic verb for that action.

Ich frage nach dem Weg.
I ask for the way.

The ideas of "nach" and "for" are not that far apart. "nach" means that something is behind something, "for" expresses that something is heading toward something. In a way, the only difference is context and if the something is moving or not. Just compare the English phrases

I am coming for you.
I am coming after you.

They're both essentially a threat, only that the second version has a notion of the other person trying to get away.

Generally, you should never think of English prepositions, or prepositions in any language for that matter, as a blue print. The English "for" is just as messed up and incoherent as the German "nach". If you ask "Why nach" I could just as well ask "Why for?". No language is more right than the other. They're all crazy in their own right. You need to get a feel for the general gist of a preposition and then have an open mind for how to use it. The more you try to pin it down the less you'll get it.

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Prepositions never can be translated one-to-one. I guess that almost every preposition of one language can/must be translated into almost every preposition in an other language.

Which preposition must be used depends on so many different things.

You asked why “nach” is used here. Well the answer is: If you use “sich erkundigen” (“inquire” or “ask”) you can't use any other preposition. Only “nach” is allowed.

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    couldn't he also use "über" together with "sich erkundigen"? – Zaibis Aug 6 '15 at 9:09
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    @Zaibis That would be a different meaning. "sich erkundigen nach" is more like "to ask for (the schedule)", "sich erkundigen über" is "to ask for information about (the schedule)". – linac Aug 6 '15 at 9:27
  • Oh yeah, sounds correct. Funny how much I as native german speaker already learned here. – Zaibis Aug 6 '15 at 9:44
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Yes, this is certainly correct German. This does not mean that "nach" means about, just that it's used in certain German phrases where you might use "about" in English (compare the English phrase to inquire after, however).

  • Are nach rufen and schimpfen mit also exceptions? And one other thing, von was used also as about in this sentence "jemand schreibt von der Party" is this also correct? – Ali Annab Aug 5 '15 at 18:12
  • This sentence is ambiguous "Er schreibt von der Party" is "he is texting, while he is at the party" as well as "he is writing (reporting) about the party". Nach rufen can mean "shout something while the person yelled at walks away" so this "nach" is the same as "after" but "Nachruf" is condolence. "Schimpfen mit" is tell someone off but refers to the other person, just as "tanzen mit" means dance with (translates quite literally). It is just something you will have to learn by heart. Whenever "nach" does not refer to time or direction it is some sort of exception.(Rhymes quite well actually) – AnyOneElse Aug 6 '15 at 8:40
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Etymologically “nach” is the same word as “nah, nahe”, English “nigh”. The basic notion is that of proximity. The meaning “after” is secondary.

  • While true, this does nothing to answer the question. – chirlu Aug 6 '15 at 9:55
  • I was replying to the statement "that nach primarily means to and after". – fdb Aug 6 '15 at 11:46

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