I thought that the only way of expressing possession using the verb gehören is jdm gehören, but in a movie I heard:

"Ich gehöre zu der Gemeinsamkeit."

Are the two forms interchangeable?

  • There is a simple answer: NO. – Karl Aug 20 '15 at 12:26

The key difference is

  • being property of someone: jdm. gehören

    Das Buch gehört mir.

  • being part of something: zu jdm/etw. gehören

    Ich gehöre zu der Gruppe.

For example, there's a song by "Die Ärzte" with the following text:

Ich bin dein Diener, du der Herr
ab heut' gehör' ich dir allein.
Bitte laß mich dein Sklave sein!

It's about "possession", here namely about being a slave.

In contrast, there's a song by "Marianne Rosenberg" with the following text:

Er gehört zu mir, wie mein Name an der Tür.

It's not about possession, but about complementing each other and each one being a part of the whole.

"Ich gehöre dir" and "Ich gehöre zu dir" are two differing things. And they are not interchangeably.
In your sentences, it's about being a part of something, so you go with zu jdm./etw. gehören.

Gehören has a few more meanings but I think they're unrelated to this question. You can look them up in any dictionary.

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  • 1
    Thanks for the nice explanation. I have found an example for gehören zu. "Arbeit gehört zum Leben" – Nelson Dinh Sep 1 at 20:03

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