Suppose a person is walking toward a road. Right before she steps onto the road, she points at the road and says, "I walk onto it." As she continues walking on the road, she points down at the road and says, "I walk on it."

Question: can both of her statements be translated to: "Ich laufe darauf." ? If not, then what are the correct ways to say these sentences?

Similarly, suppose a person is walking toward a cave. Right before she steps into the cave, she points at the cave and says, "I walk into it." As she continues walking in the cave, she says, "I walk in it."

Question: can both of her statements be translated to: "Ich laufe darin." ? If not, then what are the correct ways to say these sentences?

I am looking for everyday conversational usage. Thanks!

  • The former one can indeed be ambiguous. But if I were to say that, I'd probably differentiate the two use cases by saying either "Ich laufe nun/jetzt dadrauf" (onto) or "Ich laufe grad dadrauf" (on it). An unambiguous variation for "onto" would be "Ich werde nun/jetzt dadrauf laufen". — It should also be mentioned that when not using the adverb (i.e. saying "auf die/der Straße"), the grammatical case is the key to understanding it.
    – Em1
    Oct 16 '15 at 8:35
  • What Em1 said at the end; the literal translations would be ich gehe auf sie [rauf] (onto) and ich gehe auf ihr (assuming reference to die Straße) or ich gehe in sie [rein] and ich gehe in ihr (die Höhle). The other direction would yield I run thereon and I run therein (or I’m running ~). There are also often unambiguous lexemic alternatives in both languages, e.g. ich betrete sie (I enter it) or ich steige darauf (I step onto it).
    – Crissov
    Oct 17 '15 at 22:28

darauf is more ambiguous.

To be emphatic you can say:

  • “Ich laufe (da) hinauf / herauf / 'rauf.” (onto)
  • “Ich laufe dadrauf/hierdrauf.” (on top of)

But ‘going into something’ is darein, not darin.

Also, colloquially it is common to say “Ich bin dadrin” (in there). It has a slightly different emphasis than “Ich bin drin” (inside).

  • 1
    See if I have this straight: darauf can mean "on it" or "onto it" depending on the context. darein means "into it". darin means "in it". Are these correct?
    – Wayne
    Oct 15 '15 at 20:27
  • Yes. There are others that do not match. Woher kommst Du? Ich komme *aus München. Gehst Du zur / in die Schule? Ich gege dahin." Oct 15 '15 at 20:33
  • I think it's fair to say that in colloquial (but not dialect, just Prussian city folk ;-)) it is generally: Bin drauf, Geh rauf, Bin drin. / Geh rein, Bin dran. / Geh ran etc. (Drin / rein is an exception but still follows that pattern.). And only in auf an have multiple possible cases. Oct 15 '15 at 20:41
  • Thank you. I talked to a friend who has a concern about darin. Can you verify that darin can be used in the manner described in my main question (i.e., walking in a cave, swimming in a river)?
    – Wayne
    Oct 16 '15 at 11:35
  • Yes: Ich laufe in einer Höhle. Ich laufe hierin/darin. Ich schwimme in einem Fluss. Ich schwimme hierin/darin. It is much like older English (therein). (See examples at duden.de/rechtschreibung/darin) Oct 16 '15 at 11:45

Both "I walk onto it" and "I walk on it" would usually be translated to "Ich laufe darauf" (formal) or "Ich laufe drauf" (informal). How the informal version is written and pronounced depends on the German dialect which is spoken.


In, an, auf, über, unter, ... are used both for location and direction. Without seeing the case (Akk/Dat), things may easily become ambiguous. So in German you have to say at least "Ich laufe auf sie" or "Ich laufe auf ihr", because laufen allows both cases. But as stand-alone sentences, they sound very poor, almost like babytalk.

The prefixes hin- and her- clearly indicate a direction; hin- points away from, her- approaches the 'center of action' (rather than the speaker's location). Note, that there is no hinin or herin, but the words hinein and herein fill that gap well. So you can also say "Ich gehe hinauf" and "Ich gehe hinein". Though hinauf implies upward movement and sounds odd for a road.

The prefix dar- is more unspecific. When in doubt, I'd read it as a location rather than a direction, but this is probably my personal perception. Anyway this prefix is good style, as long as the meaning is clear: "Darauf warte ich", "Darin sind wir uns einig", "Darüber muß ich nachdenken", "Darunter kann ich mir nichts vorstellen". (Uneducated people would say: "Auf das warte ich", "In dem...", "Über das...", "Unter dem...").

Exception: while darin is commonly used figuratively, [da] drin[nen] is the everyday's choice when speaking about locations: "Da ist viel Milch drin", "Hier drinnen ist's schön warm". Nobody says "Darin ist viel Milch" or "Darin ist es warm". That's only for writing.

For your question, I'd suggest:

  • "Ich betrete sie" (or "Ich laufe auf die Straße", repeating the noun)
  • "Ich laufe darauf [herum]" (or "Ich laufe auf der Straße")
  • "Ich laufe hinein"
  • "Ich laufe in ihr umher" (avoid stopping with ihr)

You see, that I avoid "auf ihr" and "in ihr". My gut feelings are, that these sentences end too abruptly: one expects something like "auf ihr...em Belag" or "in ihr...em Inneren". But "auf ihm" (dem Weg) would be fine.

Similar, "auf sie" (also "in sie") may be mistaken as "on her", "on them", or "on You", confusing the listener. "Ich steh' auf sie", "Ich höre auf Sie", and "Auf sie mit Gebrüll!" are absolutely fine; but with laufen, it takes a second to recognize the 3rd person singular femininum accusative pronoun.


  • Your sentences are grammatically correct; just a little ambiguous or irritating.
  • Educated speakers prefer hinauf to "auf ihn/sie/es"; same with her- and dar-.
  • Disambiguation is best done by choosing a more specific verb (betreten, umherlaufen).

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