What is correct? Q: "Wo sind meine Socken?"

A: "Schau in der Schublade" vs "Schau in die Schublade"

As a Swiss German speaker not very adept at proper German grammar I feel that both are somehow useable and have slightly different meaning (The first is more of a guess of mine, vs. the second is more certain and more of a command), but I can't find an explanation for my German learning friends. Am I simply wrong? Is there an explanation for both?

  • Sounds like schoolbook German. A native German would just answer "In der Schublade."
    – Klaws
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 16:16
  • 1
    That's only true if you know they are in the Schublade. If you are not sure, this version is right, or maybe "Schau mal in der Schublade nach."
    – Nova
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 22:03

7 Answers 7


The confusion here comes from omitting a small word:

Schau in der Schublade nach.

Hence, in this example, the verb is nachschauen, in the other example it is schauen.

These differ a bit in meaning and grammatical usage:

Wohin soll ich schauen?
Schau in die Schublade. (Akkusativ)

Wo soll ich nachschauen?
Schau in der Schublade nach. (Dativ)

Roughly translated to emphasize the different meanings:

Schau in die Schublade.
Look into ...

Schau in der Schublade nach.
Investigate ...

To make the point more clear: the usage of schauen here is more in the sense of hineinschauen (Schau in die Schublade hinein), the usage of nachschauen is more in the sense of finding out if the socks are in there.

Omitting the word nach is commonly used in spoken language but (grammatically not correct) expresses a different thing*. If not omitted, both examples are correct, although the one with nachschauen is the best fit. Schau in die Schublade might even have a negative connotation (Just look, they are right there!).

*As stated in other answers, Schau in der Schublade would ask to look while being inside the drawer. I first didn't think of this since it does not make any sense here. For further information on this I refer to the answer of Arne.

  • 1
    Interestingly, in English, "look into" has the literal meaning, and figuratively is used to mean "investigate", so it's not surprising there is a similar situation between schauen/nachschauen. Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 17:43
  • 2
    What makes you think that omitting nach is gramatically incorrect? What makes you think that in + Dat. schauen is a variant of in + Dat. nachschauen instead of just the word schauen?
    – sgf
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 9:37
  • @sgf Actually you have a point, since it is not grammatically incorrect, but expresses a different meaning. I corrected this.
    – RoyPJ
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 10:43
  • You say that "schauen" here is a colloquial contraction of "nachschauen", but that's one of the official meanings of "schauen". (See definition 7 here: duden.de/rechtschreibung/schauen) Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 9:48
  • No, you got me wrong. As I said, Schau in die Schublade is perfectly fine and expresses what is meant to be expressed here, but has a slightly different connotation than Schau in der Schublade nach. That schauen can have the meaning of nachsehen doesn't mean it has the same grammar!
    – RoyPJ
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 10:31

Da man in etwas hinein schaut, muss der Akkusativ folgen. Demnach ist nur

Schau in die Schublade (hinein)

richtig. Man kann aber auch nachschauen, und zwar an oder in einem Ort. Dann ist der Dativ zu verwenden, wie in

Schau in der Schublade nach.

Hier gehört nach zu nachschauen und kann nicht weglassen werden.

  • 8
    Solange die Schublade groß genug ist, kann man auch in der Schublade schauen.
    – tofro
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 17:34
  • Nach meinem Sprachempfinden kann man an einem Ort, zum Beispiel einem Platz oder meinetwegen einer riesigen Schublade, nicht einfach nur schauen. Ein Satz wie "Auf dem Platz schaute er" klingt unvollständig, und ich frage mich unweigerlich: Wohin oder wonach? Deshalb: "Auf dem Platz schaute er umher / sich um / zu mir herüber / mich an / auf mich / nach oben / herunter / freundlich aus / nach." Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 11:37
  • @tofro: genau das passiert auch, im übertragenen Sinne. Man kann sich sogar “in einer Schublade umschauen”, wohl wissend, dass man sich im physikalischen Sinn nicht in der Schublade befindet. Aber gleichermaßen ist das von Außen nach Innen hineinschauen nicht relevant, wenn man in der Schublade etwas sucht…
    – Holger
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 12:29

"Schau in der Schublade", if taken literally, would only work for a very large drawer or very small beholder: It tells you to be inside the drawer, then take a look while you are.


There is a certain level of obviousness involved:

Schau in die Schublade!

Open the drawer and (just) look into it, they are right on top.

Schau in der Schublade! (Such…)

Open the drawer and look for them in it, they have to be somewhere in there.

  • 1
    "Schau in der Schublade!" I would never say this. Something seems to be missing there. For me this might mean that I have to move into the Schublade somehow and then have a look from in there. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 12:00
  • To the contrary: for casual everyday talk it's still too long. Dropping the verb entirely would get it into actual natural language usage. As indicated in the comment by klaws above. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:46
  • 1
    Dropping the verb is fine with me. Only "Schau in der Schublade!" doesn't sound completely right because there is the verb "nachschauen". Either use this or drop the verb completely if you want to use "in der Schublade". Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:56

The preposition "in" can stand with either Dative or Accusative, resulting in different meanings. The same is true for all of the following prepositions:

an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor, zwischen

With Accusative, they describe the destination or direction of the verb ('Ich laufe in den Wald' means I'm running into the forest, but I'm not there yet).

With Dativ, they describe the location of the verb ('Ich laufe im Wald' means I'm running while I'm in the forest.)

'Schau in die Schublade' (Accusative) thus means to direct your gaze into the drawer (as your gaze is currently directed elsewhere, hence from outside).

'Schau in der Schublade' (Dative) is indeed, as mentioned in another answer, an abbreviated version of 'Schau in der Schublade nach', which means to look around in the drawer (as your gaze is already directed into the drawer, hence from inside).

Strictly speaking, 'schauen' must then stand with Accusative, while 'nachschauen' must stand with Dative.

The different meanings explain the gut feeling you described: "Schau in der Schublade (nach)" (Dative) means "search for it in the drawer", implying that you think the socks might be in there but aren't sure. "Schau in die Schublade" (Accusative) means "look in the drawer", implying that there is no need to search because you already know the socks are in there.


I think the relevant answers were given, but indeed there are two more:

Schau in der Schublade!

Can be an imperative "look into the drawer!" to actually do something instead of a softer imperative, which is more an answer. There you can add "nach", but you can omit it when using a more colloquial tone. The formal tone would be more like "Sieh in der Schublade nach!".

And it can be an expression of astonishment

Schau, in der Schublade!

[Ich habe schon überall gesucht, aber es dort nicht vermutet!]

Also related "[Da,] sieh an!". Both more often used by elderly people.


"Schauen" has a lot of meanings (https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/schauen lists 9). Two are relevant here:

1b ("blicken", "sehen"), meaning to direct your gaze or attention somewhere. The "somewhere" is a direction and thus usually combines a preposition with the accusative, and an implicit direction would use "hierher" or "dorthin". The sentence "Schau in die Schublade" uses this meaning.

7 ("sehen", "nachsehen", also "nachschauen" although the last one is not listed on that page), meaning to search or investigate something or somewhere. The "somewhere" indicates a location and thus usually combines a preposition with the dative, and an implicit location would use "hier" or "dort". The sentence "Schau in der Schublade" uses this meaning.

So both are perfectly correct.

  • No. Schau in die Schublade uses the meaning 7. Same meaning does not imply same grammar.
    – RoyPJ
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 10:33

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