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I have the following question regarding the use of “von” and “aus”. I know the general meaning of "von" and "aus" which I believe is clear by the two following examples:

Ich komme aus Griechenland.
I am from Greece.

in contrast to

Ich komme von Griechenland.
I come from Greece. (after a short visit perhaps)

My teacher asserted me that when I descent from an island (i. e. born and raised on an island), “von” should be used instead of “aus”. Is my teacher correct? My grammar disagrees so I may need another opinion.

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    Welcome to German SE! This is a good first question, and I hope you don’t mind me editing it a bit. – Philipp Feb 16 '18 at 16:11
  • I can't confirm "von" either, but want to add: to indicate your stay on an island, you can use "auf" in addition to "in": "ich war in Italien"; "ich war auf/in Sizilien". Maybe this is somehow related to your teacher's assertion. – Silly Freak Feb 17 '18 at 14:22
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The difference in meaning mirrors the difference between provenance and travel origin.

'Aus' would typically mean that the denoted location is the place of birth or long-time residency, regardless of the geographical status:

  • aus Laim ( from Laim, a Munich borough])
  • aus München ( from Munich )
  • aus Bayern ( from Bavaria )
  • aus Deutschland ( from Germany )
  • aus den Alpen ( from the Alps )

In this context, 'stammen' can usually stand in for the verb 'kommen'.

'Von' refers to an origin of travel and is often used in the context of a travel description or route discussion

  • ich komme von München und fahre nach Köln
    (I'm coming from Munich and go to Cologne)

Using 'von' denoting somebody's provenance has a quaint connotation reminding of close-knit and archaic communities where people are usually addressed by their given names, not being known by their family name but rather by their community affiliation:

  • Ich bin Hans von Ramsau ( I am John of Ramsau )

A possible reason might be that a family name may carry less information than the location of residence, especially in communities where family names are still closely related to occupation or role in life ( 'Miller', 'Smith' ) - you'd have 'Miller's in about every village of a region, while the village names probably differ.

Note that this is not to be confused with the titles of the nobility ( eg. Graf August von Hohenzollern [ Count August, House of Hohenzollern ] ).

  • Hi! I didn't know that aus can be used for long stays, thanks for that. As you can read in my question, I already knew the difference between aus and von. My question was if something changes in the particular case of an island (Insel)... – user128787 Feb 16 '18 at 16:55
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    @user128787 I think your teacher is wrong: 'Ich komme aus Grönland/Sylt/Herrenchiemsee' feels much more natural. You could say 'Ich bin von ...', though I still think this will not be deemed top-notch German. If you add 'Insel', however, things change: in 'Ich komme/stamme von der Insel Herrenchiemsee' the preposition 'aus' would not work. This carries over to the notable exception where 'Insel' is part of the location's proper name: 'Ich komme von der Insel Mainau'. – collapsar Feb 16 '18 at 17:07
  • Also @user128787 : I think when talking about islands, this is really subtle - and thus, a very good question. Maybe the most confusing point is that when the island is a country, then "aus" will be fine ("Ich komme aus Grönland"). But I wouldn't say "Ich komme aus Sylt" - it sounds strange, because with "aus" I'd rather refer to a city or country. (My gut feeling may be caused by the fact that you are "on top of" an island, and thus rather use "von", in contrast to being "inside of" a country/city, and thus rather use "aus" - but that's probably not a sensible rule...) – Marco13 Feb 18 '18 at 2:40
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As a native speaker I would never use von in relation to origin, as in "Ich komme von Griechenland". I guess it works but it feels very awkward.

The other poster already mentioned directions, as in from ... to - "Von Griechenland nach Deutschland". That's natural.

Another example without needing "nach" would be recent events instead of locations. "Ich komme von der Party" or "Ich komme von der Schule".

The example of "Ich komme von der Insel Mainau" is interesting, because it only works with islands specifically. Saying "Ich bin von der Stadt Hamburg" doesn't work - it actually means you are employed by the government of Hamburg! Islands have a special treatment in the german language in some cases, I wonder why.

  • „Ich bin von der Stadt Hamburg“: der Eindruck, dass man dort angestellt ist, rührt vom Wort „Stadt“, nicht von „Hamburg“. „Ich bin von Hamburg“ klingt nicht nach einer Anstellung, sondern (im Hochdeutschen) falsch (aber dialektal vielleicht richtig?). – Philipp Feb 17 '18 at 8:13
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    I agree that "Ich komme von Griechenland" sounds strange. But the main point of the question was that it referred to islands. And confusingly, I think that "Ich komme/stamme von Grönland" sounds far less awkward, and "Ich komme/stamme von Sylt" sounds even better for me than "Ich komme/stamme aus Sylt". (Never thought about this before, admittedly...) – Marco13 Feb 18 '18 at 2:44
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My impression is that 'von' is very specific, meaning from a certain town. 'Aus' would refer to a Country, province, state or region.

I hope this is either correct or at least helpful.

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