This week I am facing doubts specially with trennbare vs untrennbare Verben - as in my previous post (durchbrechen VS brechen durch). I am trying to use these kinds of verbs correctly. From a grammatical point of view there is a general tendency to have the trennbar version of the verb matching the use of Hilfsverb 'sein' and the untrennbar version of the verb with 'haben'.

My doubt today has to do with the next pair of sentences.

(1) Wir haben die Stadt schnell durchfahren.

(2) Wir sind die Stadt schnell durchgefahren.


  • Are both correct?
  • Is the meaning the same?
  • Does it have to do with the fact that (1) might imply that the people are going on foot and in (2) they are driving any vehicle?

I have found 5 different uses of a. To go past some place (without stop) expressed with Hilfsverb 'sein' b. To drive for an amount of time without stopping. c. To drive a specific lap from point A to point B. d. To go past some place (without a stop) expressed with Hilfsverb 'haben' e. (bildlich = metaphorical) A thought goes through your brain.

Thanks in advance / Danke im Voraus!


3 Answers 3


To add to the other answers:

Wir haben die Stadt schnell durchfahren.

means that you actually drove from one side of the city to the other side.

Wir sind schnell durch die Stadt gefahren.

means that you've been driving fast, but it does not say that you actually travelled all across town, only that you drove fast in town.

If would be equivalent do

Wir sind schnell in der Stadt herumgefahren.


Wir haben die Stadt schnell durchfahren

is correct, and all the five use-cases you cite in your last paragraph are fine. However, this always would include some sort of a vehicle. It does not mean that the movement was by foot; it even excludes it being by foot.


*Wir sind die Stadt schnell durchgefahren

is not a well-formed sentence. You probably want to say

Wir sind schnell durch die Stadt gefahren

(or of course Wir haben die Stadt schnell durchfahren but that's your first example). The meaning of this is simply We quickly passed through the city (using a vehicle). This then seems to confirm your observation that trennbar versions of verbs tend to go with sein.


Wir sind durch die Stadt gewandert.

Wir haben die Stadt durchwandert.

Wir sind über die Grenze geschritten.

Wir haben die Grenze überschritten.

Wir sind durch den Kanal geschwommen.

Wir haben den Kanal durchschwommen.

The difference in all these examples is similarly: "Wir sind..." versions focus on the action as such, "Wir haben..." versions focus on the result of the action.

For further confusing (or amusing) you, here is a special example:

Wir sind durch die Städte gegangen.

? Wir haben die Städte durchgangen

(The last one is technically possible but I have never seen it being used, unless perhaps in poetry.)

Wir sind die Städte durchgegangen

The last durchgehen has a different meaning. It is etwas durchgehen, i.e. reading through a list of things, or browsing through a list fo things one by one, checking the indidual items for something. Example of a sentence that could occur in some context such as research or so:

Wir sind die Städte durchgegangen, um zu kucken, wo der Ausländeranteil am höchsten ist.

Nicely enough this also confirms your observation that trennbar versions of verbs go with sein, as etwas durchgehen is trenn-able:

Wir gehen die Städte durch, um die zu finden, die die meisten Bäckereien pro Einwohner haben.

By the way, one could even imagine a use-case for

Wir sind die Stadt [singular!] durchgegangen, wo die meisten verwahrlosten Häuser stehen.

This works because "die Stadt" is here a term for "all streets [or whatever elements] of that town", and you can look upon these streets as a list which you browse one by one.


Thank you Christian Geiselmann.

With your permission and to my own help I would like to sum up the rules I extract from this:

  1. *Wir sind die Stadt schnell durchgefahren is incorrect.

REASON: durchgefahren implies in itself a focus on the result of the action and the use of Hilfsverb 'sein' together with the prefix 'durch' makes it sound redundant and repetitive, because 'sein' already implies movement and so does 'durch'.

The sentence Wir haben schnell die Stadt durchfahren is correct since 'haben' focuses on the result and 'haben' as such cannot imply a change or position or state, thus it needs the reinforcement of something implying movement, that's why the prefix 'durch' comes to help the lexical verb 'fahren'. The result is that we have indeed 'gone through' from A to B and 'durch' here implies the movement.

Second, in the verb 'durchgehen' in its meaning of 'collecting samples or data / researching' there's an exception to the rule above that the auxiliary 'sein' can't be used when the lexical verb retains the prefix 'durch'(i. e. *Wir sind die Städte durchgegangen, um zu kucken, wo der Ausländeranteil am höchsten ist. * The reason is that in this case the movement is not physical but rather metaphorical.

Please give me a heads-up if I got this right.

Thank you!

  • Please don't post additional questions as an answer. Use the comment function to do that. Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 11:55
  • 2
    Strictly speaking this is a clarification to my own answer, after reading @Christian Geiselmann's answer. So that other readers can have a compact answer to the problem. Socratic mode. Not trying to outsmart anyone here or sound impolite. Provided that you were right the comment section gave me a little number of characters to post, so that wasn't an option either. Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 12:02
  • Hello Adrian, I am afraid I cannot really answer the question why "wir sind die Stadt durchgefahren" is wrong (or not well-formed; not usual). I would perhaps not that much search for logical reasons (such as you propose), and rather argue it is simply not a common expression. I would however not exclude that Wir sind die Stadt schnell durchgefahren will have a meaning one day in the future, quite like Wir sind die Städte schnell durchgegangen, which definitely is a well-formed expression today. Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 12:41

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