I’m a bit confused by the German prepositions and adverbs expressing direction or location. I know that “unter”, “vor”, “auf”, “in” and “aus” are prepositions which require a noun, while “unten”, “vorn/e”, “oben”, “drin” and “draußen” are corresponding adverbs which describe a location and are self-sufficient. That much is clear to me.

However, there are many other prepositions and adverbs which seem to have the same meaning. For example, beside “unter” and “unten” there are also “hinunter” and “unterhalb.” How are they different from “unter”?

And beside “”auf” and “oben” there are also “obenauf,” “rauf,” “oberhalb, "hinauf," "herauf," "rüber" and “über.” Likewise beside “in” and “drin” there are “innen,” “inner,” “hinein,” “herein,” “drinnen,” “innerhalb” and “rein.” And beside “aus” and “draußen” there are also “außen,” “heraus,” “hinaus,” “raus,” “außer” and “außerhalb.”

Could you, please, help me make sense of this zoo? :) Thank you very much in advance!

1 Answer 1


Unter, über, in, aus and außer are prepositions. Unter can also be an adverb meaning less than, but that's not the case here. The other words from your list are all adverbs.

You can use those adverbs to narrow down the meaning of the included preposition. For example unterhalb narrows down the meaning of the preposition unter:

Unter den metrischen Schrauben waren zöllige.

Among the metric bolts were imperial ones.

Below the metric bolts were imperial ones.

Unterhalb der metrischen Schrauben waren zöllige.

Below the metric bolts were imperial ones.

The adverbs oberhalb, innerhalb, außerhalb work very similar.

Es gibt oberhalb dieser Hütte keine weitere.

There's no other lodge above this one.

Er arbeitete innerhalb seiner Möglichkeiten.

He worked within his potential.

Er kommt von außerhalb der Stadt.

He comes from out of town.

The adverb hinunter is used with verbs of movement.

Sie bretterte den Skihang hinunter.

She hurtled down the ski slope.

The adverb herunter is pretty much the same, but the view is different: hin- means she's moving away from you, while her- means she's approaching you. That's the same for hinauf and herauf, hinein and herein, hinaus and heraus.

Geh hin!

Go there!

Komm her!

Come here!

The adverb rauf is a shortcut of herauf, rüber a shortcut of herüber, raus a shortcut for heraus. In some German dialects, nauf as a shortcut for hinauf, nüber as a shortcur of hinüber and naus as a shortcut of hinaus also exist.

The adverbs innen and außen mean something is on the inside or the outside of barrier, e.g. a wall or window.

Die Bedienung erfolgt von innen.

Operation is done from inside.

Die Scheiben sind außen total verdreckt.

The window panes are completely dirty on the outside.

The adverbs drinnen and draußen are used in a similar fashion, but it's not focusing on a barrier.

Die Kinder spielen draußen

The kids play outdoors.

Du bist in der Mannschaft drin(nen).

You are in the team.

Obenauf is a tricky word with mostly idiomatic use.

Er war wieder obenauf.

He was okay again.

  • There are parallels with hereafter, etc in English (many of which are widely treated as archaic nowadays). Mar 21, 2018 at 1:26
  • Thank you very much! This was very helpful. But I still have some questions. Are “oberhalb” and “über” interchangeable? And “drin” and “drinnen”? If I were standing at the bottom of the slope, and she was hurtling towards me, would it be, “Sie bretterte den Skihang herunter”? And if I were watching the action from the side, and she hurtled by me, first approaching and then moving away, would it be just “unter”? I saw “herunterfallen” used when a person dropped a photo camera, but the camera was falling from him, so why not “hinunterfallen”?
    – Rose
    Mar 21, 2018 at 17:31
  • I frequently saw “hinausgehen” used when a person said he went out of his house, not moving away or towards himself obviously, so why not just “ausgehen”? And I saw “herausgehen” used when a projectile which had broken into the house was exiting it, making another hole in the wall. Why not use “hinausgehen” for this exiting movement, since it was now moving away from the observers and the house? Thank you very much again for your help! It’s greatly appreciated.
    – Rose
    Mar 21, 2018 at 17:31
  • Oberhalb and über aren't interchangeable, because über is a preposition, while oberhalb is an adverb. But as with unterhalb and unter, there are sentences where such an adverb of position plus a genitive attribute drops nicely into the place of a prepositional object of place. Drin is just a shorter form of drinnen.
    – Janka
    Mar 21, 2018 at 18:02
  • You can choose hin- and her- adverbs (and verbs) of direction freely. But it makes more sense to choose them so the person listening gets the right impression. If the action has both, you had to decide on which part you want to focus. You can't use for the word unter at that place. Same for ausgehen.
    – Janka
    Mar 21, 2018 at 18:10

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