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I have a quick question. I am a bit stuck with the translation of "approach" in German, as simple as it may seem. My main confusion comes between the words "an etwas herangehen" and "sich etwas/jemandem nähern". Now, I know that "herangehen" is the figurative meaning of

  1. Die Art und Weise, wie man ein Problem herangeht, or The way you approach a problem.

But then I believe (could be wrong) that the way one says, "to approach a woman" as in a bar in order to flirt/etc., would be rendered as

  1. Sich einer Frau an einer Bar nähern.

But I also see some hits with "an eine Frau herangehen", so I am a bit confused as to what the difference is here. Are both words synonymous in this context?

Lastly, are these two words equivalent in the physical sense? For example, can

  1. The creepy man approached me from the side.

be translated as "Der gruselige Mann nähert sich mir von der Seite", and "Der gruselige Mann ging an mich von der Seite heran"? That last sentence sounds very strange to me...

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    Don't forget "Sich an eine Frau ranmachen" which is quite in the center of what you are asking. This expression is very common in everyday language (not in more formal written language). – Christian Geiselmann Jul 21 '18 at 8:30
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"Sich annähern" is possible in
1) a physical way "Sich einer Person annähern." (either the creepy guy (also in your example schlich sich an) or you approching a woman), Der Asteroid nähert sich der Erde an. (The astroid is aproaching earth). The first example of you approaching a women would be Ein Annäherungsversuch (You trying to charm the women) ;-)
2) as comparison Es ist (nicht) annähernd so gut wie früher. (It's (not) as good as it used to be)

=> In these cases we'd use annähern. "To get closer to someone /something".

On the other side we have to approch a problem like angehen. Ein Problem angehen.

=> angehen, idealy approach something.

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  • I would translate „Es ist nicht annähern so gut wie vorher.“ to „It isn‘t nearly as good as it used to be.“ since annähernd reinforces the comparison in a similar way. – AlexR Jul 20 '18 at 11:59
  • Thank you for your answer. However, I am a bit confused by it. According to this reference (forum.wordreference.com/threads/…), we have "Man nähert sich einem Ort, einem Zustand oder einer Person. Annähern kann man sich nur einem Standpunkt,einer Meinung, etc." Is annähren less used in the physical context? – Mark Jul 21 '18 at 3:20
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I guess, this must be translated more freely. ( Annähern has an official touch, which seems inappropriate here). My proposals are:

  1. ... zu der Frau an der Bar gehen ... (meaning just going near her)
  2. ... die Frau ansprechen ... (actually this mostly covers addressing, but it is clear that one would not talk across the whole room, so approaching is implied).
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  • Thank you. I guess my question would be, is "sich einer Frau annähern" equivalent to your second sentence? – Mark Jul 21 '18 at 3:13
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Are both words synonymous in this context?

I take it the question is whether

Sich einer Frau in¹ einer Bar nähern.

and

In einer Bar an eine Frau herangehen.

have the same meaning. Technically these two sentences can mean the same thing.

The connotation of “annähern” in this context is clearly the intention of flirting etc. If you consult Duden it will tell you that one meaning of “annähern” is:

in bestimmter Absicht mit jemandem Kontakt aufnehmen, zu jemandem in Beziehung treten sich einer Frau nähern

Although, the second sentence somewhat emphasizes the act of going, from the context “in einer Bar” one would probably assume that the goal here is, too, flirting.

Lastly, are these two words equivalent in the physical sense? That last sentence sounds very strange to me...

Your word order is a bit off.

Der gruselige Mann ging an mich von der Seite an mich heran.

Your original wording puts a lot of emphasis on “an mich”. If I’m hysterically screaming “He walked up to me! Imagine, to me!” your translation would be fine.

Der gruselige Mann näherte sich mir von der Seite.

So do these two sentences mean the same thing? Pretty much, they do. As pointed out above, “herangehen” does stress the act of going. Yet, “herangehen” is used in only some cases and might sound clumsy if misused (as in “Er ging zu mir heran.” which is something you should definitely not say).


¹ “in einer Bar” sounds more natural here, although “an” may not be wrong

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  • "an jemanden herangehen" würde ich niemals sagen. – ths Jul 20 '18 at 23:05
  • I really like your answer, but I just want to be clear. "Sich einer Frau nähern" would mean PHYSICALLY going, and annähern, as in a sentence like.. ".. wie man Mädchen ausfragt oder wie man sich Ihr in einer Disco oder einem Nachtclub annähert." which is not describing moving, but rather flirting/addressing. – Mark Jul 21 '18 at 3:17
  • Yes, I can agree with that. You can say "Er näherte sich der Frau an, um ihr den Brief zu übergeben." without anyone thinking he wants to get involved with that woman. As always, it depends on the context. – idmean Jul 21 '18 at 6:05
  • Sorry, both of your sentences ("Sie näherte sich dem blutenden Mann an", and "Sie ging an den blutenden Mann heran") are simply wrong; not in a strictly grammatical sense, but a native speaker would never say this that way. The normal way of saying this is "Sie näherte sich dem blutenden Mann" (which means physically appproaching him), wheras "sie näherte sich ihm an" always means "in terms of relationship or bonding", so, chiefly a mental thing. With "Sie ging an den blutenden Mann heran" you probably mean "Sie ging zu dem blutenden Mann". – Christian Geiselmann Jul 21 '18 at 8:35
  • @ChristianGeiselmann Du hast recht, ich habe hier wirklich dumme Beispiele gewählt. Ich finde selbst (auch Muttersprachler :p), dass sie nicht absolut falsch sind, aber ich verstehe, dass dich etwas daran stört und Beispiele für schönes Deutsch sind sie sicher nicht. Habe die Antwort verbessert. – idmean Jul 21 '18 at 9:01

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