I'm trying to figure out the correct ways to express both, "to grow closer to somebody" and "to get closer to somebody". Let me offer some examples:

  1. We grew closer over the years. It was difficult, because she doesn't let anybody get (emotionally) close to her.

    My attempted translation:

    Wir sind uns über die Jahre nähergekommen. Es war schwierig, weil sie niemanden an sie herankommen lässt.

  2. It's hard to get close (friendship, etc.) to people if you do not speak the language.

    My attempted translation:

    Es ist schwierig an Leute heranzukommen wenn man die Sprache nicht spricht.

Are my translations of "näherkommen" and "an jemanden herankommen" here correct? I have the feeling that "an jemanden herankommen" MAY be used more in the sense of "getting emotional access/reach" to somebody, because you have the phrase "an Geld herankommen", get hold of/access to money. For example:

  1. Helen Keller was deaf and blind. It was hard to reach her/mentally access her/emotionally access her.

    My attempted translation:

    Helen Helen Keller war taub und blind. Es war schwierig an sie heranzukommen.

    (Note: The literal use of the word "access somebody" may be misunderstood in this context, and "reach" is always the better option.)

So, I guess I have a lot of questions here, mainly revolving around "herankommen", and what connotation this carries in terms of getting to know somebody. My side question of course is whether "jemandem näherkommen" is to "(emotionally/realtionship/etc) get closer to somebody".

We grew closer over the years. It was difficult, because she doesn't let anybody get (emotionally) close to her.

Wir sind uns/einander über die Jahre nähergekommen. Es war schwierig, denn sie lässt niemanden an sich heran.

In the second sentence, German speakers prefer heranlassen. Your translation is also okay, because herankommen is negated. (Explanation follows below.)


It's hard to get close (friendship, etc.) to people if you do not speak the language.

Es ist schwierig, Menschen näherzukommen, wenn man die Sprache nicht spricht.

Don't use herankommen in this context, because it's rather harsh, treating people as supplies. Think human resources.


Helen Keller was deaf and blind. It was hard to reach her/mentally access her/emotionally access her.

Helen Keller war taubblind. Es war schwer, sie geistig/emotional zu erreichen.

It may sound too literally translated to you, but it's the best way to describe it.


Finally, examples with herankommen.

Es war schwer, an die Ersatzteile für den Oldtimer heranzukommen.

It was hard to get hands on the replacement parts for the vintage car.

Wir müssen dringend an neue Mitarbeiter herankommen.

We badly need to get our hands on new employees.

Long story short: an etwas/jemanden herankommen means to get hands on something/someone.

  • Thanks a lot! Can you tell me where, "sich annähern" fits into this story? "Der Vater und die Tochter hatten sich angenähert". Does that not mean something like, "get closer to each other"? What is the difference between that and näherkommen? – Mark Aug 8 at 21:25
  • Yes. You may also drop in einander, which is a cognate of each other. Der Vater und die Tochter hatten sich einander angenähert. There is a hell of a difference between sich einander annähern and einander näherkommen, because the latter has a sexual connotation if applied to persons. – Janka Aug 8 at 22:00
  • Ahh... so, maybe, "sich einander annähern" is "grow closer", and "näherkommen" is "get closer"?... hmmmm... in English, neither necessarily imply a sexual connotation... – Mark Aug 8 at 22:05
  • einander näherkommen is simply an euphemism as doin' it. – Janka Aug 8 at 22:07
  • 1
    The verb herankommen is for supplies and for approaching moving objects. Sich annähern can be used for things, people and concepts. It's the most broad term. The verb näherkommen is better suited to people than to things, as well as the verb heranlassen, but be careful about certain innocent looking phrases with these two words, as einander näherkommen or jemanden heranlassen. The shorter you get with those two, the more it's narrowing down to euphemisms for sex. – Janka Aug 9 at 8:01

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