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I'm having trouble with the difference between those two words ... I read a related topic here that asked the same thing, and the answer was:

  • "Nach Hause gehen" means "to go home" and "zu Hause" means "at home". "Zu" is for location and "nach" for destination. -

But it didn't really worked for me ... I mean, if I wan't to go somewhere, I have a destination/location, isn't it the same thing?!?

And "zu Hause" does translate to "at home", but if I put it in the way as it is below, it translates normally to "I want to go home" ?!

For example:

"Ich will nach Hause gehen" X "Ich will zu Hause gehen"

"Ich gehe nach Schule" X "Ich gehe zur Schule"

Thanks in advance.

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Nach

  1. Countries and Cities

    • Ich fahre nach Berlin (I go to Berlin)
    • Ich fliege nach England (I fly to England)

      Exception: Countries that take an article.

    • Ich fliege in die Türkei / die Schweiz / den Jemen / den Kongo (I fly to Turkey / Switzerland / Yemen / Congo)
  2. Cardinal directions and left/right/up/down

    • Du musst weiter nach Norden! (You have to go further north)
    • Geh erst nach links, dann nach oben. (First go left, then up)

Zu

  1. Persons and companies

    • Peter fährt zu Stefan. (Peter goes to Stefan's)
    • Klaus fährt zu Aldi. (Klaus goes to Aldi)
    • Ich fahre zu meiner Mutter. (I go to my mum)
  2. Replacing auf/in/an

    • Ich fahre an den Strand -> Ich fahre zum Strand (I go to the beach)
    • Wir gehen in die Kneipe -> Wir gehen zur Kneipe (We go to the pub)
    • Stefanie geht später auf eine Party -> Stefanie geht später zu einer Party (Stefanie goes to a party later)

    Note: Replacing in with zu slightly changes the meaning. Instead of going into the pub, you now just go to the pub i.e. you might just meet outside and go elsewhere.

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Your rule of thumb that zu would refer to a location, is wrong.

zu Hause means at home, but this is the exception and you derive your rule from an exceptional case - which leads to wrong results. To the contrary, in the prototypic case, zu is indicating a direction (nowadays).

The use of zu to indicate a location is rather exceptional nowadays, but seems to have been normal in earlier times. Besides zu Hause, other remains of this can be found in the names of some instituions, where it indicates the location, such as:

  • Gewandhaus zu Leipzig
  • Universität zu Köln

and in nobility predicates such as Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, where zu Guttenberg indicates that the dynasty is located or rooted (I am not familiar with the nobility predicates) at Gutttenberg.

Just as a very side note: It seems to me as if english at has made a similar change just in the other direction, since it stems from Latin ad which means to and also indicates a direction. So maybe the differentiation between direction and location has not always been very stable.

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