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I would like to write this sentence: What happened in New York in 2001.09.11. Which one of the following is the correct one?

Was ist am 11. September 2001 in New York passiert?
Was ist am 11. September 2001 im New York passiert?

I can't find anything online. I mean I can find things but they are like: in Berlin. End of sentence. I don't know if that in will change and become im in my example sentence.

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  • According to the SE guidelines, questions should include the results of the research done so far. Why do you think it could be the one or the other? I think many grammar pages available online, let alone grammar books, should cover the topic city/proper names and articles. – amadeusamadeus Apr 18 at 18:44
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    I added your comments into the question. Please explain why you think in could change to im in your sentence, so we can reopen your question. – Olafant Apr 20 at 3:49
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    Merely checking for correctness is not the purpose of the site. For clear-cut cases like this, Google Translate gives the correct answer. Or a dictionary: duden.de/rechtschreibung/in_innen_innerhalb has lebt in Berlin. If it is about more than correctness, the question should reflect that; for instance, by using terms such as definite article, preposition, names of cities to formulate a problem. – David Vogt Apr 20 at 6:09
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    Related German question concerning country names. I fail to recognize a convincing argument for re-open this question but would re-consider if someone is able to come up with a non-neuter town name. – guidot Apr 20 at 9:32
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    PS: City names with gender/articles don't seem to go well with the German language system: there is no German city with an article even if it could be considered sensible, cf. Bremerhaven vs. the French city of Le Havre, and unlike, e.g., in French (Le Caire), the article of Cairo (al-Qahira) wasn't adopted. – amadeusamadeus Apr 20 at 14:09
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in ↔︎ im

The word »im« is a contraction of the preposition »in« and the article »dem«. So, the difference between »in« and »im« is the presence of an article, and this is also the reason why »im« works only in dative case, only in singular, only for masculine and neuter nouns, and only if you talk about a certain thing ("definite" i.e. not about just any thing), because »dem« is the definite dative singular article for masculine and neuter nouns.

  • dative singular masculine definite

    Die Leute sind im Wald. = Die Leute sind in dem Wald.

  • dative singular neuter definite

    Die Leute sind im Haus. = Die Leute sind in dem Haus.

  • accusative singular masculine definite

    Die Leute fahren in den Wald.

  • dative plural definite

    Die Leute sind in den Wäldern.

  • dative singular feminine definite

    Die Leute sind in der Hütte.

  • dative singular masculine indefinite

    Die Leute sind in einem Wald.

So your question boils down to: Do I have to use »New York« with or without an article?


Articles of geographic names

Names of places where no or just a few people live are used with an article. This can be seas, rivers, lakes, forests, mountains etc.:

Viele Flüchtlinge ertrinken jedes Jahr im Mittelmeer.
Lange gab es keine Lachse im Rhein.
Reichenau ist die größte Insel im Bodensee.
Machen Sie Urlaub im Wienerwald!
Im Dachstein liegt eine große Eishöhle.

But places where people live are used without an article. Such places can be anything from the smallest village up to continents.

In Trabersdorf leben nur 15 Menschen, es ist das kleinste Dorf in Österreich.
In Asien leben 4,46 Milliarden Menschen, das sind rund 60% der Weltbevölkerung.

And for this reason also all names of cities are used without an article:

Im Jahr 1910 lebten mehr Menschen in Wien als in Berlin.
Der Kreml steht in Moskau.
Manhattan liegt in New York.

So, the answer to your question is:

correct: Was ist am 11. September 2001 in New York passiert?
wrong: Was ist am 11. September 2001 im New York passiert?


Exceptions

Maybe you don't want to talk about just New York, but about a specific version of New York. The city is constantly changing, and you might want to talk about the New York of 1930. So, it's a very specific version of New York, and this requires a definite article. And because in German all cities are grammatically neuter, you have to use the article »dem« in dative case, which merges with »in« to »im«:

Im New York der frühen 1930er-Jahre war es verboten, Alkohol herzustellen.
Im Wien des Jahres 1910 lebten mehr als 2 Millionen Menschen.

You also turn a geographic place into a special version of it (at least in a grammatical manner) by adding any other attributes:

Im schönen Frankreich gibt es viel zu sehen.
Im weit entfernten Sidney zieht die Sonne im Norden über den Himmel.
Im Amerika, das man im Film sieht, gibt es fliegende Autos.

Another class of exceptions are some countries that are always used with an article:

Ich war noch niemals im Senegal.
Bagdad liegt im Irak.

There is a similar question in German language, and in the answers you will find lists of countries that are used with an article together with their grammatical genders.

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    Thank you very much for you super-detailed explanation! Everything is clear now. – Matthias Apr 21 at 14:12
  • "But places where people live are used without an article." Verrat das nicht den Leuten, die in der Türkei wohnen, oder im Irak, oder in den USA, oder in der Tschechischen Republik, ... :-) – mhchem Apr 29 at 20:28
  • @mhchem: Genau dieses Thema habe ich am Ende meiner Antwort behandelt (beginnend mit »Another class of exceptions«), unter anderem mit der Erwähnung des von dir genannten Irak. Ich habe dort auch zu einer anderen Frage verlinkt, in der dieses Thema intensiver beleuchtet wird. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 29 at 21:30
  • I am pretty sure this wasn't there yesterday. Well, I guess I didn't notice. Thanks for complete and exaustive answer. – mhchem Apr 30 at 5:47
  • @mhchem: Here is the edit history: german.stackexchange.com/posts/64763/revisions You will see, that the part about countries that always need an article was there already in the very first version of my answer, and you will also see that the last edit was made at »Apr 21 at 8:52«, i.e. more than a week before your comment. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 30 at 7:58

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