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DWDS does not make any useful explanation about pairing richten with various prepositions. It provides one definition as

etw.etwas, sich in eine bestimmte Lage, Stellung, Richtung bringen

but then continues with:

mit Präpositionen

Grammatik: in Verbindung mit >>auf<<

[example sentences]

Grammatik: in Verbindung mit >>gegen<<

[example sentences]

It continues on with "in" and "nach" similarly. The example sentences don't really provide clear guidance on distinctions. In fact, it provides pretty similar sentences for a couple (gegen and auf both involve aiming a gun, for example).

Is there a distinction between them that is really nuanced (preposition affected by the noun/pronoun being richtened), or is it more regional differences or personal preference?

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  • While I do find DWDS very useful, it does have a bad habit of using examples instead of definitions. This might work for native speakers, but learners will often have a hard time figuring out what they're getting at. In general, this is the way DWDS handles a prepositional verb, which can be thought of as having a meaning independent of the verb and preposition in question.
    – RDBury
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 5:35
  • DWDS doesn't normally handle prepositional verbs that way, though. Usually they indicate <VB + an> [more specific definition] [examples] but in this case it does not provide any "more specific definition," just examples. Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 23:07
  • You're right, DWDS does handle prepositional verbs in a number of ways. Ideally they would all use the format you describe, but they seem to use several formats. Of course, linguistic categories always have edge cases, and a prepositional verb to me might not be one to DWDS.
    – RDBury
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 11:41

2 Answers 2

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As I mentioned in the comments, DWDS is giving a list of prepositional verbs involving richten, where a prepositional verb is the combination of a verb and a prepositions which means something other than what you would think given the meanings of the two words individually. Both English and German have prepositional verbs; an example in English is "count on" as in "Can I count on you?" This does not mean "Can I count (one, two, three) on top of you?" But do not confuse German prepositional verb with separable verbs, even though separable prefixes often resemble prepositions. English does not have separable verbs, but it does have particle verbs which behave similarly. An example of a particle verb is "look up" as in "Can I look you up?". The difference in English is that the object goes after the preposition in a prepositional verb, but between the verb and the particle in a particle verb. In German, the object goes after the preposition in a prepositional verb as in English, but for a separable verb the prefix either stays with the verb or is placed separately at the end of the clause, depending on the location of the verb.

There are several prepositional verbs listed in the DWDS entry, but I think the only one that will trouble English speakers is richten auf which might be translated literally as "point onto" but actually means something more like "point at". The actual translation would depend on other variables such as context and what is being "pointed". For example I'd translate the line (by Magda Trott):

Die blauen Augen richteten sich auf die hohen Kastanienbäume.
"The blue eyes turned to the tall chestnut trees."

For the other prepositions, gegen, in, nach, an, you can use their normal meanings as directions of movement, except that for richten it's a direction of potential rather than actual movement. For example richten gegen can be translated as "directed against". The corresponding example in DWDS,

er hatte den Lauf der Pistole gegen sich selbst gerichtet

can be translated as

"he had directed the barrel of the pistol against himself"

Similarly, with richten an used with Brief you can take it to mean "address to" and the meaning of the DWDS example

an wen war der Brief gerichtet?

is clear.

DWDS gives some of these meanings under the heading übertragen, which I usually think of as "by extension", meaning (even) more figurative meanings. These figurative meanings shouldn't be hard to interpret once you know the literal meaning; English has as many figures of speech as German does.

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  • Thanks. The explanation that the "definition-ness" prepositional verb sub-entries are more or less literal applications of the prepositions was what I needed. Sort of like "gehen" would have nach/in/auf/etc. would be. Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 23:10
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"Richten" is one of these nifty German words that carry a vague meaning and can then be paired with all kinds of prefixes. It means something akin to "to put something in a particular direction".

Therefore, "etw. auf jem./etw. richten" means literally to point something at someone/something ("Ich habe meine Pistole auf ihn gerichtet"). "Etw. gegen jem./etw. richten" means to use something against someone/something - still the same act in the imagination, consider taking someone's gun and pointing it towards them. Richten with in or nach, I don't really see a use for.

This idea of richten as "make something have a certain direction" is however very central to many words. I'm sorry in advance if the rest of this answer sounds a bit incoherent, but I want to show that connection with lots of composite words.

Besides pointing, it can also mean to abstractly fix or rectify something - "Die Zeit wird das schon richten", and presumably from this stem there's the meaning of judging, as a judge's job would be to rectify injustice. And then, there's its plethora of cousins:

  • errichten = erect (as in a monument or similar, in my mind the association is "pulling it straight so it's upright at the end)
  • aufrichten = erect (as in make something upright, vertical)
  • einrichten = to adjust something so it suits your needs - can be in the sense of making something possible ("Wenn ich um sieben bei dir sein soll, kann ich das einrichten"), or moving furniture ("Ich habe mir das Wohnzimmer schön eingerichtet"), or setting up software ("Wir werden Ihren PC vor der Lieferung vollständig einrichten")
  • abrichten = to tame an animal to obey comands (association again: to "rectify its behaviour")
  • anrichten = to make a nice food arrangement (everything is nicely in its place)
  • [Steuern] entrichten = to pay a tax or fee, as is the law
  • herrichten = to make something that experienced some decay nice again
  • hinrichten = to execute (probably from the judging meaning)
  • [etw.] ausrichten = to align something with respect to something else (thanks to @planetmaker!)

And then there's some more uses where the initial association with rectification and verticality and straightness is less obvious to me, such as

  • [Arbeit] verrichten = to do work (to my knowledge, there's almost no other use of verrichten)
  • berichten = to report
  • [einen Anlass] ausrichten = to host a festivity, or event
  • Nachricht = message, piece of news (I'm not 100% sure this is the same stem, but it feels like it)
  • unterrichten = to teach [at a school or similar]
  • zurichten = to badly damage someone or something
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    ausrichten: align sth with respect to sth else Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 8:54
  • @planetmaker Right! I'll add that one to the list too Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 11:02
  • If "richten" is used as a reflexive verb, then "richten nach" is definitely useful. "Ich richte mich nach dem Wetter", "ich richte mich nach Dir" are both valid sentences used in practice.
    – Ronald
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 11:30
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    I'm not sure that you understood the question. The auf in Er richtet eine Waffe auf mich. is not a prefix, but a preposition. The combination of the verb richten with the preposition auf is a prepositional verb, which is not the same as the separable verb aufrichten. The DWDS entry lists prepositional verbs under richten; separable verbs would have their own entries.
    – RDBury
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 15:23

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