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Looking at the WordReference dict entries for both, they seem pretty similar:

https://www.wordreference.com/deen/legen

https://www.wordreference.com/deen/hinlegen

I've been told that "legen" needs a location where something is put and "hinlegen" cannot be used with a location. Is that true? Examples:

Soll ich das Tischtuch auf den Tisch legen?
Wo soll ich das Tischtuch hinlegen?

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  • @Roland I don't understand the difference between "im Wohnzimmer" and "auf den Tisch legen" regarding direction. Every time I lay something on top of something ("legen" in German), there is an implicit downward direction. Apr 27, 2022 at 12:29
  • Well, "legen" is a directional verb. ("liegen" is the corresponding situational verb.) Of course, the verb already implies a downwards direction but you can be more specific (e.g., "auf den Tisch").
    – user6495
    Apr 27, 2022 at 14:15
  • My point is that your first comment says that "auf den Tisch" implies direction and "im Wohnzimmer" not and I don't understand the latter, as IIUC both are places where the tablecloth will be laid on. Apr 27, 2022 at 19:38
  • @Roland: Do not post answers as comments. It's impossible to downvote comments. Apr 27, 2022 at 21:30
  • @HubertSchölnast I agree with the content of your comment and I am thankful that you make users aware of this rule. However, I think the tone of your comment is quite rude. A more kind way to address the issue could be: "Please do not post answers as comments. It is against the whole logic of this site. Please also see german.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1407/…" - same content but way friendlier. Apr 27, 2022 at 22:00

1 Answer 1

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legen

Legen means to bring something into a horizontal position.

Martin stellt das Buch ins Regal, Erika legt das Buch auf den Tisch.
Martin puts the book on the shelf, Erika puts the book on the table.

It's "put" in English in both cases, but stellen means, that the books ends uprights standing while legen means that is at the end the book is laying flat on the table.

hinlegen

Hinlegen means the same, but the target of the movement is optional.

Correct: Ich möchte das Buch auf den Tisch hinlegen.
Correct: Ich möchte das Buch auf den Tisch legen.
Correct: Ich möchte das Buch hinlegen.
Wrong: Ich möchte das Buch legen.


Hinlegen can also mean laying down for sleeping.

Correct: Ich werde mich mal kurz hinlegen.
Wrong: Ich werde mich mal kurz legen.

When a Chicken lays an egg, it's always legen:

Wrong: Das Huhn wird ein Ei hinlegen.
Correct: Das Huhn wird ein Ei legen.

Same for fortune tellers who lay cards:

Wrong: Die Wahrsagerin wird mir die Karten hinlegen.
Correct: Die Wahrsagerin wird mir die Karten legen.

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    One thing I've noticed about German is that you normally don't say something "is" somewhere; it usually has to either "lie" (liegen) or "stand" (stehen) somewhere. Since legen is the causative of liegen, the same distinction seems to apply; you don't "put" something somewhere, but "lay" (legen) it, assuming it's going to "lie" there when you're done.
    – RDBury
    Apr 27, 2022 at 23:04
  • @RDBury: That's correct. In German you could also say »Martin gibt das Buch ins Regal, danach ist es im Regal. Erika gibt das Buch auf den Tisch, danach ist es auf dem Tisch.« (Geben is here not give but put.) But we usually don't. We have more specific vocabulary and when ever possible we use it. So, we prefer this version: »Martin stellt das Buch ins Regal, danach steht es im Regal. Erika legt das Buch auf den Tisch, danach liegt es auf dem Tisch.« Apr 28, 2022 at 6:55

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