Why do we use "Die Schuhe stehen unter dem Bett." and not "Die Schuhe sind unter dem Bett."? or "Die Zeitung liegt auf dem Bett." and not "Die Zeitung ist auf dem Bett."?

Are the both correct? If yes, what's the difference between these two sentences? Why we even use liegen or stehen in these sentences?

I searched for it and I found that aufliegen means lying on top. But about stehen, I didn't found anything that could explain why we use it in this way.

  • Some closely related questions here and there.
    – guidot
    Jul 17, 2022 at 15:46

3 Answers 3



Die Schuhe sind unter dem Bett.


Die Schuhe stehen unter dem Bett.

are correct. There's a slight difference in meaning, though. With

Die Schuhe sind unter dem Bett.

you just express that the shoes are, well, under the bed ;) With

Die Schuhe stehen unter dem Bett.

you give the impression that the shoes are standing upright (and not laying on the side, for example), probably neatly one next to the other.

As a rule of thumb, the variation with "stehen" is probably used more commonly, but as I said, both are basically correct.

As for why, it's generally hard to say why a community of speakers decided to express something one way or the other. Why do many (western) languages use the verb "to be" as the copula (as in "The sky is blue"). Why do several languages use the verb "to go" to express whether somebody is well ("Wie geht es Dir?", "How is it going?", "Comment ça va ?" in French and so forth). Why do Japanese speakers often omit the subject, and why is the copula often ommited in Russian or Ukranian? To all those questions the answer is, we don't really know ;)

"Aufliegen", by the way, refers to something lying flatly on top of something else, probably with its whole surface. If you say

Die Zeitung liegt auf dem Bett auf.

you express that the newspaper is laying flatly on the bed, probably not folded or crumpled or something. In most cases, just

Die Zeitung liegt auf dem Bett.

would be perfectly fine and enough.

  • 1
    Basically, languages just seem to differ in what is information they want to convey and what is something to be left to the imagination. An example going the other way is the English continuous vs. progressive aspect. For example there is a difference between "Tom lives with us" and "Tom is living with us", but why? German speakers don't feel the need to distinguish the two: "Tom wohnt bei uns."
    – RDBury
    Jul 16, 2022 at 9:23

In addition to Henning's answer:

All your version are fine, just the connotations varies.

Die Schuhe stehen unter dem Bett

The shoes are orderly beneath the bed, probably side by side

Die Schuhe sind unter den Bett

The shoes are under the bed. We know or tell nothing more about their state

Die Schuhe liegen unter dem Bett

The shoes are under the bed - in whatever state they are. This is the result of throwing them under it and not caring whether they are upright, on the side or even bottom up.

As for the paper, it is similar, but 'liegen' is the normal orderly and detailed way.

Die Zeitung ist auf dem Bett

The paper is on the bed. Whatever state, we don't know or tell.

die Zeitung liegt auf dem Bett

It is in the bed and somewhat flat as on expects a paper

One can be adventurous and put the paper on the edge by folding it so that it actually stands upright. Then even 'steht' makes sense.


Why do you have to use these verbs?

You asked in the title of your question why you have to use these verbs. Well, the premise of this question is not true. You don't have to use them. You can use them, and you are encouraged to use them because native speakers prefer them. But if you wish you can also a form of sein (to be) instead. This is not wrong. It's just unusual and lets you sound like someone who is at a beginner level of learning German.

Why do native speakers use these verbs?

Why do we use them? Because we can. Positional verbs add to the simple information about where something is, the additional information about what position it is in. So, they also say how something is there. And German native speakers love to add this information. It's so simple: Just use the right verb. And we miss this beloved feature, when we want to express ourselves in languages like English that lack this nice feature. At least I do.

German has 5 positional verbs, and 5 corresponding directional verbs. These are:

positional directional
stehen stellen
liegen legen
sitzen setzen
hängen hängen
stecken stecken

The last two have the same infinite form, but the positional verb is always an intransitive verb with strong declension and accusative case while the directional verb is transitive and uses weak declension and dative case:

  • positional:

Das Bild hing an der Wand.
Der Stab stak in der Erde.

  • directional:

Ich hängte das Bild an die Wand.
Ich steckte den Stab in die Erde.

  • Using 'sein' in either sentence is neither uncommen nor does it mark you as anything, not as learner, not as semi-literate. It's just standard usage in a reply to 'wo ist die Zeitung / sind die Schuhe?', similar common as the more specific verbs Jul 18, 2022 at 8:15
  • I'm not sure, where the magic number 5 comes from; klemmen seems a further candidate for the list.
    – guidot
    Jul 18, 2022 at 11:04
  • @guidot: No, it is not. Klemmen is always a weak verb, no matter if it's used directional or positional: klemmen - klemmte - geklemmt (positional: »Das Buch klemmte zwischen den anderen.« directional: »Ich klemmte das Buch zwischen die anderen.«) There is no version of it with strong declension. This is wrong: klemmen - klamm - geklommen (wrong: »Das Buch klamm zwischen den anderen.«) But: directional: hängen - hängte -gehängt »Ich hängte das Bild an die Wand« positional: hängen - hing - gehangen »Das Bild hing an der Wand« Jul 19, 2022 at 5:59
  • But stecken has a weak preterite steckte for most speakers (and the participle is always weak, gesteckt). So the magic number could be 4.
    – David Vogt
    Jul 19, 2022 at 7:52
  • @DavidVogt: Es ist wohl wahr, das einige Verben, die einst stark waren, heute schwächeln und in der Zukunft vielleicht nur mehr als schwache Verben weiter existieren (backen - buk/backte; hauen - hieb/haute; melken - molk/melkte). Zu diesen Verben gehört auch das Verb stecken. Wenn man gewillt ist, es als starkes Verb zu verwenden, gibt es 5 Verben, bei denen sich die Positions-Form von der Bewegungs-Form unterscheidet. Nimmt man hingegen hin, dass stecken bereits ein schwaches Verb ist, sind es nur mehr 4 solche Exemplare. Jul 19, 2022 at 17:14

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