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Here is a sentence:

"Hin" kann sowohl zum ersten Teil des Lokaladverbs als auch zum Verb treten.

Could someone please explain the use of "treten" here. Have looked up the definitions and the coin is yet to drop.

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  • Without context this sentence looks strange to me. I suggest to add the context (and source) of this sentence to the question.
    – Bodo
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 16:09

2 Answers 2

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There is a very general point here. German hardly has any verb stems that describe a pure direction, like English "enter, leave, pass" or, for that matter, "join" (actually the majority of these English verbs started as borrowings from French...). German mostly uses "manner" verbs, for example "enter a room" would mostly be translated as "den Raum betreten". The direction is signalled by "be-" but you need some verb stem for that. The verb "treten" literally means "kick, tread, make a step", so that would be a manner of movement. Given that a directed movement cannot be described by any other means, this is used and its manner meaning is backgrounded. So "betreten" basically takes the place of the English verb "enter" in the vocabulary -- although it is still more specific and it does imply walking, but the point is that no more general verb is available.

In other cases, the manner meaning of "treten" is completely lost, for example: "to join a club" would be "dem Club beitreten."

Your example is about a situation that is quite similar to "joining". Something adds itself to the verb, so to speak. Here, "zu etwas (hinzu)treten" takes the place of such a very general concept, and here, too, it doesn't imply walking any more. Janka's answer invites you to see it as a metaphor for a movement in a more general sense, and maybe it is a metaphor. But maybe the descriptive meaning of "treten" is simply cancelled here, because the verb needs to fill a gap in the vocabulary, just as in the example "beitreten".

The only other expression that wcould come close to this in your context is a passive construction: "etwas wird hinzugefügt". But you might not want to have the implicit agent as in a passive.

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The verb phrase is zu etwas treten and it's the subject that does that.

Hin kann […] zum Verb treten.

Visualize it. Hin makes a step towards the verb.

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