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This sentence appears in B. Brecht's, Der gute Mensch von Sezuan:

Ich muss dort drüben nachfragen.

What is the difference if the sentence were this?

Ich muss dort drüben fragen.

Is nach an adverb here?

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    It's nachfragen, not nach fragen.
    – David Vogt
    Sep 21, 2023 at 8:55
  • Yes, this is my error. Sorry for the confusion. I tried to delete the question but could not.
    – user44591
    Sep 21, 2023 at 18:52

3 Answers 3

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This is a spelling error, "nach+fragen" is to be written as one word (a particle verb).

The verb "nachfragen" basically seems to mean that you are asking a question as part of a larger exchange. (That's how I would summarise the info in: https://www.dwds.de/wb/nachfragen ). Most typically, it can mean a follow-up question to an earlier question. Or more generally, an enquiry in a matter in which you are already in contact with someone (like: someone promised to do something for you, and when nothing happens for a while, you start asking them when they will do it).

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Let's consider the context, as user44591 suggested in a reply to my first answer. (I found the following on https://www.athesiabuch.it/item/691071 )

--

WANG Das ist dumm. Der Herr Fo ist gerade nicht zu Hause und seine Dienerschaft wagt nichts ohne seinen Befehl zu tun, da er sehr streng ist. Er wird nicht wenig toben, wenn er erfährt, wen man ihm da abgewiesen hat, wie?

DIE GÖTTER lächelnd: Sicher.

WANG Also noch einen Augenblick! Das Haus nebenan gehört der Witwe Su. Sie wird außer sich sein vor Freude. Er läuft hin, wird aber anscheinend auch dort abgewiesen.

WANG Ich muß dort drüben nachfragen. Sie sagt, sie hat nur ein kleines Zimmerchen, das nicht instand gesetzt ist. Ich wende mich sofort an Herrn Tscheng.

--

This is clearly the sense "ask more questions in a certain matter", imo; and it's written as one word here. What is the text edition you have?

A related thought: I do think "fragen" would be enough in this context, there is no strong contrast between the two options. But I guess Wang tries to make things look in a way that he is finding accomodation for them. He wants to convey that he is about to find it, he needs "just one more step" to finalise it.

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It's a context difference, but it is not big.

"nach etwas fragen" means "to ask for something" while "fragen" more generally means just to "ask". So the first meaning is used where you can refer back to what you want to ask for:

Hast Du schon gesehen, wo das Obst ist? Nein, noch nicht. Insbesondere die Äpfel interessieren mich. Ich muss unbedingt mal nach (denen) fragen.

This is not to be confused with the verb "nachfragen" which means roughly "to ask a follow-up question" or "to demand" (in an economy sense of 'demand and supply').

Back to your example:

Ich muss dort drüben fragen

I have to ask over there

Ich muss dort drüben nach fragen

I have to ask over there (for whatever we talked about)

Ich muss dort drüben nachfragen

I have to ask over there (again to clarify and get more information on a topic brought up earlier with the party I'm going to ask)

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  • That makes perfect sense with the context of the sentence. But the use for nach you describe and which occurs in the sentence does not seem to correspond to any of the uses for nach as an adverb in DWDS. Is this a preposition without associated nouns?
    – user44591
    Sep 21, 2023 at 8:02
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    All the variants above are possible in principle, but in the Sezuan example, we have no preceding "da" for a "da ... nach" split. The form "danach" is a contraction of "nach dem", so "nach" is indeed a preposition in this construction. It remains one if you split the word (as is done in some German dialects). Except for the few marginal uses reported in DWDS, "nach" does not occur as adverb. (And "ihm nach" does look like a postposition, since it mostly needs the dative complement).
    – Alazon
    Sep 21, 2023 at 9:17
  • @Alazon I don't believe it makes a difference whether the 'da' is there or not. However to get that out of the way I modified the example where this definitely does not play a role - and where 'nachfragen' also makes no sense. Mind also that " 'nachfragen" and "nach 'fragen " are differently ... pronounced, similar to 'umfahren and um'fahren (yet only with slightly different meanings, not with the opposite meanings as in that case) Sep 21, 2023 at 9:25
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    I don't think that "nach fragen" is correct without anything that "nach" refers to, e.g. "nach etwas fragen" or splitting "da...nach" like"da muss ich nach fragen". "nachfragen" does not necessarily mean that you already have asked (talked to) the party you are going to ask again. It can also mean asking a different person about the topic.
    – Bodo
    Sep 21, 2023 at 14:13

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