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Here is a sentence:

Er schien nicht zu bemerken, dass er soeben in einer Straße aufgetaucht war, in der alles an ihm, von seinem Namen bis zu seinen Stiefeln, keineswegs willkommen war.

I'm curious as to why the preposition "in" governs the dative case instead of the accusative in this example. As far as I understand it, the context implies a change of location, does it not?

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  • 1
    This seems to be the same question as you already asked here.
    – guidot
    Sep 25, 2023 at 7:19
  • You don't appear into a location, you appear in it. Sep 25, 2023 at 20:41

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A change of place is implied, but it is not what is actually described. The sentence is more narrowly about the place where he "becomes visible", where the others (who are not welcoming him) meet him. This is why there is reference to a place, not a direction. Likewise, you say "dort auftauchen" (not "dorthin") (and I think English "appear" works the same way).

The literal meaning of "auftauchen" is for a diver to resurface. The opposite is "eintauchen" and it is true that this is treated as a directional. For "auftauchen" as of divers, there is the same stative reading (the spot on the surface where they reappear), but also a directional reading: when they are under water and return to the surface from there, you can say "dass sie wieder an die Oberfläche auftauchen" (referring to the distance it takes until they reach the surface; note: "die Oberfläche" is accusative here).

So with the literal meaning, there are both uses, depending on where your vantage point is. With the figurative meaning, the diving activities are absent and all that is retained is the place use.

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The word »in« is a »Wechselpräposition« (alternate preposition). It can require either the dative or the accusative. Other Wechselpräpositionen are:

an, zwischen, über, auf, vor, neben, hinter, unter

In German grammar it is strongly necessary to distinguish between a direction and a place, and this difference is indicated by the case that follows after a Wechselpräposition:

  • dative = place

    Ich gehe in dem Haus.
    I walk inside of the house.

    I do not enter the house nor do I leave it. I start my movement inside the house, I end it there, and no part of my movement is performed outside of the house.

  • accusative = direction

    Ich gehe in das Haus.
    I walk into the house.

    I was outside of the house when I stated to move, then I passed the door, which is the border between inside and outside when I was walking, and my movement ended inside of the house.

Other examples:

Er nagelte seinen Brief an die Tür.
He nailed his letter onto the door.

The part after the word »in« is in accusative case, so it's a direction. The letter was away from the door at the beginning of the action and it ended at the door when the action was finished.

Sein Brief hängt an der Tür.
His letter hangs on the door.

Now we have dative case, which means no direction, but a place. The letter is neither leaving nor approaching the door while it's hanging there.


When you arrive at a place, you do this, as just said, at a place, even if you're coming from a direction. So, to describe the movement to the place of arrival you need accusative case. But for the arrival itself dative case:

  • direction = accusative case

    Er ging in die Straße.
    He went into the street.

    He was somewhere else before, and ended in the street.

  • place = dative case

    Er tauchte in der Straße auf.
    He showed up in the street.

    He showed up nowhere else but at this particular place.

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Unfortunately, you have to learn this by verb. Some verbs want a location, some want a direction as their adverbial complement, and some may take either or both.

The common example for this is the verbs kommen and ankommen.

Der Zirkus kommt in die Stadt.

Der Zirkus kommt in der Stadt an.

It's the very same thing that happens in reality. But it's described with two different verbs. One requires a direction, the other a location.


And it's the same for auftauchen. If you want to rationalize it, auftauchen in that sense as it is used in your example means to pop up and there is no direction involved in such an action.

But really, you have to learn with with each verb.

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  • But then you would predict that each one of those similar verbs behaves different? I don't see this: auftauchen, ankommen, aufschlagen, erscheinen are all locative verbs. Ankommen differs from kommen by introducing the contact point "an". "Kommen" is often a path verb, like in "näher kommen, durch die Luft kommen".
    – Alazon
    Sep 25, 2023 at 13:38
  • For example auftauchen differs from tauchen the very same way ankommen differs from kommen. But aufschlagen does not, it means a completely different thing than schlagen. That's why I wrote that unfortunately one has to learn with each verb which adverbials it may take.
    – Janka
    Sep 25, 2023 at 18:27

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