"wohin" vs. "woher"
If you learned German in college, chances are you learned both “woher” and “wohin” at the same time.
Do you ever drive in reverse and forwards at the same time?
I didn't think so.
Why so many US textbook authors think this is a good idea is beyond me.
In drivers education, first you learn to drive forwards, you get a feel for the car, and then you learn to drive in reverse.
It's not that hard, textbook authors!
*Nicole facepalms and sighs with exasperation.*
That's a really good way to get permanently tripped up. Im Ernst jetzt!
Here’s how to fail miserably at learning these two question words (or anything else, for that matter):
Step 1: Learn them both at the same time.
Das ist alles. (That’s it.)
Here’s how to succeed in learning these two question words:
Step 1: Learn one. Learn it well.
Step 2: Learn the other. Learn it well.
Das ist alles. (That’s it.)
Instructions for using this blog post:
Step 1: Learn the first question word. Learn it well.
Step 2: Take a break. Come back to it later.
Step 3: Learn the second question word. Learn it well.
Also: los geht’s!
When do I use „woher“?
“Woher” is usually one of the first question words (W-Fragen) you learn in German. It’s usually this question:
Woher kommen Sie? / Woher kommst du?
This is very straight-forward and it’s a great way to remember that “woher” means “where from”.
There’s also a fantastic commercial here in the US that can help you remember this. It’s a shoe store and the “sticky” part of the commercial goes something like this:
Where’d you get those shoes?
(You know which show store I mean, yes?!) Ask almost the same question in German and it’s… Well, do you have it yet?
Woher hast du diese Schuhe?
It’s what we all want to know. Where *did* you get those shoes?!
HALT! Stop reading here. Take a break and let “Woher hast du diese Schuhe?” and “Woher kommen Sie?” roll around in your brain for a few days.
Tag 1...Tag 2...Tag 3...
Has it been a few days yet? OK, alles klar.
When do I use „wohin“?
The question word “wohin” means “where to” or “where.”
You probably know by now that Germans travel by train fairly frequently. (It’s so easy when you actually have train infrastructure.) Think of a train ticket. You buy it based on the destination, correct? Let’s say you’re traveling to Hamburg. Another passenger walks up to you on the platform and you have this exchange:
“Wohin fährt dieser Zug?”
Most people don't care where a train is coming from, but they really care a lot where the train is going. The same with die S-Bahn, die U-Bahn, die Straßenbahn. Sie verstehen mich, ja?
Woher: from where. Woher hast du diese Schuhe?
Wohin: where to. Wohin fährt der Zug?
You can easily practice “wohin” (and also "woher") with simple Q&A, especially when you combine it with a fantastic board game. Try Zug um Zug (Ticket to Ride) in English (Affiliate link) or in German (Affiliate link). You can ask “Wohin fährt der Zug?” over and over and over again.