What Is the Difference between the German Prepositions “nach” and “zu”?

In this article, I am going to explain you one of the most common doubts English speakers have when they learn German: the exact difference of use between nach and zu.

In English you use just one preposition to express movement (to), like in the expression “going to a house/street/city/country/island” or even “going to any place”.

In German we use different prepositions to express movement, depending on where exactly you are going. Two of the most used prepositions for this case are nach and zu.

When must I use nach?

We use nach with cities, continents, single islands (no island groups) and with countries without article, as well as in the expression nach Hause (gehen/fahren/kommen/müssen/wollen).


  • Ich fahre nach Berlin (= city).
  • Heike zieht nach Afrika (= continent).
  • Kommt ihr mal nach Gran Canaria (= island)
  • Wir fliegen nach Spanien (= country).

Notice that there is nothing you need to decline. 🙂

When must I use zu?

We use zu for any other place (e.g. the bank, post office, restaurants, shops, etc.) as well as for going to someone’s place (e.g. Hanna’s place) or people in general (family, doctor…).


  • Sie geht zur Post (= place).
  • Wir fahren zu Susanne/zum Arzt (= people).
  • Heute gehen wir zum Japaner (= sounds like a Japanese person but means restaurant).

Notice a couple of things:

  1. You always have to decline the article in dative case. Remember that zu contracts with the article in singular to zum (zu dem: masculine & neuter) and to zur (zu der: feminine).
  2. Only proper names (either of persons or places/restaurants) have no article.

Download “Exercise: Difference between nach und zu”

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