The Different Ways of Saying “to go” in German

German is a bit different from other languages that use just one verb when someone moves from A to B: “to go” (English), “aller” (French), “ir” (Spanish/Portuguese), “andare” (Italian), “πηγαίνω” (Greek) and “gitmek” (Turkish).

In German, we use different verbs depending on how, i.e. by what means, someone moves from A to B.

1. To go on foot

The German Verb gehen has many meanings such as “go”, “be working (a machine)”, “be possible” and “feel/how are you (only in 3rd person singular!)”. Examples:

  • Meine Waschmaschine geht nicht mehr. Sie ist kaputt! (My washing machine isn’t working anymore. It’s broken!)
  • Ja, natürlich geht das. (Yes, of course that’s possible.)
  • Mir geht es heute blendend. (Today, I’m [feeling] splendid.)

But when meaning “go”, it has 2 specific meanings: “to go somewhere on foot” and “to move to a new place (in order to live there)”. Examples:

  • Ich gehe heute ins Kino. / Wir gehen spazieren. (I’m going to the cinema today. / We are going for a walk.) ➡︎ If you want to emphasize that “you are going on foot (and not by any other means)”, you can add zu Fuß but it’s not necessary because the verb has already this specific meaning.
  • Wir gehen nach Südamerika. (We are moving to South America.)

2. To go by a vehicle (bike, car, bus, etc. incl. ship)

When you are not going on foot but using any means with wheels, in German we say fahren (ich fahre, du fährst, er/sie/es fährt). We use it also for ships.

In this case, we don’t differentiate if you are actually driving the vehicle (bike, bus) or if you are just being carried (bus, ship).

Ah, and the same rule as above applies here: You don’t need to specify the vehicle you use because the verb already means “you are not going on foot but by a vehicle”. Examples:

  • Ich fahre zur Arbeit/Schule/Uni. (I go/am going to work/school/the university.)
  • Fahrt ihr nach Hause? (Are you going home?)
  • Wir fahren (mit [dem]) Bus/Zug. (We are going by bus/train.)
  • Fährst du gerne Rad? (Do you like cycling/biking?)

Both verbs (gehen & fahren) mean also “to leave” when you use them alone:

  • Ich gehe. (I’m leaving [on foot].)
  • Ich fahre . (I’m leaving [by a vehicle].)

3. To go by plane

In this specific case, we use the verb fliegen (to fly). It is the less frequently used of these three verbs, because most people use it only when talking about holidays… 😉

  • Wir fliegen im Urlaub nach Spanien. (We are going to Spain for holidays.)
  • Ich bin nach Gran Canaria geflogen. (I went to Gran Canaria.)