Contraction of prepositions and definite articles in German

Posted on 09. Jan, 2011 by in Grammar, Language

In German it often occurs that definite articles and prepositions are contracted. This is, however, only possible when the article is not stressed. The contracted form of the definite article is called clitic – an unstressed ‘word’ that only appears when it can lean on another word. Clitics do also, in other grammatical forms, exist in English, e.g. don’t, haven’t, and doesn’t. The English clitic n’t cannot exist without verbs like do, have, and does. These circumstances of the case do also apply to the German rule of blending definite articles and prepositions. The only definite articles that can be contracted are: “dem”, “das”, and “der”. All other definite articles do not occur as contracted forms.

In order to obtain such contracted forms, all you have to do is to retain the preposition and add the last letter of the definite article to it, e.g. um das becomes ums, bei dem becomes beim, etc. The only exceptions are constituted by prepositions that end with n like in, an, and von when they are combined with ‘dem’. Here, you have to remove the n and substitute it with an m.  Below you can find a list of those contracted forms.

an das = ans / an dem = am (on the; at the)

auf das = aufs (on the)

bei dem = beim (with the; at the)

durch das = durchs (through the; because of the)

für das = fürs (for the)

hinter dem = hinterm / hinter das = hinters (behind the)

in das = ins / in dem = im (in the)

über das = übers / über dem = überm (over the; about the)

um das = ums (around the)

unter das = unters / unter dem = unterm (under the)

von dem = vom (from the; of the)

vor das = vors / vor dem = vorm (in front of the; before the)

zu dem = zum / zu der = zur (to the; towards the)

Below you can find some example sentences, which should help you to recognize when you can use a contracted form of a preposition and a definite article and when not. Under a., you can find sentences with the contracted form because, here, the definite article is unstressed. Under b., you can find sentences that do not have contracted forms because, here, the definite article needs to be stressed as you refer to particular objects.

a. Hinterm Haus gibt es einen Spielplatz. – There is a playground behind the house.

b. Hinter dem Haus, in dem ich wohne, gibt es einen Spielplatz. – There is a playground behind the house, in which I live.

a. Ich gehe gerne im Park spazieren. – I like to take a walk in the park.

b. Ich gehe gerne in dem Park vor meinem Haus spazieren. – I like to go for a walk in the park, which is in front on my house.

a. Sie zeigte mit dem Finger aufs Bild. – She pointed her finger at the picture.

b. Sie zeigte mit dem Finger auf das Bild mit den Blumen. – She pointed her finger at the picture with the flowers.

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About Sandra

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra

8 Responses to “Contraction of prepositions and definite articles in German”

  1. Leonard D.Ricci 9 January 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Contraction of prepositions and defiinite articles becomes second nature after reading German for a while.
    Good review.

  2. Tommi 27 January 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Hi!
    I encountered these two German sentences:

    -Wir bereiten uns auf Winterfest vor.
    -Wir bereiten uns aufs Neujahrsfest vor.

    And I asked myself, if ‘Fest’ is male, and if the meanings of the sentences were similar,
    then why is there an ‘s’ in the ‘aufs’ of the second sentence?
    ‘Aufs’ = ‘auf das’ , isn’t it?
    But if that’s so, then it does not match the gender of ‘Fest’…
    Could you please help me with these?

  3. Leonard D. Ricci 28 January 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    This is my guess. In the first sentence, you are not referring to a specific event, and there is no definite article cited.
    In the second event, you are referring to a specific celebration, and a specific article is used.

  4. Tommi 28 January 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    ah~ yes, I think you’re right..
    But what I still haven’t figured out, is that, if a specific article is used in the second sentence to point to a specific celebration, why is
    ‘auf das’ used?

    ‘Fest’ is male……
    or does the name of a celebration become neuter?

  5. Steffi 30 January 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Hi!

    auf´s is a short form of : auf das

    and Fest is neuter not male.
    The first sentence is right when you say:
    Wir bereiten uns auf das Winterfest vor.
    Or:
    Wir bereiten uns auf´s Winterfest vor.

    Trust me, I am german :-)

  6. sanroesner 30 January 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    Hi Tommi,

    Fest is neuter: “das Fest”! and not masculine. Your first sentence is not entirely correct. There is a ‘das’ or -‘s’ missing. The sentence can be:

    – either: Wir bereiten uns auf das Winterfest vor. (a specific party!)
    – or: Wir bereiten uns aufs Winterfest vor. (the ‘Winterfest’ in general)

    The definite article can be found in both sentences. The only difference is that when you are referring to a particular object/subject you use the whole article. When you refer to a non-specific object/subject you do not have to stress the article, a short or contracted form of it is sufficient. For example, auf + das = aufs.

  7. Tommi 31 January 2011 at 12:41 am #

    Ah~!
    Thank you for you replies, Steffi & sanroesner !!
    Now I get it!

    Thx~~~


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