German Prepositions: All You Need To Know Posted by Sten on Feb 20, 2020 in Uncategorized
Hello dear German learners! Have you struggled with prepositions like aus, bei, mit, entlang, anhand, während or wegen? German is famous for being hard – but there are rules for all of it! Let’s have a look at how to use German prepositions and to uncover what preposition to use.
Known in German as Präpositionen, prepositions are very important in gluing intention and sentence pieces together, while indicating things like who, (from) where, why, when things are happening. So getting these right is quite a big deal! But where to start?
Prepositions in German are always tied to the Nomen (noun). Most of the time, you will find them before the noun (therefore prepositions). There are only a handful that come after the noun (these are called postpositions). Even fewer can be used both before and after the noun.
Here a few examples:
Ich sitze auf dem Dach. (I am sitting on the roof.) – Preposition
Ich laufe das Haus entlang. (I am walking alongside the house.) – Postposition
nach meiner Meinung or meiner Meinung nach (according to my opinion) – Preposition or postposition
So now that we know the position in a sentence of the preposition, how do I know what Kasus (case) to use?
German is heavily invested in different visible forms for its four Fälle (another word for “cases”). These are the Nominativ (nominative), Genitiv (genitive), Dativ (dative) and Akkusativ (accusative). They are expressed in the Artikel (article) of a Nomen, for example “the bag of the man” is die Tasche des Mannes. Read last week’s blog post for a refresher on all you need to know about Artikel:
German prepositions often require one specific Fall that goes with them. This is often expressed like this:
Wegen + gen. (because of + genitive)1for Wegen to work with the genitive, it always requires an Artikel or an Adjektiv to accompany it (e.g. Wegen des Mannes). Therefore, in an indefinite plural without an adjektiv, the genitive cannot be used. You then use the dative (e.g. Wegen Männern)
Making a sentence then, you simply use Wegen and use the corresponding Fall of the Nomen that follows. For example:
Wegen der lauten Musik bin ich früher gegangen. (Because of the loud music, I left early.)
Musik is feminin (feminine), and so its Artikel in Dativ singular is der.
Like I mentioned in the blog post about Artikel above, while there are a few rules of thumb, you will simply have to learn the Artikel that goes with each Nomen to get it right.
It is similarly with the cases for the prepositions. While there are a few rules, it’s mostly something you have to learn by hard!
Here is a list of prepositions using the Akkusativ in an earlier post (with practice test!):
Here is a list of prepositions using the Dativ in an earlier post:
Here is a list of prepositions using the Genitiv in an earlier post:
Wechselpräpositionen (two-case prepositions)
I said that often, German prepositions require one specific case. This is because there are prepositions that can use either a Dativ or Akkusativ.The meaning of the preposition changes according to the Fall used. These prepositions are known as Wechselpräpositionen (“interchanging prepositions” or two-case prepositions). If this sounds crazy, don’t worry: there are only 9 Wechselpräpositionen. And there is a rule that helps you figure out which Fall to use.
If you answer the question Wo? (where?), you use a Dativ.
If you answer the question Wohin? (to where?), you use an Akkusativ.
These 9 Wechselpräpositionen are:
in (in, inside, into) – Ich gehe im Supermarkt (I am walking inside the supermarket) / Ich gehe in den Supermarkt (I am walking into the supermarket)
vor (before, in front of, against) – Ich stehe vor der Wand (I am standing in front of the wall) / Ich laufe vor die Wand (I run up against a brick wall)
hinter (behind, after) – er läuft hinter dem Auto (he is running behind the car) / er läuft hinter das Auto (he is running after the car)
über (over, above) – Der Hund springt über den Zaun (the dog is jumping over the fence) / Der Hund springt über dem Zaun (The dog is jumping above the fence)
unter (under(neath)) – Ich stehe unter der Brücke (I am standing under the bridge) / ich gehe unter die Brücke (I am walking underneath the bridge)
neben (next to) – Neben dem Supermarkt ist eine Bäckerei (Next to the supermarket is a bakery) / Das Eichhörnchen stellt sich neben den Baum (The squirrel positions himself next to the tree)
auf (on, onto) – Ich gehe auf dem Dach (I am walking on the roof) / Ich klettere auf das Dach (I am climbing onto the roof)
an (at, to, on) – An der Ampel rechts (at the stoplight to the right) / Ich hänge es an die Wand (I am hanging it on the wall)
zwischen (between) – Die Spinnen kriechen zwischen dem Parkett und dem Beton (The spiders are crawling between the parquet and the concrete) / Die Spinnen kriechen zwischen das Parkett (The spiders are crawling between the parquet)
As you can see, all these Wechselpräpositionen are related to an Ort (place) and either describe Zustand (situation – Dativ) or Bewegung (movement – Akkusativ).
For a list of the most common prepositions in German, click here.
Verbs using prepositions
A little note at the end. There are Verbe (verbs) that have prepositions as part of them. These are often pulled apart from the Verb in a sentence, but don’t always require a Nomen to go with the preposition:
Ich schlage vor, wir machen weiter mit der Arbeit (I propose we continue the work) (from vorschlagen – to propose)
Sie fallen auf mit Ihrem Verhalten (You stand out with your behaviour) (from auffallen – to stand out, to strike, to attract attention)
Rücke vor bis zur Schlossallee (Advance to Boardwalk) (a classic sentence from a Monopoly card – but that’s three prepositions in a row! Vorrücken is “to move forward” and bis zu simply means up to).
Now, just remember English does the same thing. “up to”, “into”, “because of”, etcetera. Many English verbs also use prepositions in them that don’t always have a noun attached to it.
Zu/nach… What Präposition should I use?
Many prepositions have one meaning and that’s about it. You can easily figure out which one to use. However, sometimes it is a bit difficult to figure it out. A prime example: Do I use zu or nach? Here’s the answer when to use what:
Do you have any other questions about Präpositionen? Any confusion? Did I miss something? Please let me know in the comments below!
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