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Prepositions

Prepositions show the relationship between different parts of the sentence.

Prepositions

The relationships prepositions show can be physical:

  • The mouse is under the table.
  • I’m walking into a shop.

Or they can be more philosophical:

  • I’m looking forward to the summer holiday.
  • He believes in God.

Prepositions are sometimes known as trigger words. This is because whenever you use a preposition it ‘triggers’ a change in the item immediately afterwards.

Accusative prepositions

The following prepositions ‘trigger’ the accusative:

Prepositions or ‘triggers’

Preposition Translation
für For
um Around/for/at (time)
durch Through
gegen Against
entlang Along
bis Until
ohne Without
wider Against

To help you remember them, notice that when you spell out the first letter of each word in the table above it reads ‘fudge bow’.

Examples

  • Arsenel spielt gegen eine europäische Mannschaft -> Arsenal is playing against a European team.
  • Wir sind durch den alten Markt gelaufen -> We walked through the market.
  • Ich interessiere mich für moderne Technologie -> I’m interested in modern technology.

Dative prepositions

The following prepositions ‘trigger’ the dative.

To help you remember them you can sing them to the tune of the beginning of Good King Wenceslas.

Prepositions or triggers

Preposition Translation
aus From/out of
bei At/at the house of
mit With
nach To (a place)/after/past (time)
seit Since/for (time)
von From
zu To
gegenüber Opposite
außer Except for
  • zu + dem = zum
  • zu + der = zur
  • von + dem = vom

Examples

  • Meine Mutter kommt aus einem kleinen Dorf -> My mum comes from a little village.
  • Ich studiere Deutsch seit vielen Jahren -> I’ve been learning German for many years.
  • Meine Schwester tanzt mit ihrer besten Freundin -> My sister dances with her best friend.

Mixed prepositions

The following prepositions can ‘trigger’ the accusative or the dative.

Prepositions or triggers

Preposition (accusative trigger) Translation Preposition (dative trigger) Translation
an On-vertical neben Next to/beside
auf On-horizontal, upon über Over/above
hinter Behind unter Under/among
in In/into vor In front of/before/to (time)
zwischen Between
  • an + dem = am
  • in + dem = im
  • in + das = ins

English sentences

  • I am sitting between my parents -> I am sitting still.
  • I sit down between my parents -> I am moving from standing up to sitting between my mum and dad.
  • I am in the book shop -> I am inside the shop all the time.
  • I am going in(to) the book shop -> I am moving from outside into the book shop.
  • The mistletoe is hanging over my head -> It isn’t moving about – it’s hanging still.
  • The plane flew over the house -> It moved from elsewhere to over the house.

All the prepositions in this list can behave like this:

  • They can be used to talk about something’s position where it does not move from one place to another.
  • They can be used to talk about something’s position where it moves from elsewhere into that position.
  • Where there is place to place movement, the prepositions trigger the accusative.
  • Where there is no place to place movement, the prepositions trigger the dative.

Examples

  • Ich gehe in die Stadt -> I’m moving from place to place -> accusative (I go into town).
  • Ich bin in der Stadt -> I’m staying in same place -> dative (I am in town).
  • Ich klebe ein Poster an die Wand -> Poster moving from place to place -> accusative (I’m sticking a poster onto the wall).
  • Es gibt ein Poster an der Wand -> Poster staying in same place -> dative (There’s a poster on the wall).
  • Er läuft zwischen seine Freunde -> Friends are staying still, he’s moving between and past them -> accusative (He’s walking between his friends).
  • Er läuft zwischen seinen Freunden -> They’re all walking, so in relation to the friends, he’s in same place -> dative (He’s walking between his friends) to the friends, he’s in same place.

Genitive prepositions

The following prepositions ‘trigger’ the genitive.

Prepositions or ‘triggers’

Preposition Translation
(an)statt Instead of
trotz In spite of
außerhalb Outside
während During
innerhalb Inside
wegen Because of

Examples

  • Während der Woche darf ich nicht ausgehen -> During the week I’m not allowed out.
  • Ich bin wegen des Wetters nicht gegangen -> I didn’t go because of the weather.
  • Ich wohne außerhalb der Stadt -> I live outside the town.

Common mistakes made by English speakers

  • Not learning what case follows each preposition.
  • Not knowing whether to use dative or accusative with mixed preposition.

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