German grammar: Prepositions & Cases


cat-prepositions-imageGerman prepositions

In my last blog post I wrote about German adjectives’ inflections, in which I also shortly mentioned German prepositions. This post will therefore be about German prepositions and which case they take.

A preposition is “a word that shows the relationship of a noun or a pronoun to some other word in the sentence”(1) and it links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. Prepositions are placed before the article, adjective and noun and tell the position of the noun/person etc. Both in German and English the prepositions are flexible and there isn’t always an equivalent in the other language as most languages have their own way of expressing a relationship.

The 3 cases

In German the prepositions take 3 cases: Accusative, Dative and/or Genitive. This means that each preposition take an object in Accusative, Dative or Genitive – some prepositions even have two cases to choose from, which I’ll get into later. If you want to master the German Language you need to practice the prepositions and which case each preposition take – you can of course  always look this up in a dictionary, but knowing most of them will save you time writing/translating.

Prepositions with Accusative

When I first learned this string of words, I learned it as a rhyme: durch, für, gegen, ohne, wieder, um, kannst du nicht die Akkusative, dann bist du wirklich dumm! There are, however, more prepositions than those 6, which take Accusative:

Durch through, by
Für for
Gegen against, for
Ohne without
Wider Against, to, towards
Um around, for; at (time)
Entlang along, down -This preposition however goes after the object: Sie geht den Fluss entlang./
She is walking along the river. (1)
Bis until, to, by –Bis is technically an accusative preposition, but it is almost always used with a second preposition (bis zu, bis auf, etc.) in a different case, or without an article (bis April, bis Montag, bis Bonn). (1)

Prepositions with Dative

These prepositions take the Dative case:

Aus from, out of
Bei at, near
Mit with, by
Nach after, to
Seit since (time), for
Von by, from
Zu at, to
außer except for, besides
Entgegen Against, contrary to
gegenüber across from, opposite (can go before or after its object)
gemäß according to, after, subject to
nächst Next to
samt Together with, along with
zuwieder against

E.g. Er trank aus der Flaschen – he drank from the bottle

Er wohnt bei seiner Grossmutter – He live with his grandmother

  Two-way-prepositions: prepositions with Accusative/Dative

 

An at, on, to
Auf at, to, on, upon
Hinter Behind
In in, into
Neben beside, near, next to
Über about, above, across, over
Unter under, among
Vor in front of, before;
ago (time)
Zwischen between

A two-way-preposition take either an object in Accusative or Dative case all depending on the situation.

 

 

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When deciding on, whether a two-way-preposition has an object in Accusative or Dative you can decide so by asking either: wohin (where to) or wo (where). If it’s a motion the preposition take Accusative case, and if it’s a location the object take Dative case. An easy example to show this rule is:

1)    The boy went in the house to pick up his bag  -> here the boy moves from outside the house and into the house = motion

2)    The boy is playing in the house  -> here the boy stays at the same place, namely in the house = location.

Figurative sense

In case the two-way-preposition stands in a sentence, where it has a figurative sense, then the main rule is: auf and über always take Accusative case, while the rest take Dative case.

E.g. Sie freute sich über die vielen Geschenke (A) – She was pleased over all the presents

Prepositions with Genitive

Statt, anstatt Instead of
Während During, in the course of
Wegen Because of
Diesseits On this side of
Jenseits On the other side
ausserhalb Outside of
innerhalb Inside of
Oberhalb above
unterhalb under

 Prepositions with Genitive and Dative

Here are some of the most important prepositions that take both Genitive and Dative case. In this case it doesn’t make a difference which case you choose.

Binnen Within
Dank Due to, thanks to
Laut By, according to
Trotz In spite of
zufolge According to

Verbs with prepositions

Like in English, many German verbs and verb phrases take a certain preposition. This is a pitfall for many foreigners learning a new language, as it might not be the same preposition used in all languages, just have a look at this example: Believe in -> glauben an.

Rule of thumb is that the German verb phrase take an object in the same case as the used preposition, just be aware of the two-way-prepositions.

Prepositions Used with Verbs (Table fund in source 1)

Prep.

Verb Phrase

Example

an*

an etw arbeiten D Er arbeitet an einem Roman.
He’s working on a novel.

an*

an etw/jdn denken A Ich denke oft an ihn.
I think of him often.

auf*

auf etw achten A Sie müssen auf den Preis achten.
You have to pay attention to the price.

auf*

auf etw bestehen D Er hat auf seinen Rechten bestanden.
He insisted on his rights.

aus

aus etw bestehen D Sein Haus besteht aus Stein.
His house is made of stone.

für

für etw sorgen A Die Polizei sorgt für Recht und Ordnung.
The police strive for law and order.

in*

s. in jdn verlieben A Er hat sich in sie verliebt.
He fell in love with her.

in*

s. in etw/jdm täuschen D Ich habe mich in ihm getäuscht.
He disappointed me.

mit

mit etw rechnen D Wir haben mit seiner Dummheit nicht gerechnet.
We didn’t account for his stupidity.

nach

nach etw riechen D Es riecht nach Benzin.
It smells like/of gasoline.

über*

über etw/jdn urteilen A Ich kann nicht über sein Talent urteilen.
I can’t judge his talent.

über*

über etw verfügen A Verfügst du über einen Rechner?
Do you have access to a computer?
  NOTE: über is always ACCUSATIVE in verbal idioms.

um

s. um etw bewerben A Bewirbst du dich um den Posten?
Are you applying for the position?

von

von etw/jdm distanzieren D Sie haben sich von ihm distanziert.
They distanced themselves from him.

vor*

jdn vor etw retten D Sie hat ihn vor dem Wasser gerettet.
She saved him from the water.
  NOTE: vor is always DATIVE in verbal idioms.

zu

zu etw/jdm stehen D Stehst du zu ihm?
Are you sticking by/with him?
  * = two-way (accusative/dative) prepositions

Here you can see a list over verbs and their prepositions.

Verbs with cases

Below I’ve listed some verbs that take an object in either Accusative or Dative case. You need to be aware of some of these as the Accusative object might be missing in some sentences. There are of course many other verbs than those listed below, make sure to check your dictionary to be sure.

E.g.

Hängen + A
Legen +A
Setzen +A
Stellen +A

 

Ankommen +D
Eintreffen +D
Sich einfinden +D
Erscheinen +D
Sich versammeln +D
Sich niederlassen +D

  

Quiz

I’ve listed some links to tests, which you can take in order to test your skills in the above mentioned grammatical areas.

1)    Verbs with prepositinos

2)    Two-way-prepositions

3)    Preposition quiz 

 

Sources:
1)  About.com – German prepositions 
2)   A. Rossen – Tysk Grammatik, 3. Udgave, 2. Oplag 1998, Aschehoug Dansk Forlag A/S, pp. 122-133.
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4 comments

    1. Hi Peter,
      I’m glad you found the post useful. Let me know if there is any other subject, not discussed here, that you would like to hear more about?!
      /Sembach

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