Author: Sembach

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.




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)


Verb Phrase



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 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.


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


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



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 


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

Adjective endings/ inflections in German

More on adjectives 

Not long ago I wrote a blog about adjectives. This blog will also be about adjectives, but instead focus will be on German adjectives and their inflections. In German the adjective inflection depends on the case, number and gender as well as a determiner, if any.

Take this sentence for example:  The two black dogs live in a beautiful villa.

If we analyze the sentence then the black dog is our subject and it stands in Nominative case, live is our verb and in a beautiful house is ‘where they live ’ – here controlled by in+D. (In another blog post I’ll talk about prepositions and which case they take).

In order to make a correct sentence we need to know: the case, the gender of the noun and the number as well as which determiner stands before the noun. After a short analyze we can translate the sentence into German:

Adjectives: two(=zwei), black (=Schwarz, the +pl, Nom), beautiful (=schön, a +f, Dative)

Nouns:  the dogs (= Hund, pl+nom)  and a villa (=Villa, f+dative)

Verb: lived (wohnen,pl, present)

German: Die zwei schwarze Hunde wohnen in einer schönen Villa.

Below I’ve listed, which articles goes into which group as well as 3 tables showing the inflection/endings of the adjectives according to which article goes before the noun, if any.

Article-group (the/a/no article)

Der-Group (the)

  • der (definite article or demonstrative pronoun)
  • dieser
  • jeder
  • jener
  • aller
  • welcher
  • solcher
  • mancher
  • sämtlicher
  • beide (pl.)

Ein-Group (a)

  • ein
  • kein
  • mein
  • dein
  • sein
  • ihr
  • sein
  • unser
  • euer
  • ihr / Ihr

Definite article: der (the)

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative case der alte die alte das alte die alten
Accusative case den alten die alte das alte die alten
Dative case dem alten der alten dem alten den alten (*1)
Genitive case des alten (*2) der alten des alten (*2) der alten

Indefinite article: ein (a)

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative case ein alter eine alte ein altes (keine) alten(*3)
Accusative case einen alten eine alte ein altes (keine) alten(*3)
Dative case einem alten einer alten einem alten (keine) alten (*1, 3)
Genitive case eines alten(*2) einer alten einer alten(*2) (keiner) alten(*3)


No article

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative case alter alte altes alte
Accusative case alten alte altes alte
Dative case altem alter altem alten (*1)
Genitive case alten (*2) alter alten (*2) alter

More on dative and genitive

  • (*1) = In the dative plural, add an -n to the end of the noun, eg den kleinen Kindern
  • (*2) = In the genitive, add an -(e)s to the end of the noun, eg des alten Mannes
  • (*3) = kein/e/n is being used to show the plural because you can say ‘no shoes’ but not ‘a shoes’!

Punctuation rules


Every time we write, translate or correct a text, we use punctuation marks. The main idea of punctuation is to divide the text into information blocks, which at the same time serves to make the text easier to read and thereby understand.

Punctuation has always been a tricky part of learning a language, e.g. some languages use the grammatical comma, where the comma divides the main and the subordinate clause. In other languages there is no comma between the main and the subordinate clause. However, you can also find languages, which doesn’t use punctuation at all. This is seen in the Thai language, where the words are written in one continual line or in the rune language, where a space was used to indicate a new sentence.

Where to use what?

I’ve uploaded a table that shows, where you use the different punctuation symbols in a sentence: Proper-Punctuation (Source)

The English punctuation rules

If you want to get a deeper knowledge of the English punctuation and grammar rules you can have a look at this homepage. Here you get all the rules and there is even a test that you can take at the end of each topic.

The Danish punctuation rules

Back in 2004 Denmark changed its traditional grammatical punctuation (like the one we know from e.g. German) to a more flexible punctuation rule (like the English, Swedish and Norwegian). The Danish punctuation rules are set by Danske Sprognævn (the Danish language council) and can be found in Retskrivningsordbogen (the Danish spelling dictionary).

Where the old comma divided the main and the subordinate clauses, the new gives the writer an option to leave out the comma between the main and subordinate clauses.  Because the rules are many I suggest that you have a look in the newest edition of Retskrivningsordbogen. You can also get an overview here.

If you want to test your Danish comma skills you can do so here.




AdjectivesThe other day I came across an article about the position of adjectives in a sentence, why I in this post will talk about adjectives in general and compare the positionof adjectives in different languages.

Before going on to the actual position of adjectives, it might be good to define an adjective.

An adjective is a word that describes a noun or a pronoun, most of the time adjectives are used to give a more descriptive picture of the noun/pronoun. So instead of saying: it was a car, with doors that was used for the bank rubbery – it would be more helpful to tell the police that it was a big blue van, with 3 blue and one red door that was used as getaway car for the rubbery.

Adjectives are therefore words that describes X: e.g. a color, shape, size, feeling etc.

Position of adjectives in a sentence

In English, Danish, German, Spanish and French (and many other languages) we place the adjective(s) directly before the noun that it describes. Placing it randomly in the sentence might create confusion of how to understand the sentence or give the sentence a new meaning.

There are, however, some languages where it’s possible to change the word order of the sentence completely and still being able to figure out, what belongs to what. This goes especially for Latin, where each adjective(+ noun) has a characteristic ending, which tells us, whether it’s part of the subject, accusative object, dative object, genitive, ablative etc. This can to some extend also be seen in Russian Greek and German.  In German however, you only see the inflection of the pronouns and adjectives.

Inflected and analytic languages

Languages, which are to be understood through the word’s declension, are known as inflected languages. Meaning that in Latin, the word order isn’t important only the declension of the word, as it describes which function it has in the sentence.

On the other hand we have languages such as e.g. English and Danish, which are analytic, here the meaning is derived from the order of the words and persons.

E.g. of an analytic sentence:

The dog saw the cat and ran -> the cat saw the dog and ran. (Here the meaning changes, as the subject stands before the object).

Placing adjectives in a sequence

In some cases you might need more than one adjective to describe an object/person. In case you have more adjectives following each other like in a sequence, there is a certain order the adjectives must follow:

–      Determiners – a, an, the, my, your, several, etc.

–      Opinion – lovely, boring, stimulating, etc.

–      Size – tiny, small, huge, etc.

–      Shape – round, square, rectangular, etc.

–      Age – old, new, ancient, etc.

–      Color – red, blue, green, etc.

–      Origin/Nationality – British, American, Mexican, etc.

–      Material – gold, copper, silk, etc.

–      Qualifier – limiters for compound nouns.

The list above goes for English, but it is quite similar in e.g. Danish: vurdering, størrelse, alder, farve, nationalitet, material (Opinion, size, age, color, nationality & material) and my guess would be, without having researched it, that it goes for many other languages as well.



When talking about a back-translation or a round-trip translation it means that the text is being translated back into its original language by a translator, who has no prior knowledge of the specific content or wasn’t involved in the project – leaving the back-translation as pure as possible. But what’s the purpose of doing so?


One might argue that translating a text back into its original language will only result in a facetious version of the original – mainly because words are ambiguous. It might also be the case that the original writing style, due to a functional translation, has changed the text slightly. An example hereof is Mark Twain’s publication of his own book back-translated word for word into English from French.

Quality check

A back-translation is, however, often used to check the translation’s quality and accuracy. Some agencies test the translator’s translation skills, by back translating the translation, to see whether a translator managed to gasps the wording. This method can be compared to a mathematical formula, which is being calculated backwards to check the accuracy – all though, as already mentioned, it cannot be done as precise as math, because words are ambiguous and numbers are unequivocal.

Historic documents

Another scenario could be the case, where historic documents only survive as a translation, and then researchers undertake the task to back translate the document in order to recreate the original. Likewise, sometimes when a document is suspected of being a translation from another language, researchers  back translate the document into the hypothetical original language,  which in some cases can provide evidence of characteristics such as idioms, puns, grammatical structures  and so on, which in fact derived  from the original language. An example hereof is the German folk tales Till Eulenspiegel in High German, which contains puns that only work when back translated into Low German.

So if you ever come across incomprehensible references or text phrases, then it might be more comprehensible or make more sense, if you back translate it. This problem brings us back to another topic, namely which translation technique to choose, when translating: word-for-word or sense?  

Market research

In Asia, they especially practice back-translation in connection with global market researches. This way translated questionnaires remain consistence and thus ensures the accuracy of the result, without jeopardizing the result. In market research, the smallest variation of the sense of the word counts in order to prepare a campaign, promotion etc. Since back-translation is a costly matter, it’s not done every time, but in high-risk situations it can turn out to be a good investment.

No need to say that back-translations of market research need to be carried out by a translator, who can translate verbatim, as you cannot always find equivalent words in the target language.

I have never my self tried to back translate a text or something like that, but it could be interesting to see the result. Please let me know if you have ever tried it and how it turned out. I might try it some time, just for the fun of it.


Translating ”The ugly duckling” with help from Google, Bing and a translator?!

Ugly-ducklingToday many people use Google Translate or Bing Translator to quickly translate a sentence or similar if they want to know what the recipe says, what people write on Facebook or in other multilingual forums etc. – and for these purposes I agree that it’s a very useful, fast and cheap tool. You don’t send a sentence from e.g. Facebook to a professional translator to understand, what a friend of yours is doing today! You could alternatively write your friend back asking for a translation in your language, which would be more natural and getting you to interact with each other.

When it comes to more serious and professional subjects, then I’m an ardent advocate of using a real translator, who considers more aspects and factors – and not just look at each word separately.

To demonstrate my point, I’ve taken the beginning of Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the ugly duckling and translated it via Google Translate, Bing translator and finally I’ve added the translation done by a person.

H.C. Andersen’s version (Danish):

”Der var saa deiligt ude paa Landet; det var Sommer, Kornet stod gult, Havren grøn, Høet var reist i Stakke nede i de grønne Enge, og der gik Storken på sine lange, røde Been og snakkede ægyptisk, for det Sprog havde han lært af sin Moder. Rundtom Ager og Eng var der store Skove, og midt i Skovens dybe Søer; jo, der var rigtignok deiligt derude paa landet! Midt i Solskinnet laae der en gammel Herregaard med dybe Canaler rundt om, ogfra Muren og ned til Vandet voxte store Skræppeblade, der vare saa hæie, at smaa Børn kunde staae opreiste under de største; der var ligesaa vildsomt derinde, som i den tykkeste Skov, og her laae en And på sin Rede; hunskulde ruge sine smaae Ællinger ud, men nu var hun næsten kjed af det, fordi det varede saa længe, og hun sjældent fik Visit; de andre Ænder holdt mere af at svømme om i Canalerne, end at løbe op og sidde under et Skræppeblad for at snaddre med hende.” (

The story is originally written in Danish (1844) – The language has changes slightly over the past 150 years, but not more than every other language. This will of course affect the translations of Google and Bing, as they are programmed with today’s norms, which of course only supports my argument that translators are more flexible and can take more aspects in to consideration. I’ve listed some of the changes in the box below.


Today (2013)
Saa/paa Så/på
deiligt dejligt
guult gult
hæie høje
Nouns start with a capital letter Nouns start with a small letter

Bing & Google

The next two translations are done by Google and Bing, please note that not all words are translated, especially in Bing’s translation, Google has managed quite well to translate the words and make some sense of the text, which is also written in a typical H.C. Andersen-style.

Bing translation tool:

“That was so deiligt out on the land; It was Summer, Grain was guult, the Green, the installations over the reist was Havren in Stacks in the Green Meadows, and there went the storks on its long, red Been and talked Egyptian, for the language he had learned from his Mother. Rundtom Causes and Eng there were large Forests, and in the middle of the woods deep Lakes; Yes, there was indeed deiligt out there in the country! In the midst of Sunlight an old laae Herregaard with deep Canaler around, and from the wall and down to the water voxte Rumex leaf large item so that small Children høie customer staae opreiste under the largest; There were directors or vildsomt in there, as in the thickest Forest, and here an And on his Prepared laae; She was hatching its smaae Ællinger out, but now she was almost kjed of it because it lasted so long, and she was given the rare Business; the other Ducks kept more of swimming about in Canalerne, than to get up and sit under a Rumex leaf to snaddre with her.”

Google translate tool:

“It was so lovely out in the country, it was summer, grain stood guult, Oats green, the hay was gone in Stacks down in the green meadows and went stork on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian, the language he had learned of his mother. All around fields and meadows were great forests, and in the middle of the woods deep lakes; yes, there was indeed lovely out in the country! In the midst of sunshine lay an old manor with deep canals around, and from the wall and down to the water grew great burdock leaves, were so tall that little children could stand upright under the tallest of which was just as savage in there, as in the thickest forest, and here lay a duck on her nest, she would hatch its small fiery Ducklings, but now she was almost tired of it because it lasted so long, and she seldom had Visit, the other ducks liked much better to swim about in Canal are, than to climb and sit under a dock leaf to snaddre with her.”

Translator’s version:

“It was lovely summer weather in the country, and the golden corn, the green oats, and the haystacks piled up in the meadows looked beautiful. The stork walking about on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian language, which he had learnt from his mother. The corn-fields and meadows were surrounded by large forests, in the midst of which were deep pools. It was, indeed, delightful to walk about in the country. In a sunny spot stood a pleasant old farm-house close by a deep river, and from the house down to the water side grew great burdock leaves, so high, that under the tallest of them a little child could stand upright. The spot was as wild as the centre of a thick wood. In this snug retreat sat a duck on her nest, watching for her young brood to hatch; she was beginning to get tired of her task, for the little ones were a long time coming out of their shells, and she seldom had any visitors. The other ducks liked much better to swim about in the river than to climb the slippery banks, and sit under a burdock leaf, to have a gossip with her.” (

The main difference between Google and the translator’s translation is the sentence structure/word order. Furthermore, the translator has also had the opportunity to adapt the writing style and choose between words (synonyms) to ensure the same connotation.

This translation is doubly the only English version you can find, there might be many other versions of the same text, all depending on the translator and his/her chosen strategy – which, of course, is a smaller minus by using a real translator, but still the better solution. When it comes to translating legal documents, then, on the other hand, it’s most utterly necessary that the text does not come in more than one version and that the translators choose the same strategy, as it otherwise can have crucial consequences, both legally and money-wise.

Your translation should always be tailored: purpose, subject, genre, target group, situation etc. in order to fulfill the purpose and secure a good translation. (see also


Translation & translation strategy

What is translation and translation strategy?

Let’s start with defining translation. Where does the word come from and what does it actually mean?

The Latin word for translation is ‘translatio’, which means to carry across or to bring across. In this sense you therefore bring/carry across the text, word etc. from the source language (SL) to the target language (TL).

The Greek word for translation is μετάφρασις (metaphrasis), which means a speaking across. Metaphrasis or metaphase, as it’s called in English, means literal or word-for-word translation. The contrast to μετάφρασις (metaphrasis ) is παράφρασις (paraphrasis), meaning a saying in other words. Today the two terms are parallel to the English terms; formal equivalence (literal) and functional equivalence (meaning).

The definition of translation in Oxford’s dictionary is, [mass noun] the process of translating words or text from one language into another. [count noun] a written or spoken rendering of the meaning of a word or text in another language.” (

From this we can conclude that a translation is a process, where the SL is carried across in the TL, either formal or functional. But what else is there to know about translation?

Interlingual vs. Intralingual

A translation of a text can either be interlingual, which means that the text is translated from one language in another language or intralingual, which is translations within one language e.g. translation of ‘legal language’ to ‘general language’ or from a ‘dialect’ to ‘general language etc.

But does a translation always have to be done on word or text basis? No, you can also translate e.g. spoken language, signs, sign language, gestures, context etc.

Translation strategy

Moving on to a more practice orientated level of translating. We have established that translating is a process, but how do we come from SL to TL? And which strategy should we choose – a literal or a functional?

When translating, there are many factors to take into consideration. First of all it’s important to identify, what the purpose (skopos) of the translation is, why is it being translated? Then the translation situation must be analyzed; who is the text for (target audience – TA) and where is it being published (target place –TP). In continuation hereof the source text (ST) must be analyzed; what is the purpose of the text, which genre are we dealing with, how is the structure, which language instruments have been used etc.? And finally it’s time to consider, which strategy you want to use. When deciding on a strategy, following aspects can be considered; is the purpose directly transferable, is the genre and language instruments to be directly transferred and does the TA have the same knowledge as the source audience (SA) – if not, do we need to change something in order to maintain the meaning (see also: or do we need to add extra information? And last but not least, are we (the translators) to concentrate on the text’s form or purpose? (

Translation stages:

To give you an overview of the process I’ve divided it into stages:

1: Communication situation & Target audience

–          Who is the sender

–          Who is the receiver

–          What’s the purpose of the text (general)

2: Source text

–          Read all of the text*

–          Analyze it

–          What’s the purpose of the text

–          What’s the genre

–          Which language instruments are used

–          How is the text structured

–          Which knowledge is presupposed by the reader of the ST

3: Translation strategy

–           Is the purpose of the ST to be transferred directly

–          Are the genre/language instruments to be transferred directly

–          Can the same knowledge be presupposed by the target text (TT)

–          Should you focus on the form or the meaning of the text

–          Should the translation be close to the ST or not: e.g. B-menneske (Danish)= a) B-person or b) late riser (English)

4: The actual translation and proofingProofing

–         The translation starts

–         When proofing, remember to check up on terms, names etc. are they consistent or not.

–         A good idea is to write down everything you need to check up on later or make a clear comment in your text, so you don’t forget it later.


* You might not always have time to read the entire text, especially if it’s a book translation that has a certain time frame – then other strategies must be considered.

All depending of the genre there are different strategies to consider, as I just mentioned, if you are to translate a book, you don’t have time to read the book, but you still have to familiarize yourself with the genre, theme(s), style, person gallery etc. If you are translating legal document make sure to be close to the text, whereas other genres such as commercials, sales letters etc. can be freer, as the main goal is to transfer the meaning of message. Not too free though, if it changes the style of the original writer.

Have fun translating