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Learn the Common German Prepositions

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What are Prepositions?

A preposition is a short word, or group of words, which links a noun phrase to the remainder of a sentence. More specifically, a preposition will typically describe a movement or direction, a location or position, or some other relationship between the object and the rest of the sentence.

There are a large number of prepositions and you use them all the time, often without noticing. For instance, some of the most common English prepositions include words like “at,” “on,” and “in”. By learning some of the most common German prepositions, you can improve your skills and better understand concepts like sentence structure.

List of Common German Prepositions

The German case system means that the most effective way to learn German prepositions is by learning them in groups, sorted according to which case they take. Some of the most common German prepositions are listed below, complete with examples of how they are used.

Accusative Prepositions

 Bis  by, to, until, up to  bis nächste Woche  until next week
 Durch  through, across  Wir gehen durch das  Tor  We’re walking through the  gate
 Entlang  along, down  Sie fährt die Straße  entlang  She drives down the street
 Für  for  Er kocht für seine  Freundin  He cooks for his girlfriend
 Gegen  against, for  gegen die Mauer  against the wall
 Ohne  without  ohne Wasser  without water
 Um  at, around  um Mitternacht  at midnight

 

Dative Prepositions

 Aus  from, out of  aus dem Supermarkt  from the  supermarket
 Bei  at, near  bei meinem Vater Haus  at my dad’s house
 Mit  with  mit meiner Mutter  with my mum
 Nach  after, to  nach der Schule  after school
 Seit  since, for  Seit Februar  since February
 Von  from, of  weg von zu Hause  away from home
 Zu  to  zu den Geschäften  gehen  to go to the shops

 

Two-Way Prepositions

Some prepositions within the German language are two-way prepositions, which means they can be either accusative or dative. The simple rule to remember is: if you are referring to either movement or direction, you use the accusative case, whereas if you are referring to location or position, you use the dative.

Some of the most common two-way prepositions include:

 An  to, on
 Auf  on, upon
 Hinter  behind
 In  in, into
 Neben  neax to

 

To provide an example of how they work:

“Legte es auf den Schreibtisch” (put it on the desk) refers to a movement, because something is being moved onto the desk. Therefore, you use the accusative “auf den”. However, if you say “Es ist auf dem Schreibtisch” (It is on the desk) you are referring to a physical location, so you use the dative “auf dem”.

The Importance of Knowing German Prepositions

Taking the time to learn and understand how to use German prepositions is extremely important, because using the wrong word can significantly alter the meaning of a sentence. There are also more rules governing the usage of prepositions in the German language than in English, so simple one for one translations are impossible.

Like in most other languages, aside from the aforementioned method of grouping them together, there are no real short-cuts when it comes to learning the many German prepositions. This means that students must take the time to learn each preposition individually, along with its meaning.

In addition, the language’s case system means that it is essential for German learners to memorise whether each preposition is accusative, dative or two-way. Using the wrong preposition, or getting the case wrong, is a key indicator of a non-native speaker, so learning German prepositions is a major step towards native competency.

Common Mistakes with German Prepositions

There are a number of common mistakes made in relation to German prepositions and one of the best ways to avoid these pitfalls is simply to become aware of them. Perhaps the most obvious mistake that is made relates to getting the case right and unfortunately, this will simply be a case of memorising each preposition.

Another common mistake involves getting confused between German and English prepositions. To give an example, the German word “bei” sounds very similar to the English word “by” and has a similar meaning when referring to being “near” something. Yet, it does not relate to the English word in any other form.

Finally, many English speakers learning German try to substitute English prepositions one-for-one, but this does not work either. Even prepositions with the exact same definition may be used slightly differently in the two languages. For this reason, a straight translation from English to German may be completely incorrect.