German Two-Way Prepositions

    Beginner German - Level A1


    Prepositions that can take either accusative or dative case


    Furniture in the house

    German A1.1

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    German A1

    Two-Way Prepositions

    There are a handful of prepositions that can take either the accusative or dative case. These are called two-way prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen):

    an     auf     hinter     in     neben     vor     über     unter     zwischen

    Several of these prepositions have contractions that are commonly used (an, in, auf) and others appear in less frequently (über, unter, vor). These contractions are as follows:

    Akkusativ                           Dativ

    ans = an das                       am = an dem*

    aufs = auf das

    ins = in das                          im = in dem

    übers = über das                überm = über dem

    unters = unter das              unterm = unter dem

    vors = vor das                     vorm = vor dem

    *‘dem’ can be either masculine or neuter in the dative case.

    These two-way prepositions generally have the following meanings (with Accusative (A) and Dative (D) examples):

    an = on (a vertical surface, e.g. wall), to/at a border/boundary (e.g. beach)/vertical structure (e.g. window)

    Du hängst das Poster an die Wand. (A)          Das Poster hängt an der Wand. (D)

    Wir gehen heute an den Strand.                     Wir waren gestern am Strand.

    Sie geht ans Fenster.                                      Ihr steht jetzt am Fenster.

    auf = on (a horizontal surface), at (e.g. the market), to (e.g. the bank), in (e.g. the post office)

    Ich lege das Buch auf den Tisch. (A)               Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch. (D)

    Wir gehen auf den Markt.                                 Susanna und Ingrid sind auf der Bank.

    hinter = behind

    Er fährt hinter das Gebäude. (A)                      Die Lehrerin steht hinter dem Schreibtisch. (D)

    in = in, into, to

    Sie sollen in die Staatsoper gehen. (A)             Die Studenten sitzen im Klassenzimmer. (D)

    neben = beside, next to

    Du stellst die Flasche neben das Handy. (A)   Die Flasche steht neben dem Handy. (D)

    über = above, over, across

    Die Uhr hängt ihr über den Schrank. (A)         Die Uhr hängt über dem Schrank. (D)

    Wir sind über die Strasse gegangen.                 Der Vogel fliegt über dem Park.

    unter = under

    Der Hund geht unter das Bett. (A)                      Die Katze liegt unter dem Bett. (D)

    vor = before, in front of

    Stell dein Auto vor das Haus! (A)                         Die Frau steht vor der Tür. (D)

    zwischen = between

    Stell die Lampe zwischen das Sofa und den Stuhl! (A)          Die Lampe steht zwischen dem Sofa und Stuhl. (D)

    Several of the verbs in the above example sentences are written in boldface. These are verbs that are frequently used to indicate placement in both the accusative and dative. Stellen is used when placing objects in an upright position, whereas stehen indicates something that is standing upright, which can include people and objects (especially those with feet, legs, or a base, such as a table, chair, lamp, or car). Setzen and sitzen are used for people and animals to indicate setting (oneself) down (setzen) or being in a sitting position (sitzen). Legen applies to placing objects in a horizontal position, but liegen describes something that is already lying down (similar to the English “lay” vs. “lie”). In addition, setzen, stellen, and legen include a reflexive pronoun when talking about a person (e.g. Setz dich! / Set yourself down!); in English, this reflexive pronoun is often implied/omitted. The final verbs of placement are hängen and stecken, the former meaning “to hang” and the latter defined as “to stick” or “to put in(to)” (e.g. Er steckt die Flasche in seinen Rucksack. / Die Flasche steckt im Rucksack.).

    To determine which verb of placement is needed, consider the two questions “Wo? and “Wohin?”. Wo (where, at what place/location) requires the dative case, whereas wohin (where to) uses the accusative case.


    Wohin gehst du heute Abend?          Where are you going (to) this evening?

    Wo stellst du die Flasche hin?           Where are you putting the bottle?

    Wo sind Sie im Moment?                    Where are you at the moment?

    Wo steht die Flasche?                           Where is the bottle (standing/at)?

    In the first two examples, the accusative is used to indicate that there is motion to a place, whether that is a person or an object that is being moved. The last two examples are in the dative, and they have to do with a set or static location. Consider, however, the following example:

    Ich gehe gern im Park joggen.          I like to go jogging in the park.

    In this sentence, the the person is in motion, but it is within a particular place and is, therefore, in the dative case (im Park).


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