German Prepositions Overview
You’ve learned how to say a lot in German so far, but …
Imagine you couldn’t talk about how, when, where, or why something is done.
Scenario: you’re traveling. But you can’t say you’re traveling to New York City on Tuesday with your best friend on account of your birthday.
Those were prepositional phrases (4 of them combined)! They add so much richness to what we say and write — talking about hows, whens, wheres, and whys is pretty important stuff.
Prepositions themselves are words such as for, to, over, under, through, by, and since. But they exist in phrases that have an object noun (for you, to Boston, over the bridge).
Are you ready to start describing the when/where/why/how details of what you’re doing? Then let’s learn the 4 types of German prepositions: accusative, dative, genitive, and two-way!
Finally understand hard-to-grasp German grammar concepts.
There are 5 prepositions (through, for, against, without, around) that, in German, have to be in the accusative case.
Learning the German prepositions themselves isn’t hard at all, you can probably do that right now just reading this intro:
But there are 2 tricky parts:
- You have to be able to plug these prepositions into the German accusative case.
- You CAN’T directly translate from English prepositions — context changes everything!
Maybe you already feel solid in how to use the German case system (if not, don’t worry, I’ve got your back — read on!)
But I’m going to guess you are not already well-versed in the correct contexts in which to use a given accusative preposition (or any of the rest of them!). Don’t worry, we’ll talk about that, too!
In English, prepositions don’t have a blessed thing to do with “case” — but in German, everything involving nouns (<– including those in prepositional phrases) is all about the case system!
To truly be conversational in German, you have to know your dative prepositions from your accusative ones. And, yep, that means you need to be able to put those prepositional phrases into the correct case.
There are 9 German prepositions that always take the dative. That means that the noun following the prepositionin the prepositional phrase has to be properly ‘flagged’ or signaled as being in the dative case (and not in one of the other 3 cases).
Want to learn those 9 dative prepositions? Want to learn when and how to actually use them?
Yikes. Are you a little scared to know what this is about? Don’t worry, it’s not that bad.
Two-Way prepositions are a special group of prepositions that are sometimes accusative and sometimes dative.
What makes for the difference? Well, as is often the case, German makes some distinctions here that we don’t make in English.
In German, it’s important to indicate whether a noun is changing location (<– two-way preposition in the accusative case) or has a static location (<– two-way preposition in the dative).
The list of these two-way prepositions isn’t painfully long and it’s very logical (<– every preposition you can think of that can indicate position such as above, under, behind, on, in, etc.)
Not nailing the accusative vs. dative on a two-way preposition makes a German’s ears bleed. DON’T BE THAT PERSON. You can learn this. It’s not that hard. Ready, set, go!
Save the trickiest bit for last! German genitive prepositions … oh boy.
There are up to 12 common-ish genitive prepositions that are valuable to learn no matter if you’re a big-wig (<– who might use many dozens more genitive prepositions) or just a Joe Schmoe.
BUT — here’s the thing — the “genitive” prepositions aren’t necessarily paired with the genitive case anymore!
You’ll likely see them in their correct genitive-case form in books, on TV, or in paperwork you need to fill out at the German DMW (<– ooh, fun!).
But in everyday, spoken German, ‘genitive’ prepositions are used almost exclusively with the dative case (<– sooo… we should just consider them dative prepositions).
The whats, whens, and hows of ‘genitive’ (<– sometimes dative) prepositions are all questions that can be answered!
Do you want to be a German-learner who actually has this figured out? 😀