Lesson 7 - Prepositions II

Preposition + Accusative or Dative Case

Some prepositions in German take either the accusative or the dative case, depending on whether the emphasis of the sentence is on the position or the location, these prepositions are called 'two-way prepositions'.
The accusative case is used when the sentence expresses change of position or movement toward a place, while the dative case is used when the sentence expresses position or place within a fixed location.

The most common two-way prepositions are:

Preposition Definition
an to, onto, at
auf on, onto
hinter behind
in in, into
neben next to
über over
unter under
vor in front of
zwischen between
Combination Example Definition
an + acc. Sie hängt das Bild an die Wand She is hanging the picture on the wall
an + dat. Das Bild hängt an der Wand The picture is hanging on the wall
auf + acc. Sie legt das Messer auf den Tisch She lays the knife on the table
auf + dat. Das Messer liegt auf dem Tisch The knife lies on the table
hinter + acc. Er stellt die Schuhe hinter die Tür He puts the shoe behind the door
hinter + dat. Die Schuhe stellen hinter der Tür The shoes are behind the wall
in + acc. Die Kinder gehen in die Schule The children go to school
in + dat. Der Kinder sind in der Schule The children are in school
neben + acc. Ich stelle den Stuhl neben das Fenster I place the chair next to the window
neben + dat. Der Stuhl steht neben dem Fenster The chair is (standing) next to the window
über + acc. Der Junge klettert über den Zaun The boy is climbing over the fence
über + dat. Der Handtuch hängt über dem Zaun The towel is hanging over the fence
unter + acc. Der Ball rollte unter den Stuhl The ball rolled under the chair
unter + dat. Der Ball ist unter dem Stuhl The ball is under the chair
vor + acc. Stell den Stuhl vor das Fenster Put the chair in front of the window
vor + dat. Ich sitze vor dem Fernseher I'm sitting infront of the TV
zwischen + acc. Sie hat den Brief zwischen das Buch und die Zeitung gelegt She placed the letter between the book and the newspaper
zwischen + dat. Der Brief liegt zwischen dem Buch und der Zeitung The letter is lying between the book and the newspaper

In each of the accusative examples shown above, the verb shows movement from one place to another; thus the accusative case is used.
The dative examples however don't indicate movement, instead they only describe location, they tell where someone or something is, thus the dative case is used.

Verbs Accompanied by Two-way Prepositions

Some verbs that don't describe motion or position are accompanied by two-way prepositions. Most of these verbs require the accusative case, since they don't indicate location; however, there are a few that require the dative case.
Some of the most common verbs are shown in the table below:

Verb Case Definition
achten auf acc. pay attention to
sich beklagen über acc. complain about
denken an acc. think about
sich erinnern an acc. remind of
erkennen an dat. recognize by
sich freuen auf acc. look forward to
sich freuen über acc. be glad about
glauben an acc. believe in
hoffen auf acc. hope for
sich irren in acc. be wrong about
leiden an dat. suffer from
reden über acc. talk about
schreiben an acc. write to
schreiben über acc. write about
schützen vor dat. protect from
sprechen über acc. speak about
sterben an dat. die from
teilnehmen an dat. take part in
sich verlassen auf acc. rely on
sich verlieben in acc. fall in love with
warnen vor dat. warn against
warten auf acc. wait for

Short Form

In some instances, the preposition and the definite article are joined together.

  • an + das = ans
  • an + dem = am
  • auf + das = aufs
  • in + das = ins
  • in + dem = im
  • hinter + das = hinters
  • über + das = übers
  • unter + das = unters
  • vor + das = vors

Learning Tip

You probably feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of prepositions, however as a beginner you won't use all of them. Also, it would be better if you try to learn them in context, so that you'll know when to use them, and make sure that you know which prepositions take which cases.