German Two-Way Prepositions

Two-Way-Prepositions

German Two-Way Prepositions

A preposition is a word such as for, without or to. Prepositions show the relationship of a noun or pronoun to some other words and are usually placed before the noun or pronoun.

For example:
This cake is for you.
I can’t do it without your help.
He moves to Germany.

You can now learn even more on this topic with the help of a fun video and a grammar quiz. Simply check out our Information and Directions Module in level A2.


Prepositions and the Cases

German prepositions break down into four groups. Some of them use the accusative and some use the dative or genitive case. On top of this, there are also some that can be either accusative or dative, depending on the context of the sentence.

In this blog we’ll be looking at the ones that can be either accusative or dative. For more information on prepositions that are strictly accusative take a look at our German Accusative Prepositions Blog and for more info on the dative ones read our German Dative Prepositions Blog.


Two-Way Prepositions

Let’s look at the nine little beauties that can be either accusative or dative:

Two-Way Prepositions in the Accusative Case

Preposition Masculine Feminine Neuter
an (at, on top of) an den an die ans
auf (on, onto, to) auf den auf die aufs
hinter (behind) hintern hinter die hinters
in (in, into, to) in den in die ins
neben (next to, beside) neben den neben die neben das
über (above, over) übern über die übers
unter (under, underneath) untern unter die unters
vor (in front of) vor den von die vors
zwischen (between) zwischen den zwischen die zwischen das

Two-Way Prepositions in the Dative Case

Preposition Masculine Feminine Neuter
an (at, on top of) am an der am
auf (on, onto, to) auf dem auf der auf dem
hinter (behind) hinterm hinter der hinterm
in (in, into, to) im in der im
neben (next to, beside) neben dem neben der neben dem
über (above, over) überm über der überm
unter (under, underneath) unterm unter der unterm
vor (in front of) vorm vor der vorm
zwischen (between) zwischen dem zwischen der zwischen dem

After a few German two-way prepositions, a shortened form of the definite article can be merged with the preposition to make one word.

an + das = ans
an + dem = am
auf + das = aufs
in + das = ins
in + dem = im

Some other forms that aren’t as frequently used are hintern, hinterm, hinters, übern, überm, übers, untern, unterm, unters, vorm and vors.


When to use Accusative or Dative?

One of the first issues you will encounter when learning these prepositions is:

When should I use accusative and when should I use the dative case?

Which case to use depends on the meaning. Here is a quick overview:

  • Prepositions in the accusative case describe movement or show a change of location. These prepositions can answer questions that start with: Where to…?
  • For example:
    Sie wollen auf die Party. (They want to go to the party.) ⇨ Where do they want to go to?

  • Prepositions in the dative case describe positions or refer to a static location. These prepositions can answer questions that start with: Where…?

    For example:
    Deine Tasche liegt auf dem Tisch. (The bag is on the table.) ⇨ Where is the bag?

Tip

If you aren’t quite confident with the prepositions and their shortened forms, stick to the long form, for example hinter dem or über das instead of hinterm and übers. It’s only the most frequently used ones that you should remember as they are quite commonly used.

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  • senseandnonsense

    Thanks for the explanation!

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