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.
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.
Let’s look at the nine little beauties that can be either accusative or dative:
Two-Way Prepositions in the Accusative Case
|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
|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…?
- Prepositions in the dative case describe positions or refer to a static location. These prepositions can answer questions that start with: Where…?
Deine Tasche liegt auf dem Tisch. (The bag is on the table.) ⇨ Where is the bag?
Sie wollen auf die Party. (They want to go to the party.) ⇨ Where do they want to go to?
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.