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Demystifying Dative Prepositions in German: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

Embarking on the journey of learning German involves navigating the intricacies of grammar, and dative prepositions are a key component of this linguistic adventure. In this blog post, we'll unravel the nuances of dative prepositions and explore their usage.

In German, prepositions often dictate the case of the noun or pronoun that follows. Initially, students usually learn to use the so-called two-way prepositions in German that either go with the accusative case. Then they get introduced to the accusative prepositions in German before they learn about the dative prepositions in the language.

When to Use Dative Prepositions

Dative prepositions are employed when indicating the indirect object or recipient of an action.

  1. Recipient of an Action:

  • Use dative prepositions when expressing the person or entity receiving the action, such as giving, showing, or sending.

  1. Location or Place:

  • Dative prepositions are often used to describe a location or place where an action occurs.

  1. Possession or Ownership:

  • When indicating possession or ownership, dative prepositions clarify the relationship between the possessor and the possessed.

Let's now explore the most common dative prepositions.

aus (out of, from in the sense of origin)

Ich komme aus Deutschland. (I come from Germany) Der Tisch ist aus Holz. (The table is made of wood)

außer (except, apart from)

Niemand ist im Büro außer mir. (Nobody is in the office apart from me)

bei (at/with; near a place, named location, at the time of)

Die Stadt Siegburg liegt bei Bonn. (The city of Siegburg lies near Bonn) Sie arbeitet bei Bloomberg. (She works at Bloomberg) Viele Leute sehen beim Essen fern. (Many people watch tv during a meal)

mit (with; joint activity with another person, modes of transport)

Ich treffe mich mit dir. (I meet with you) Er fährt mit dem Auto zur Arbeit.(He takes his car to work)

nach (to for named cities countries, going home; after in the spatial sense. Watch out: countries with an article in German take "in" rather than "nach")

Wir fliegen nach Berlin. (We're flying to Berlin) Nach dem Essen trinkt sie einen Espresso (She drinks an espresso after the meal)

seit (for/since)

Ihr wont seit einem Jahr in Hamburg. (You have been living in Hamburg for a year) Ich wohne seit dem 27.9.2006 in Großbritannien (I have been living in the UK since the 27th of September 2006)

von (from; not to be confused with "ab" and "aus")

Ich laufe von Camden nach Hampstead (I'm running from Camden to Hampstead) Der Radfahrer kam von rechts (The cyclist came from the right hand side)

zu (to/towards for unnamed locations; for occasions; set phrases)

Wir fahren zu einem Freund. (We're going to a friend) Was kochst du zum Abendessen? (What are you cooking for dinner? Zum Glück habe ich meinen Regenschirm bei mir (Fortunately, I took my umbrella with me)

Slightly less common are the two prepositions below.

Sie wohnen gegenüber dem Park. (They're living opposite the park)

ab (as of; from a certain point in time or location onwards)

Die Northern Line ist ab Januar geschlossen (The Northern Line is closed from January onwards)

As the definitions and examples show, some of the above prepositions are easier to use than others. Prepositions that German students tend to find particularly confusing are the difference between bei and mit, von vs. aus in German, and von vs. ab. So I have devoted blog posts to each of these pairs of prepositions. "Von" is also used in prepositional phrases like "in der Nähe von", which I also explain in a separate post. One final note on "seit" in German. It's a tricky word as it can also be used as a subordinate clause conjunction.

10 prepositions are, of course, difficult to remember. However, listen to the following dative only song a few times, and you should be fine.

Common Pitfalls and Tips

Navigating dative prepositions can be challenging, but a few tips can ease the learning process:

  1. Dative Pronouns:

  • Familiarise yourself with dative pronouns, as they replace the indirect object in a sentence.

  1. Context Matters:

  • Pay attention to the context of a sentence. Dative prepositions are often determined by the nature of the action being described.

  1. Verbs and Dative Prepositions:

  • Some verbs naturally require the use of dative prepositions. Practice these pairings to enhance your fluency.

Congratulations on delving into the intricacies of German grammar with dative prepositions. Whether you're describing interactions, locations, or ownership, dative prepositions will guide you through the rich tapestry of the German language. Viel Erfolg (Good luck) on your language-learning journey!

You might also be interested in my Ultimate Guide to Learning German. Check it out to learn how to learn German fast.


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