What makes prepositions difficult to use in German is that you always have to consider the case that they take. There are four categories of prepositions in German, which go with different cases. In this blog post, I explain how to learn and use them most effectively.
Before we discuss the prepositions you need to learn, let me give you some advice. Students often get really confused about the four cases in German when they learn the logic of how to use the cases at the same time as prepositions. That is because a noun can be in the accusative, dative or genitive case for reasons that have nothing to do with prepositions. In my experience, it is therefore better for students to learn this cases logic first and then consider prepositions that deviate from this logic.
The four categories of prepositions in German are
Two-way or dual prepositions that either take the accusative or the dative case
You‘ll find detailed explanations with examples in my blog posts on each of the four categories. While most prepositions only go with one case that you simply have to learn, the case of the two-way prepositions is governed by the verb. If the verb implies a change of location, they go with the accusative case, but if there is no change of location they go with the dative case. However, many of prepositions, including some of the dual prepositions, can‘t just be used as spatial prepositions in German, but also as temporal prepositions. So it is not just important to consider the case but also the context in which they can be used.
The nine German two-way prepositions are
An (at/up to)
Auf (on top of)
Neben (next to)
Vor (in front of/before/ago)
Ich gehe in den Park (accusative because of "gehen")
Ich spiele Fußball in dem (im) Park (Dative because there is no change of location)
The five most common accusative prepositions in German are
Er lernt Deutsch für seine Arbeit.
Sie joggt gern durch den Wald.
The ten German dative prepositions are
Aus (from, origin)
Ab (as of)
Wir treffen uns oft mit unseren Freunden.
Nach einer Woche bekommt er sein Prüfungsergebnis.
The eight Genitive prepositions in German are
Wegen (because of/due to)
Trotz (in spite of/despite)
Meine Schüler:innen konzentrieren sich während des Unterrichts.
Trotz des Regens spielte er Tennis.
Make sure you learn those prepositions separately and give them a lot of practice. On our German language blog "Auf Deutsch, bitte!", there are many other posts on German grammar, such as German word order, relative clauses in German and the German subjunctive.