Prepositions in German (1) Two-Way Prepositions

Unlike other German language teachers, I usually teach the cases separately from prepositions to make sure that my students understand what the cases are doing in a German sentence. In my experience, when students learn the two topics together, they do not fully appreciate why the dative case is used as both, an indirect object as in, "Ich schenke der Frau einen Blumenstrauß" as well as a spatial preposition as in "Die Frau sitzt im Kino". So my advice would be that you learn about the four German cases first before you continue with my explanation of prepositions.


Prepositions enforce their own rules and take a particular case. If you have a preposition before a noun, this noun no longer performs the function of a direct or indirect object but its case is determined by the preposition. In this part of my four blog posts on prepositions, I explain two-way prepositions, which in German are called "Wechselpräpositionen", as they change their case depending on whether the verb implies a change of location (Akkusativ) or not (Dativ). So it's important to focus on the verb. The most common verbs we use with this set of prepositions are:


AKK only vs. DAT only


stellen (to put or place) vs. stehen (literally, to stand)

(sich) legen (to lay) vs. liegen (to lie)

(sich) setzen (to sit down) vs. sitzen (to sit, be seated)


Keeping your eyes on the verbs, let's now look at the nine two-way prepositions with some examples.


Two of the above German prepositions- "in" and "an"- are particularly important to remember not only as spatial but also as temporal prepositions.


Learn about accusative only prepositions, dative only prepositions, and prepositions that go with the genitive case in German in our next three posts on the topic.


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


On our German Language Blog "Auf Deutsch, bitte!", you will find posts on many topics in German grammar- from adjective endings in German, the four German cases, the difference between aber and sondern in German, to German syntax. We also teach you helpful German words and phrases for your next trip to Germany, list the ten most useful German verbs to get your German off the ground, warn you about tricky false friends in German and English, give you tips on how to avoid the 5 most common mistakes in German and how to quickly improve your German, tell you if it is possible to learn German in one year, review of the language apps Duolingo, Memrise, Babbel, and Busuu, explain how to translate the English word busy into German, and we compare the most popular online dictionaries Linguee, dict.cc, dict.leo and Collins. So check out our blog and let us know what you think.

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