An Introduction to German Prepositions


Driving on a country road in Switzerland. Getty Images/Westend61

A preposition is a word that shows the relationship of a noun or a pronoun to some other word in the sentence. Some examples of such words in German are mit (with), durch (through), für (for), seit (since). The key points to remember when using a preposition (Präposition) in a German sentence are:

Key Takeaways: German Prepositions

  • The noun/pronoun that the preposition modifies will always be in the accusative, dative or genitive case.
  • Prepositions are unchangeable other than prepositional contractions in which prepositions are combined with definite articles to form a single word (for example, auf + das becomes aufs and vor + dem becomes vorm.)
  • Most prepositions are placed before the noun/pronoun they modify.

Learning prepositions may seem like entering a battlefield. True, prepositions are one of the trickier elements of German grammar, but once you've mastered the cases that go with each preposition, your battle is half won. The other half of the battle is knowing which preposition to use. For instance, the English preposition "to" can be translated into at least six different ways in German.

Prepositional Cases

There are three prepositional cases: the accusative, the dative, and the genitive. There is also a group of prepositions that can take on either the accusative or dative case, depending on the meaning of the sentence.

Commonly used prepositions such as durch, für, um always take on the accusative, whereas other common prepositions such as bei, mit, von, zu will always take the dative case.

On the other hand, prepositions in the dual-prepositions group (also called two-way prepositions) such as an, auf, in will take on the accusative case if they can answer the question where to an action or object is going, whereas these same prepositions will take on the dative case, if they describe where the action is taking place.

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Bauer, Ingrid. "An Introduction to German Prepositions." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Bauer, Ingrid. (2020, August 27). An Introduction to German Prepositions. Retrieved from Bauer, Ingrid. "An Introduction to German Prepositions." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).