Prepositions

German has a great deal of prepositions that already look like English words.

Ich habe das Brot für dich gekauft.
I bought the bread for you.

The meaning of these cognate prepositions also usually overlaps in a general way with the meaning in English. Nevertheless, each preposition must be learned individually without much cheating from English.

Each preposition takes a grammatical case: either the accusative, dative, or genitive. Some prepositions are called “two-way” prepositions because they sometimes take accusative and sometimes dative. However, the pattern is regular and quickly learned. There are no nominative prepositions.

First, let’s look at the accusative prepositions:

durchthroughdurch den Wald (through the forest)
fürparafür dich (for you)
gegenagainstgegen den Feind (against the enemy)
ohnewithoutohne meinen Sessel (without my armchair)
umaround/aboutum den Berg (around the mountain)
bisuntil/up tobis seinen Tod (until his death)

bis is very frequently seen followed by another preposition. The second preposition governs the case of the noun.

bis zum nächsten Woche
until next week

Next we have the dative prepositions.

ausout, fromaus der Stadt (from the city)
außerexceptaußer dem Mann (except for the man)
beiat, nearbei den Eltern (at the parents’ place)
mitwithmit einem Freund (with a friend)
nachafter, tonach dem Ende (after the end)
seitsince, forseit langer Zeit (for a long time)
vonfromvon mir (from me)
zuparazu euch (to you)
gegenüberacross fromdem Tisch gegenüber (across from the table)

gegenüber is the only one of these that can be placed after the noun phrase. It can also appear in front.

Lastly, we have the two-way prepositions. When they describe motion towards something, they take the accusative case. When they describe a fixed position, they take the dative case.

anat, on
aufupon, on
hinterbehind
inin, into
nebennext to
überabove, over
unterunder
vorbefore, in front
zwischenbetween

Here are some examples of contrasting cases:

Er steht vor der Tür. (dative)
He is standing in front of the door. (no motion)

Er stellt die Kisten vor die Tür. (accusative)
He places the boxes in front of the door. (the boxes are moved from another location)

Wir rannten in das Museum. (accusative)
We ran into the museum. (we were outside before)

Wir rannten in dem Museum. (dative)
We ran [around] inside the museum. (we did not change location relative to the museum)

Sie spaziert zwischen den Bäumen. (dative)
She walks through the trees. (there are many trees and all of her walking is done between them)

Sie läuft zwischen die Bäume. (accusative)
She runs between the trees. (she was in another location beforehand)