German/Grammar/Dative prepositions

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Dative prepositions

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We've covered prepositions that are followed by either the accusative or dative. In this section we'll cover prepositions that are always followed by the dative, and in a later section we'll cover those that are followed by the accusative. Some of the most common and most important German prepositions appear in this category. You may also notice that while the main meaning of prepositions that can be followed by either accusative or dative has something to with location, there is no such pattern for dative prepositions. We've already covered the terminology we'll need here, so we can dive right into the material.


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As with some of the prepositions we covered earlier, some of the prepositions we're talking about here combine with articles to form contractions. Keep an eye out for these and remember to mentally separate the preposition from the article. We'll list them together here in case some are missed in the examples:

  • beimbei + dem
  • vomvon + dem
  • zumzu + dem
  • zurzu + der

aus (location)

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Recall that in, with the accusative, tells you something is going from the outside to the inside. The opposite is aus and tells you something is going from the inside to the outside:

  • Ich bringe den Teller aus der Küche. – "I'm bringing the plate out of the kitchen."

This might seem like a "destination", which was when we said to use in with the accusative case. This can be confusing, but the earlier rule only works with prepositions that can be followed by accusative or dative; it doesn't work at all with other prepositions.

A related meaning is for the origin of something, or a location when it's used as a starting point of movement.

  • Ich komme aus Berlin. – "I come from Berlin."

In this sense the meaning is very similar to von; see below for more on this. You can often tell the difference because aus still keeps some of it's "out of" sense; you were "inside" Berlin and now you're "outside".

aus (material)

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Another use of aus is to say something is made from, or out of, something else. For example:

  • Ich baue einen Stuhl aus den Brettern. – "I'm making/building a chair out of the boards."

If the material is important and not the actual construction, you can just say ist aus:

  • Die Schale ist aus Silber. – "The bowl is made of silver."

You can use werden instead of machen or a similar verb (such as bauen) if something is turning into something else on it's own.

  • Aus unserem Mädchen wird eine Frau. – "Our girl is turning into a woman."
    • Something is lost in translation here. Literally it says "A woman is becoming out of our girl."

außer (besides)

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Not to be confused with aus is außer, which means "besides" or "other than". It's used when you want to mention exceptions to a general statement.

  • Ich trinke nichts außer Wasser. – "I don't drink anything but water."

außer (out of)

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Another use of außer is in certain expressions where it can be translated as "out of". For example

  • außer Atem ― "out of breath"
  • außer Sicht ― "out of sight"
  • außer Übung – "out of practice"

Note that this only occurs in certain fixed expressions. If you just want to say you've run out of supplies then you'd use something like:

  • Ich habe keinen Zucker. – "I'm out of sugar."

bei (location)

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This is a cognate of "by" and, as you might expect, often means "nearby". This is less close than the meaning of neben, which is more "next to" than "near".

  • Irland liegt bei England. – "Ireland is (lies) near England."
  • Ich wohne bei Berlin. – "I live near Berlin."

You can also use bei to mean a location when you're not referring to a specific place but a place where something else is located. For example:

  • Ich bin bei der Arbeit. – "I'm at work."
    • We don't know from this the exact location of the job, but we do know that location is where you are.
  • Er ist beim Arzt. – "He's at the doctor."
    • In this case bei dem is combined to form beim.

bei (condition)

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You can also use bei to express a condition where something occurs. This is analogous to certain phrases in English, for example "I sleep by day and work by night." In many cases this meaning of bei is better translated something other than "by", perhaps "in", "at" or "with".

  • Ich laufe oft bei Regen. – "I often run in the rain."

mit (location)

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This is a cognate to "with" and shares the two main meanings. The first is similar to bei and neben, but it implies a sense of togetherness beyond just being in the same location.

  • Ich esse mit Karl. – "I'm eating with Karl."

mit (instrument)

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The other meaning that mit and "with" share is to specify the tool or instrument used to do something.

  • Ich esse mit einer Gabel. – "I'm eating with a fork."
    • In this case einer Gabel says what you're using to eat.

nach (location)

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With a location, nach means "to" or "towards". In this sense the meaning is similar to zu (covered below) and in (covered in a previous section). You'd use nach for destinations the size of a city or larger, allowing for exceptions where in is used instead (for example countries that have an article in the name).

  • Ich reise nach Wien. – "I'm traveling to Vienna."

You'd also use nach with compass directions when no article is used, and with adverbial directions:

  • Er geht nach Süden. – He's going south.""
  • Geh jetzt nach links. – "Now go left."
  • Ich gehe nach oben. – "I'm going upstairs (upwards)."

The phrase nach Hause is a special case and a general purpose way of saying "home" as a destination, even if you don't actually live in a house. Note that the dative of Haus is normally still Haus, but in former times an -e was added to the end, and sometimes this kind of archaic inflection is preserved in certain expressions.

  • Ich gehe nach Hause. – "I'm going home."

With sein, nach conveys the idea of being targeted.

  • Ich bin nach dir. – "I am after (out to get) you."

nach (similarity)

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There are a number of meanings related to something being similar to, modeled on, or according to something or someone.

  • Ich benenne das Kind nach meinem Vater. – "I'm naming the child after my father."
  • Ich backe Brot nach dem Rezept. – "I'm baking bread according the recipe."
  • Das Gericht riecht nach Pfirsich. – "The dish smells like peaches."

nach (time)

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When used with an event or period of time then nach means "after".

  • Nach dem Spiel trinke ich ein Bier. – "I'm having a beer after the game."

This also works for items in a sequence:

  • B kommt nach A. – "B comes after A."

nach (POV dative)

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When used with sein, the impersonal pronoun es and the point-of-view dative (see the section on Impersonal Verbs), nach can mean that someone is the mood for something. The impersonal es is usually dropped, so, as is often the case with the point-of-view dative, the sentence may appear to have no subject.

  • Ist dir nach einem Schläfchen? – "Do you feel like a nap?"
  • Mir ist nach einem Sandwich. – "I'm in the mood for a sandwich."

seit (time)

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You may recall that when something has been happening for a time, and it continues in the present, German uses the present tense even though English prefers the past tense. One case where this is applicable is with the preposition seit, which roughly says something has been happening a from a certain time on. It often translates to "since", but with a period of time "for" is closer to the meaning. We've already seen an example of this in the section on intransitive verbs:

  • Wir reden seit zwei Stunden. ― "We've been talking for two hours." (Present tense in German and past tense English.)

von (location)

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When used with a location, von means "from" or "away from". As we've already mentioned, there is some overlap here between aus and von, with aus implying something was once in while von is used for any starting point. This still leaves some overlap and aus and von can sometimes be used interchangeably. When a single sentence combines both origin and destination then the custom is to use von with nach:

  • Wir fliegen von Berlin nach Wien. – "We're flying from Berlin to Vienna."

A common use in this sense is with governmental bureaus or similar organizations:

  • Er ist von Interpol. – "He's from Interpol."

von (topic)

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Much like über, von is used for something mentioned in conversation. Although there is some overlap, über is usually used when subject as a whole is "about" something, and von is used when something is just mentioned.

  • Ich höre oft von Ihnen. – "I hear of you often."

von (possessive)

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It's common for von to be translated as "of", and in this case the meaning overlaps with possession. We've already talked about possessive determiners and pronouns, and we'll talk about possessives in general and the genitive case in an upcoming section. In many cases you can indicated possession, especially in the more figurative sense, using von instead. Keep in mind though that von often implies "origin" more than a true possession, for example it's used for authorship. Also von has many meanings and using it carelessly to replace a possessive may cause your sentence to be misunderstood. Some examples:

  • Wir hören die Mondscheinsonate von Beethovan. – "We're listening to Beethovan's Moonlight Sonata."
  • Ich bin ein Fan von Ihnen. – "I'm a fan of yours."

zu (location)

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Like nach, zu can mean "to" or "towards". Unlike nach, zu is reserved for smaller locations such as individual buildings or where a person is located.

  • Ich gehe zum Arzt. – "I'm going to the doctor."
    • Note that zu dem has been reduced to zum.

Unlike in, there is no sense of actually going into the location. But if going inside is implied the you can still use zu; it doesn't mean you're going to stay outside. If you want to say where you want to go in a taxi then use zu; it's not the driver's responsibility to see that you actually go in.

  • Sie geht zur Post. – "She's going to the post office."
    • Here zu der has been reduced to zur.

You can also use zu for events such a party, or activities such as a job.

  • Wir gehen zu einer Party. – "We're going to a party."
    • It's possible to use auf here as well. The meanings are more or less the same, but zu stresses more the getting there and appearing, while auf stresses participation in the event. In many cases they are interchangeable.
  • Mein Vater geht zur Arbeit. – "My father is going to work."

There is also some overlap in meaning between zu and an and in some cases one may be substituted for the other, remembering of course that zu requires the dative and an requires the accusative for the destination.

  • Bringen Sie das Gericht zu den Gästen. – "Bring the dish to the guests."
    • Again the difference between zu and an is more a matter of emphasis than anything else. This guests may not be hungry right now, but the food is there just in case.

There is a phrase zu Hause which is similar to nach Hause meantioned earlier. In this case it's a way of saying "home" as a location.

  • Ich bin zu Hause. – "I'm at home."

You might wonder if there are other similar phrases, but zu Hause can be combined with other prepositions when such a phrase might be useful. For example:

  • Ich komme von zu Hause. – "I'm coming from home."

Other spellings are possible here, zuhause and Zuhause, but zu Hause is the most common.

zu (time)

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Sometimes zu is used to point to a particular moment in time. In this case it can be translated "at". For example

  • zu Beginn – "at the beginning"

Other uses of zu

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There are many uses of zu in which it doesn't function as a preposition at all. This makes it similar to its English cognate "to", which can also be used in a variety of ways. The English "too" is a cognate as well. So we'll be seeing more of zu in upcoming sections.


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