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Two-way Prepositions in German

List of all topics in the level A2

German two-way prepositions, known as Wechselpräpositionen in the German language, can use either the dative or accusative case, depending on the context or situation.

German two-way prepositions are:

This page is part of the step-by-step German learning A2 level course. To see the complete grammatical details of German prepositions, please visit the page German prepositions in the section Summary of German Grammer.

How to employ German two-way prepositions:

  1. When the sentence indicates movement, the preposition is used with the accusative case, for instance, Ich gehe in die Stadt (I am heading to the city).
  2. When the sentence denotes a state or location, the preposition is accompanied by the dative case, as in Ich bin in der Stadt (I'm in the city).

Put differently, when a sentence serves as a response to the interrogative pronoun "wohin" (where to), the preposition within it should be in the accusative case. Conversely, if the sentence is a reply to the interrogative pronoun "wo" (where), the preposition within it should be followed by the dative case.

an (on, next to)

Sabine hängt den Hut an den Haken. (Sabine hangs the hat on the hook.)
Jan hängt das Bild an die Wand. (Jan hangs the picture on the wall.)
Jetzt hängt der Hut an dem Haken. (Now the hat hangs on the hook.)
Jetzt hängt das Bild an der Wand. (Now the picture hangs on the wall.)

In the instances mentioned above, when both the hat and the picture are in motion, the preposition "an" takes the accusative case. However, when the hat and picture are stationary, the preposition "an" demands the dative case.

When the accusative case is used with the preposition "an," we can form a question using the interrogative pronoun "wohin." For instance, you might inquire, Wohin hängt Sabine den Hut? This query translates to: "Where is Sabine hanging the hat?" or "Where is Sabine going to hang the hat?"
The potential English translations and the original German inquiry all convey a notion of a transitional phase, specifically, "where to" is Sabine transporting the hat? The hat is switching locations from one place to another. After the transition phase is over, we can inquire: Wo ist der Hut? (Where is the hat?) When responding to this query, the preposition "an" should be used in the dative case.

auf (on)

Hans legt den Kuli auf den Tisch. (Hans puts the pen on the table.)
Jetzt liegt der Kuli auf dem Tisch. (Now the pen is on the table.)
der Tisch (table) plural: die Tische

Difference between the verbs stellen, legen, stehen and liegen

stellen: (to place something vertically) Ich stelle die Flasche auf den Tisch. (I place (vertically) the bottle on the table.)
legen: (to place something horizontally) Ich lege den Kuli auf den Tisch. (I place (horizontally) the pen on the table.)
Ich lege die Flasche auf den Tisch. (I place (horizontally) the bottle on the table.)
stehen: (to stand) Die Flasche steht auf dem Tisch. (The bottle is on the table. Literally, bottle stands on the table.)
liegen: (to lie, to be lying down) Der Kuli liegt auf dem Tisch. (The pen is on the table. Literally, the pen is lying on the table.)

Stellen and legen show a process (a process of movement). Stehen and liege indicate a position (a state).

hinter (behind)

Er stellt die Flasche hinter den Tisch. (He places (in standing position) the bottle behind the table.)
Die Flasche steht hinter dem Tisch. (The bottle is (in standing position) behind the table.)

in (in)

Tobias legt das Handy in die Schublade. (Tobias puts the phone in the drawer.)
Das Handy liegt in der Schublade. (The phone is in the drawer.)
die Schublade (drawer) plural: die Schubladen

neben (near, next to)

Ich lege meinen Kuli neben das Heft. (I put my pen next to the notebook.)
Der Kuli liegt neben dem Heft. (The pen is next to the handbook.)

über (over)

Hanna hängt die Lampe über das Buch. (Hanna hangs the lamp over the book.)
Die Lampe hängt über dem Buch. (The lamp hangs over the book.)

unter (under)

Er versteckt das Geld unter das Bett. (He hides the money under the bed.)
Das Geld liegt unter dem Bett. (The money is under the bed.)
versteckt (to hide, to stash)

vor (in front of)

Die Mutter stellt das Glas vor die Flasche. (The mother puts the glass in front of the bottle.)
Das Glas steht vor der Flasche. (The glass is in front of the bottle.)

zwischen (between)

Er legt die Wurst zwischen die beiden Brötchen. (He puts the sausage between the two pieces of bread.)
Die Wurst liegt zwischen den beiden Brötchen. (The sausage lies between the two pieces of bread.)
das Stück (piece), die Stücke (pieces)

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