What are German "Wechselpräpositionen"?

In German, most of the prepositions always require the same case. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule: The German “Wechselpräpositionen”. Continue reading and get to know everything needed.

As already mentioned, normally all prepositions require a certain case like Accusative or Dative. However, the “Wechselpräpositionen” (switching prepositions) describe a group of prepositions that can either require Accusative or Dative, depending on the context. 

There are nine such prepositions in German: in, an, unter, über, auf, vor, hinter, neben and zwischen.

The German Accusative

As a little reminder, the German Accusative describes the direct object of a sentence. This means, that it does nothing itself but that the Nominative (subject) is doing something to it. 

For example Ich trinke den Tee. (I drink the tea.)

The German Dative

The Dative case describes where something is or to whose “benefit” something happens. 

For example: Ich gebe der Frau den Tee. (I give the tea to the woman.)

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Recommended study materials on the topic:

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Accusative or Dative?

Now, you might ask yourself now, when you should choose Accusative or Dative with the German “Wechselpräpositionen”. Well, all of the prepositions in this group describe a position. Now, something can move in the direction of a position, and then you should use the Accusative case. Another trick is to ask “wohin” (to where).

Once, the movement is finished, something is situated somewhere. Then, you usually can ask “wo” (where) something is which always indicates the Dative case.

For example:

Accusative (movement):

Wir gehen um 7 Uhr in den Supermarkt. = Wohin gehen wir? (We go to the supermarket at 7 a.m. = Where are we going?)

Dative (position):

Wir sind um 7:05 Uhr im Supermarkt. = Wo sind wir? (We’re in the supermarket at 7:05 a.m. = Where are we?)

The 9 affected prepositions

in (in)

  1. Accusative: Ich gehe in die Schule. (I go to school.)
  2. Dative: Ich bin in der Schule. (I’m at school.)

an (on, beside)

  1. Accusative: Ich hänge das Bild an die Wand. (I hang the picture on the wall.)
  2. Dative: Das Bild hängt an der Wand. (The picture is hanging on the wall.)

auf (on/onto)

  1. Accusative: Ich lege das Telefon auf den Tisch. (I put the phone on the table.)
  2. Dative: Das Telefon liegt auf dem Tisch. (The phone is on the table.)

unter (under, beneath)

  1. Accusative: Der Löffel fällt unter den Tisch. (The spoon falls under the table.)
  2. Dative: Der Löffel liegt unter dem Tisch. (The spoon is under the table.)

über (above)

  1. Accusative: Ich hänge die Lampe über den Tisch. (I hang the lamp above the table.)
  2. Dative: Die Lampe hängt über dem Tisch. (The lamp is hanging above the table.)

vor (in front of)

  1. Accusative: Mario fährt vor den Supermarkt. (Mario drives in front of the supermarket.)
  2. Dative: Marios Auto steht vor dem Supermarkt. (Mario’s car is in front of the supermarket.)

hinter (behind)

  1. Accusative: Ich gehe hinter das Haus. (I go behind the house.)
  2. Dative: Ich stehe hinter dem Haus(I am standing behind the house.)

neben (next to)

  1. Accusative: Ich setze das Kind neben seine Eltern. (I put the child next to his parents.)
  2. Dative: Das Kind sitzt neben seinen Eltern. (The child is sitting next to his parents.)

zwischen (between)

  1. Accusative: Ich setze mich zwischen die Frauen. (I take a seat between the women.)
  2. Dative: Ich sitze zwischen den Frauen. (I am sitting between the women.)

As you could hopefully learn from this article, you can easily implement the German “Wechselpräpositionen” in your daily German practice. You simply need to memorize these above nine prepositions.

Before using them, you can always ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. Is there movement involved? Can I ask “to where” (wohin)? If yes, choose Accusative. 
  2. Are you referring to a certain position? If yes, can you ask “where” (wo)? If yes, choose Dative. 
 
 

If you wish to know more about German prepositions check out the difference between “im”, “am” and “um” in German

Bis bald!

Steffie

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