Two-way prepositions, known as Wechselpräpositionen in German, are prepositions where the case of the noun following it can either be in the accusative or the dative.
Two-way Prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen)
- auf (on)
- an (at, on, by)
- vor (in front of)
- neben (next to)
- hinter (behind)
- über (over)
- unter (under)
- in (in, into)
- zwischen (between)
Accusative or Dative?
Whether it is in the accusative or dative depends on the context of the sentence, and usually, the verb gives an indication.
If the sentence indicates a direction, or movement, then it takes the accusative.
This means that it is the answer to a Wohin question: Wohin stellen/legen/hängen…?
Example: Ich lege die Teller auf den Tisch.
On the other hand, if it indicates a fixed position or location, then it takes the dative.
This is the answer to a Wo question: Wo steht/liegt/hängt…?
Example: Die Teller legen auf dem Tisch.
Remembering the Two-way Prepositions
I remember the two-way prepositions by groups.
I group them into 3 groups.
Since they describe positions, we have 2 pairs consisting of prepositions that are opposites. This is the first group:
- vor ≠ hinter
- über ≠ unter
Then, we the second group also consisting of 2 pairs with members that are related:
- auf – an (Auf is used to describe something on a vertical surface like a wall, while an is used for something on a horizontal surface like a table.)
- zwischen – neben (Something between two things is also beside them.)
Lastly, we have in, the one that looks like an English word, making a total of 9 prepositions.
(If you want another method, there is also a song for this, though this was something that I discovered long after I first learned the list, unlike the one for the accusative prepositions.)
Contractions with Two-way Prepositions
Here is a list of contractions with two-way prepositions.
- an + dem = am
- an + das = ans
- auf + das = aufs
- in + dem = im
- in + das = ins
- hinter + das = hinters
- hinter + dem = hinterm
- über + das = übers
- über + dem = überm
- unter + das = unters
- unter + dem = unterm
- vor + das = vors
- vor + dem = vorm (Note that vom is the contraction of von + dem.)
Next time, we move on to look at genitive prepositions.
Note: Much as I wanted to avoid this, I will have to take a break from posting on Tuesdays for the rest of December until the end of January. I didn’t have enough time to write extra posts in advance to schedule for when I will be away.
However, the weekly Thursday and Sunday posts will continue. See you in February 2018 for the continuation of this series!