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German Accusative Prepositions

When you first start learning German, you realize fast that you can鈥檛 get far without learning prepositions.

Prepositions are little words such as with, for, against, to, on, over, under, in, behind, between, through, etc. that we use all. the. time. in both English & German!

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Written by Laura Bennett
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Of course, as you鈥檝e probably accepted by now, German prepositions are a little trickier than their English counterparts and for the same reason that is pretty much always behind a German-learner鈥檚 woes: the dreaded German case system!

Thankfully, we鈥檝e demystified how to use declensions in the German case system (it鈥檚 really not so bad!).

And if you鈥檝e already read my guide on the Accusative Case (which I recommend before reading this guide), then learning German accusative prepositions will be a cinch — there are only 5! 

Key Learnings:

  • how prepositions work in English vs. German
  • what the 5 German accusative prepositions are
  • how to use the accusative case with accusative prepositions
  • how to use accusative prepositions idiomatically
  • 3 鈥榮ort of鈥 accusative prepositions (honorable mentions!)

What you need to know with German Accusative Prepositions

What are prepositions?

Prepositions are important little words such as with, for, under, over, to, etc.
Prepositions are used in combination with a noun (or pronoun) to indicate鈥

  • location(e.g. under the bed)
  • direction (e.g. tothe post office)
  • time (e.g. for the long weekend)
  • manner (e.g. witha cheery attitude)

Prepositions introduce prepositional phrases that might be as short as preposition + noun (e.g. with Mom, for you, to Granddad, etc.) or as long as preposition + determiner + adjective(s) + noun:

with the long, sharp knife
for a poor, hungry boy
under many warm, cozy covers
over a few grassy hills
to some impatient, bossy supervisors

As you can see, prepositional phrases can鈥檛 stand alone ^^ — they have to be part of a larger sentence in order to make sense (e.g. This sandwich is …. for a poor, hungry boy).

How do prepositions work in English vs. German?

Prepositions are are one of THE HARDEST groups of words to learn in a new language. Why? Because there are rarely 1-to-1 translations of prepositions.

For example, as an English speaker you might think 鈥榦k, I just need to learn the German words for to, from, at, etc. — that鈥檚 not so bad!鈥

But the way we use, say, 鈥榯o鈥 in English might be the German preposition zu 鈥 or nach 鈥 or auf.

OR 鈥榓t鈥 used in English might be the German preposition bei 鈥 or auf 鈥 or in.

Do you see what I mean? Prepositions are not 1-to-1 in English and German. 

You have to learn all the German prepositions and how they are used in German — which doesn鈥檛 necessarily line up in a neat-and-tidy way with how we use prepositions in English.

English Prepositions

Prepositions in English are relatively very simple and we have about 28 common ones:

above, across, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, by, down, from, in, into, near, of, off, on, to, toward, under, upon, with and within

You take whatever preposition indicates the meaning you want, pair it with whatever noun, maybe use a determiner or some adjectives and done. Seems easy (to us, at least).

German Accusative Prepositions

Turns out there are also about 28 common German prepositions! And only 5 accusative ones. That doesn鈥檛 sound so scary.

The 5 German accusative prepositions with their approximate English translations (on a very basic, surface level) are:

durch (through)
蹿眉谤 (for)
gegen (against)
ohne (without)
um (around)

But wait!

Remember: we can鈥檛 just pair a noun with a preposition all willy-nilly. Oh no. All German nouns have to be in a particular case. And nouns in prepositional phrases are no exceptions!

When & how to use Accusative Prepositions

When to use accusative prepositions is a more complex topic than we will tackle in this section. 

Sure, you have the provided approximate English translations to get you started 鈥 But remember that it鈥檚 not often a simple 1-to-1 with English & German prepositions!

It鈥檚 far better to pay close attention to authentic German (native speakers, music, movies, books, etc.) and the contexts in which the 5 accusative prepositions are used — that is how you鈥檒l really learn when to use durch, 蹿眉谤, gegen, ohne and um

How to use the accusative prepositions is much more straightforward! 

In order to use an accusative preposition, you have to know how to 鈥榮ignal鈥 that your prepositional phrase is in the accusative case and that is a matter of knowing …

  • which declensions (<– the signalers!) are used in the accusative case
  • which words in a prepositional phrase need declensions
  • declension types (strong or weak) & patterns (there are 4)
  • how to pick out the correct declensions for the right words every time!

How to 鈥榮ignal鈥 an accusative prepositional phrase

All prepositions occur within a prepositional phrase — and all German prepositional phrases must be in one of the 4 cases.

If you think of every sentence as having 鈥榮lots鈥 that get filled up with nouns, those 鈥榮lots鈥 are the German cases:

nominative (for the subject noun)
accusative or dative (for object nouns)
genitive (for nouns that express 鈥榩ossession鈥, loosely defined, of another noun)

Chart on how nouns work in a sentence with their cases, roles, and description.

Now, at the same time that we can have other nouns functioning within these different roles, we might optionally have prepositional phrases on top of that — and, again, every prepositional phrase has to be in a particular case, too!

There are prepositional phrases that have to be in the accusative, dative, or genitive cases (none in the nominative case except for the idiomatic was 蹿眉谤 ein 鈥 鈥榳hatta 鈥 [cool guy!]鈥).

HOWEVER, nouns in prepositional phrases aren鈥檛 playing the role of subject or direct object, etc. They are in whatever case because of the preposition, not because of the noun鈥檚 function.

So, sometimes German nouns are in a particular case because of the role they play in the sentence, but sometimes just because another word (e.g. a preposition 鈥 but also verbs and adjectives!) require the following noun to be in a particular case.

In this guide, we鈥檙e focusing on accusative prepositional phrases — so how do we make sure the noun in the phrase is properly marked as being in the accusative case?

It鈥檚 all about declensions!

How Accusative Declensions Work

Declensions are just single letters (-r, -e, -s, -n, -m) added to the ends of certain groups of words that come in front of nouns. Declensions are what signal the gender & case of that noun.

This is important because the case of the noun tells us who/what is the subject (or an object), etc. — we need to know who is doing what to whom, etc. in order for a sentence to have meaning.

The gender of the noun isn鈥檛 actually important — it鈥檚 just that gender is an inherent part of every German noun (there鈥檚 not separating a noun from its gender), so it has to come along for the ride and be taken into account when we鈥檙e selecting the correct declensions.

Words that need declensions

There are only 2 categories of words that come in front of nouns (including nouns in a prepositional phrase) and, therefore, need declensions: 

Determiners: a, the, some, few, this, etc. that tell us how many of the noun or which one.

Adjectives: describe some feature of the noun (e.g. big, small, round, flat, blue).

2 Types of Declensions

All determiners or adjectives in an accusative prepositional phrase will take either the strong or weak declension listed under the gender that lines up with the gender of the noun in the phrase:

Knowing which word (i.e. determiner or adjective?) needs which declension (i.e. strong( ) or weak ( )?) is a matter of working with declensions patterns!

4 Declensions Patterns

There are 4 total declension patterns that help us use the declensions chart properly. 

Notice a general preference for strong declensions over weak ones. 馃榾

ANY of these four declensions patterns may be used within an accusative prepositional phrase. 

Let鈥檚 look at examples of each declension pattern along with each of the 5 accusative prepositions!

Accusative Prepositions Examples

Again, there are 5 prepositions that are always accusative:

Note that in the following examples…

  • the whole prepositional phrase has been italicized
  • the accusative noun / pronoun has been bolded
  • the examples are numbered 1-4 for each preposition and line up with the 4 declensions patterns in the order listed!
鈥榙urch鈥 (through)
  1. Ich gehe durchden langen Tunnel (I go through the long tunnel)
  2. Ich mag es, durch lange Tunnelzu gehen (I like to go through long tunnels)
  3. Ich laufe durch ein gro脽es Feld(I鈥檓 walking through a big field).
  4. Ich laufe durch zahlreiche gro脽e Felder(I鈥檓 walking through numerous big fields)
鈥槾诿及 (for)
  1. Dieses Geschenk ist 蹿眉谤 sie (this gift is for her).
  2. Mutterstag wird 蹿眉谤 geliebte 惭眉迟迟别谤 gefeiert (Mother鈥檚 Day is celebrated for beloved mothers)
  3. Dieses Geschenk muss 蹿眉谤 ein kleines Baby sein! (This present must be for a young baby!)
  4. Ich kaufe gerne Geschenke 蹿眉谤 etliche kleine Babys in meiner Verwandtschaft! (I like buying gifts for quite a lot of babies in my extended family!)
鈥榞egen鈥 (against)
  1. Ich habe nichts gegen diesen Mann (I have nothing againstthis man).
  2.  Ich habe nichts gegen reiche Menschen (I have nothing against rich people).
  3.  Ich habe nichts gegen ein kleines Nickerchen (I have nothing against [taking] a little nap!)
  4.  Ich habe nichts gegen manche doofe Menschen, aber 鈥 (I have nothing against some dumb people, but 鈥)
鈥榦hne鈥 (without)
  1. Ich kann ohne dich nicht leben (I can鈥檛 live without you).
  2.  Ich kann ohne t盲glichen Kaffee nicht leben (I can鈥檛 live without daily coffee).
  3.  Ich k枚nnte ohne mein Baby nicht weiter leben (I couldn鈥檛 live on without my baby).
  4.  Ich k枚nnte ohne viele Kaffeine den Tag nicht 眉berstehen! (I couldn鈥檛 survive the day without a lot of caffeine!)
鈥榰m鈥 (around)
  1. Ich tanze um meine lieben, engen, deutschen Freunde Markus & Anna herum (I鈥檓 dancing around my dear, close, German friends, Markus & Anna).
  2.  Ich tanze um enge, liebe Freunde herum (I dance around close, dear friends).
  3.  Ich gehe um unser neues Haus herum. (I walk around [the outside of] our new home).
  4.  Ich springe um viele gef盲hrliche Gruben (I鈥檓 jumping around many dangerous holes).

REMEMBER: This means that every time you use one of these 5 prepositions, the noun that follows it has to be in the accusative case. (Read this info on dative prepositions and genitive prepositions).

Summary

Learning the 5 prepositions that are always accusative is important because 

  1. you鈥檒l use them a lot and
  2. you have to keep them separate in your head from the dative prepositions (which you鈥檒l also use a lot). 

When using an accusative preposition, you have to put the noun (<– that鈥檚 in the prepositional phrase) into the accusative case.

Doing that successfully is a matter of putting the correct declensions (strong or weak) onto the correct words (determiners or adjectives) so as to reflect the gender [masc., fem., neut., or plur.] & case [accusative] of the noun!

Main Takeaways

  1. Prepositions introduce prepositional phrases, which always include a noun(s). 
  2. Accusative prepositions require nouns that are in the accusative case.
  3. Each gender of noun has a particular set of declensions used in the accusative case.
  4. Declensions are single letters (-m, -r, -n, -s, -e) that indicate the gender & case of nouns.
  5. The two types of declensions (strong & weak) get put on the tailends of determiners & adjectives (<– words that come in front of nouns) according to 1 of 4 different declensions patterns.
  6. The 5 German prepositions that always require that the noun in the phrase be in the accusative case are durch, 蹿眉谤, gegen, ohne, um.
  7. Prepositions do NOT have tidy 1-to-1 English-German translations and must be learned within authentic spoken/written German context.