These two groups of prepositions might be harder for the native English speaker to learn because there’s pretty much no analog to any structure in English, or there just seems to be no rhyme or reason for when a preposition takes an accusative or dative object, or when it might get funky and place itself behind its object for Schisse und Gekicher, and whether going post-position like that changes the specified case of the object or not!
Neither of the lists on this page (or even most on this site) should be considered exhaustive; these are just my favorites.
- outside of
- along, as in entlang des Weges
- correspondingly (but it’s Dative in the post-position form!)
- for the sake of
- inside of
- according to
- by the name of
- in spite of, despite
- for the purpose of
See how many of those are translatable into English with “of”? The Genitive case is to express possession, something we often do in English in one of two ways:
- with a possessive “‘s”
- using “of” in a prepositional phrase
Check out trotz up there. Two direct translations into English come to mind: in spite “of”, and “despite.” des is the German Genitiv definite article! Coincidence?
* Actually, entlang + Genitive is an adverbial phrase, but let’s not quibble.
These guys are situational. Sometimes you can sort of explain away a tendency to take a dative or an accusative object if there is goal-oriented motion expressed in the clause (that often calls for an accusative object), but other times, it’s apparently just determined by convention. Like when you’re talking about something: über die Grammatik reden. What good reason is there for über to make Grammatik its pseudo-direct object, as opposed to its pseudo-indirect object? Let us know in the comments when you find it, please.
- on (date), to (when addressing something to someone), at (a fixed position, like am Hauptbahnhof)
- to, onto, on top of
- in, into
- under, underneath
- in front of, before
- between, in between
These are tough. You get these right, and no native speaker is likely to pat you on the back and go “oh yeah, man, you’re ROCKIN’ out on those prepositions!”. But they sure will notice if you get them wrong. Sadly, the only rules of thumb I can offer are:
- When the prepositional phrase is describing motion and a change of location, go Accusative. When the location of the action in the prepositional phrase is unchanging, go Dative. Beispiele:
Ich gehe ins Zimmer. I’m walking into the room. Ich gehe im Zimmer. I’m walking inside the room.
- When in doubt in figurative expressions, like über die Grammatik reden, where there is no motion to speak of, go Accusative.
A native speaker friend-of-a-friend once told me in flawless Standard American English
You know you’re really good at a foreign language when the native speakers stop complimenting you on it.*
This is one of those things that you can’t expect praise for, and instead at best can only hope for no (obvious) screw-ups. Like working in IT.
* And then he remarked on how good my German was. Hmmph.