Place prepositions in German: What are place prepositions? Why is the same preposition used according to different rules? How not to get confused? Let’s look closer!

Where did you come from? Where do we go today? Where can I find this book? To answer these questions, you need the prepositions of place – Lokale Präpositionen.  I have prepared information on the most common place prepositions in German.

Where? Where to? Where is it from?

These interrogative words are not an accidental. Prepositions of place are used in sentences and phrases that ask a question or contain an answer to questions that start with words (by the way, these interrogative words are called Fragewörter):

Wo? – Where?
Woher? – Where from?
Wohin? – Where to?

For example, one of the first questions you will encounter when you start learning German:

  • Woher kommst du? – Where are you from?

There can be an infinite number of questions with the word Wo:

  • Wo ist Michael? – Where is Michael?
  • Wo liegt meine Brille? – Where are my glasses?
  • Wo kann ich Kaffee trinken? – Where can I have coffee?

Questions that start with Wohin also look different:

  • Wohin gehen Sie? – Where are you going?
  • Wohin reisen wir nächsten Sommer? – Where are we going next summer?

So, we got acquainted with the question words Wo, Wohin and Woher and now we can move on to the prepositions themselves.

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Remember that the function of prepositions is to connect words in a sentence with each other. Prepositions of place in German can be divided into three groups by meaning:

  • Those that answer the question “Wo?”
  • Those that answer the question “Wohin?”
  • Those that answer the question “Woher?”

Prepositions that answer the question “wo?” (where?)

Here is a list of prepositions to help explain where an item is located, an event occurs, your friend lives, and so on:

  • in – in
  • an – on, at
  • auf – on
  • vor – before
  • hinter – behind
  • über – over
  • unter – under
  • neben – near
  • zwischen – between
  • gegenüber – opposite

And here are examples of sentences where these prepositions are used:

  • Ich sehe keine Bücher in dem Geschäft – I do not see books in the store
  • Der Schrank steht hinter der Tür – The wardrobe is behind the door
  • Über dem Bett hängt ein schönes Bild – A beautiful painting is hanging over the bed
  • Sie wartet auf mich vor meinem Haus – She is waiting for me at my house (literally: in front of my house)
  • Sitz richtig am Tisch! – Sit at the table properly!
  • Die Flaschen stehen neben dem Kühlschrank – Bottles are next to the refrigerator
  • Wir treffen uns auf dem Platz – We will meet on the square
  • Die Schuhe liegen unter dem Bett – Shoes are under the bed

Another preposition from the group, which is used only with living persons or as a designation of a place of work – beiBei translates as “at, in”. An example will make it clearer:

  • Gestern war ich beim Arzt – Yesterday I was at the doctor’s
  • Wir wollen bei Siemens arbeiten – We want to work at Siemens

Wechselpräpositionen (prepositions of dual control)

Wechselpräpositionen at first glance may seem like a tricky and confusing topic. Fortunately, this an Irrtum (delusion).

Wechselpräpositionen – the same 9 prepositions that we discussed above with the Wo question, but with two differences:

  1. They can also answer the question Wo? (Where?), and Wohin? (Where to?)
  2. The article, adjective and noun after the preposition will be used in Akkusativ
  3. If the preposition answers the question Wohin , and in Dativ if it answers the question Wo?

The preposition will help to determine the case of the parts of speech that are used after the preposition. And the article on der, die and das will help you determine the gender of nouns and choose the desired article .

Below is a table of 8 verbs that will clear the use of place prepositions:

Wohin + AkkusativWo + Dativ
Stellen (to put)Stehen (to stand)
Legen (to lay down)Liegen (to lie down)
Hängen (to hang)Hängen (to hang)
Setzen (to plant)Sitzen (sit)

Let’s look at examples of how the already familiar prepositions with the question Wohin and Akkusativ are used:

  • Heute Abend gehen wir ins Kino – Tonight evening we are going to the cinema
  • Meine Mutter hängt die Fotos an die Wand – My mom hangs pictures on the wall
  • Ich lege das Buch neben die Vase – I put the book next to the vase
  • Paula hängt die Lampe über das Regal – Paula hangs the lamp over the shelf
  • Die Katze legt unter das Bett – Cat lies under the bed
  • Stefan stellt die Stühle hinter das Sofa – Stefan puts chairs behind the sofa
  • Sie liegt den Teppich zwischen den Herd und die Waschmaschine – She puts the carpet between the stove and the washing machine
  • Peter stellt die Blumen auf den Tisch – Peter puts flowers on the table
  • Vater legt den Teppich vor den Schrank – Dad puts the carpet in front of the wardrobe

Other prepositions used with “wohin?”

Nach – to (towards)

Ich fahre nach Berlin – I’m driving to Berlin

Most often the preposition nach is used in sentences that talk about moving to somewhere: to a village, city, country. But here there is also a nuance: with countries whose names are used with a definite article, the preposition in will be used. In all other cases – nach .

  • Ich will in die Schweiz reisen – I want to go to Switzerland

Zu – to (towards)

Zu – also used to mean “towards“. The difference from nach is that zu is not used with geographic objects.

  • Meine Schwester geht heute zum Supermarkt – My sister is going to the supermarket today. 

Dativ is used after the prepositions nach and zu.

Note the difference in prepositions in the following cases.
If you (or your friend) are at home and want to report it, use the preposition zu:
Ich bin zu Hause – I’m at home

If you are going to go home and you need to tell me about it, use nach :
Ich gehe nach Hause – I’m going home

Durch – through

After the preposition durch, Akkusativ is used.

  • Der Einbrecher stieg durch das Fenster ein – Burglar climbed through the window

Um – around

Akkusativ is used after the preposition um.

  • Wir müssen um den Park fahren – We have to drive around the park

Prepositions used with “woher?”

The two main prepositions used in sentences with the question Woher? (Where?): Aus and von .

Aus – used to denote “origin” (“from”) from any geographical point. Typically used with cities, countries, continents.

Ich komme aus Deutschland – I am from Germany

Von – also translated as “from”. A nuance of use: this preposition emphasizes the starting point of departure, the first point from which a movement or story began. This is the difference from aus.

  • Wahrscheinlich kommt Daniela aus Frankreich – Danielle seems to be from France
  • Daniela ist gerade von Frankreich gekommen –Danielle has just arrived from France

As you can see, there is nothing difficult in the prepositions of place, the main thing is to remember the rules by which they are used, and to practice a lot of exercises from textbooks or exercises. And very soon you will be able to confidently talk about where you came from, where you want to go, and where your favorite McDonalds is located!

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