Prepositions Expressing Direction and Place


Let us see the next sentences:

a) There is a pencil between the two books.
b) I put the pencil between the two books.

In sentence a) we express that something is somewhere while in sentence b) we express movement towards a certain place. Removing the first part of both sentences we get “between the two books” in both cases and it is no more obvious if we express that something is somewhere or movement. However, looking at the full sentences everything is obvious, the German language expresses the difference in the way that the word “between” behaves differently in the two sentences. Let us just see how.

Some prepositions take either the accusative or the dative, with changed meaning. These prepositions refer to location, they take the accusative when referring to direction (movement towards a certain place). They take the dative when referring to being at a certain place (without expressing movement towards that place). These prepositions are:


Ich gehe in die Schule (I go to school) – expressing direction, movement to that place.
Ich bin in der Schule (I am at school) – expressing being at that place, not movement.

auf (on(to) the horizontal surface of something)

Ich stelle das Buch auf den Tisch (I put the book on the table) – expression of movement to that place.
Das Buch ist auf dem Tisch (The book is on the table) – expresion of being somewhere.

an (on(to) the vertical surface of something)

Ich hänge die Uhr an die Wand (I hang the watch on the wall).
Die Uhr ist an der Wand ( The watch is on the wall).

über (above)

Ich hänge das Bild über den Fernseher (I hang the picture above the television).
Das Bild hängt über dem Fernseher (The picture is hanging above the television).

unter (under)

Das Kind wirft die Zeitung unter den Tisch (The child throws the newspaper under the table).
Die Zeitung liegt unter dem Tisch (The newspaper is lying under the table).l

neben (next to)

Frank stellt das Buch neben den Schrank (Frank puts the book next to the cupboard).
Das Buch ist neben dem Schrank (The book is next to the cupboard).

zwischen (between)

Frank stellt einen Tisch zwischen die Stühle (Frank puts a table between the chairs).
Der Tisch steht zwischen den Stühlen (The table stands between the chairs).

vor (in front of)

Der Teppich kommt vor das Bett (The rug comes in front of the bed).
Der Teppich ist vor dem Bett (The rug is in front of the bed).

hinter (behind)

Hinter das Haus kommen Touristen (Tourists are coming behind the house).
Hinter dem Haus stehen viele Touristen (A lot of tourists are standing behind the house).


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