German Two-Way Prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen): Understanding the German dual prepositions

German Two-Way Prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen): Understanding the German dual prepositions

Navigating the German language can be a complex journey, particularly when it comes to prepositions. This article delves into the intricate world of German two-way prepositions, also known as "Wechselpräpositionen" or more rarly "German dual prepositions." 

These prepositions hold a unique position in German grammar, functioning in both the accusative and dative cases, depending on the context of the sentence. You learn read more about the cases in German: here

Introduction to Two-Way Prepositions in German

Two-way prepositions, or "Wechselpräpositionen," are a fundamental part of German grammar, offering a unique challenge to learners. These prepositions can govern nouns in either the accusative or dative case, with the choice depending on the action's relation to movement or position. Understanding this distinction is crucial for constructing accurate and fluent German sentences.

List of German Wechselpräpositionen

PrepositionEnglish Translation
anon, to
aufon, on top of
vorin front of
nebennext to

Two-way prepositions include “an” (on, to),“hinter” (behind),“in” (in) “auf” (on, on top of),"vor" (in front of),"unter" (under),"zwischen" (between),"über" (above) and "neben" (next to). Each of these can be used in different contexts to indicate location or movement. 

What Are Two-Way prepositions in German?

Two-way prepositions are prepositions in German that can lead to two different grammatical cases: the accusative ( often indicating movement towards something) and the dative (normally indicating location or position). You take the accusative, if you can ask where to. For example: 

  • Die Frau geht in das Geschäft. The woman goes into the store. In this example the accusative is applied because you can ask where to. 

You take the dative in case you ask where: For example:  

  • Die Frau ist in dem Geschäft. The woman is in the store.

Examples of Two Way Prepositions in Sentences

To illustrate the practical application of dual prepositions, consider the difference in case through examples. 

PrepositionExample with DativeExample with Accusative
an (on, to)

Das Bild hängt an der Wand. 

The picture hangs on the wall.

Ich hänge das Bild an die Wand. 

I hang the picture on the wall.

hinter (behind)

Der Hund versteckt sich hinter dem Sofa.

The dog hides behind the sofa.

Ich stelle das Fahrrad hinter das Haus.

I put the bike behind the house.

in (in) 

Wir sind in dem Museum.

We are in the museum.

Tom geht heute nicht in das Geschäft. 

Tom is not going into the store today.

auf (on, on top of)

Die Brille liegt auf dem Tisch. 

The glasses are on the table.

Ich stelle den Teller auf den Tisch.

I put the plate on the table.

vor (in front of) 

Das Auto steht vor dem Haus.

The car is parked in front of the house.

Ich stelle die Vase vor das Fenster. 

I place the vase in front of the window.

unter (under)

Die Katze ist unter dem Tisch. 

The cat is under the table.

Die Katze legt sich unter den Tisch. 

The cat lies down under the table.

zwischen (between)

Der Mann Steht zwischen den Freunden. 

The man stands between the friends.

Er schiebt den Stuhl zwischen den Tisch und die Wand.

He pushes the chair between the table and the wall

über (above)

Das Bild hängt über dem Sofa.

The picture hangs above the sofa.

Der Junge springt über den Zaun.

The boy jumps over the fence.

neben (next to) 

Das Buch liegt neben dem Bett.

The book lies next to the bed.

Tom legt sein Handy neben den Computer.

Tom puts his mobile phone next to the computer.

Accusative or Dative: How to Decide?

The choice between accusative and dative cases when using Wechselpräpositionen is in general dictated by the verb's action in the sentence. If the action implies movement from one point to another (where to),the accusative case is used. Conversely, if the action suggests a static position (where),the dative case is applied. Understanding the context of the action is key to deciding which case to use. 

The Role of Movement in Determining Case

The distinction between movement and position is central to understanding how to correctly use two-way prepositions. For instance, "Ich stelle das Buch auf den Tisch" (I am placing the book on the table) uses the accusative case to indicate movement towards the table. You can also ask “where to.” In contrast, "Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch" (The book is lying on the table) uses the dative to denote the book's position on the table. You

German Two-Way Prepositions: Free Quiz

Practicing this topic extensively is crucial, as it is fundamental and essential. Mastering it will help you to reduce mistakes related to a wrong usage of the cases in German. Access a free quiz on Two-Way Prepositions in German by clicking this link: here

Strategies for Remembering When to Use Accusative vs. Dative

Memorizing the contexts in which to use accusative or dative cases can be challenging. One effective strategy is to associate accusative with the concept of "wohin?" (where to?) for movement and dative with "wo?" (where?) for location. This mnemonic helps you to determine the correct usage from the context of the sentence.

The Impact of Two-Way Prepositions 

Understanding two-way prepositions is essential for constructing grammatically correct sentences in German. Their use influences the  case of the noun following the preposition, which in turn affects the declension of articles and adjectives. The word order of the sentence is the same. You can read more about the German Word order: here. 

Common Mistakes 

A frequent error learners make is using the incorrect case with two-way prepositions, often defaulting to the accusative. To avoid this, practice identifying whether a sentence implies movement (where to) or a static position (where) and choose the case accordingly.

Practice Makes Perfect: Tips for Mastering Two-Way Prepositions

Consistent practice is crucial for mastering two-way prepositions. Engaging with native speakers, writing exercises, and immersive learning experiences can all contribute to a deeper understanding and correct usage of these prepositions.

Conclusion: Integrating Two-Way Prepositions into Your German

Two-way prepositions are a vital component of German grammar, enabling nuanced expression of location and movement. By comprehending their dual nature and practicing their application, learners can significantly improve their proficiency in the German language and they can make less misttakes with the cases in German.

Key Takeaways

  • Two-way prepositions can indicate movement (accusative case =) or position (dative case).
  • Movement towards a location requires normally the accusative case, while static position requires the dative.
  • Memorizing the context of actions (movement/where to) vs. position/where) helps in determining the correct case to use.
  • Regular practice and exposure to native language contexts are essential for mastering the use of two-way prepositions in German


What are Dative prepositions? 

  • You need to use the use the dative case with The following german prepositions: "mit" (with),“bei” (at),“von” (from, of, by, about),“seit” (since, for),“zu” (to), “außer” (except for, apart, besides),“nach” (to, after, according to),“gegenüber” (opposite, towards),“aus” (out, out of, from),“ab” (from). You can read more about it in detail: here.

What are accusative prepositions? 

  • "für" (for),"um" (around),"gegen" (against),"durch" (through),“bis” (until, to) and "ohne" (without) are always used with the accusative, You can read more about this: here

Are there some tricks to learn the prepositions? 

  • Learning prepositions can take some time. First learn all prepositions that can be used with dative and accusative, after this focus on the Wechselpräpositionen. To use the two-way prepositions correclty always keep in mind: The general rule is 1. Dative asks for where 2 Accusative asks for where to

Does a change in location mean that the Accusative is needed? 

  • If there is a change of location or a change of position the accusative is normally needed. 

Is Dative or Accusative more important?

  • Dative and Accusative are both crucial for the German language. 

Is the Genitive case not as important? 

  • The genitive is the least important case but the genitive still plays an important role for of the german formal language. 

Where can I find Quizzes or Exercises for the German Wechselpräpositionen? 

  • You can find a free quiz: here

Article by Niko

Published 11 Feb 2024