Unit 5: Prepositions, Reflexives

1. Prepositions

Almost all of the prepositions you will encounter in German are listed here with their most common meanings:

an at nach to (with place names),
after, according to
(an)statt instead of neben next to
auf up, on ohne without
aus out of, from seit since, for (with time)
außer except trotz in spite of
bei with, in the case of, at über over, about / concerning
durch through, by means of um around, at (with time)
entlang along unter under, among
für for (on behalf of) von from, of, by (means of)
gegen against, towards vor in front of / before, ago
gegenüber opposite während during
gemäß according to wegen on account of / because of
hinter behind wider against
in in zu to
mit with zwischen between


We advise that you memorize the above list of prepositions and their common range of meanings because, as in English, they occur frequently, and in German many of them are used in the formation of other words (for example, as verb prefixes).

Just be careful to not count on any German prepositions equating to any single English preposition. As your dictionary will show you (for both English and German!), the meanings of prepositions are very context-dependent.

Sometimes the combination of particular prepositions with certain verbs or adjectives will determine the meaning of the preposition involved:

denken an (to think of or about)
glauben an (to believe in)
stolz auf (proud of)
gierig nach (greedy for)
warten auf (to wait for)
sich fürchten vor (to be afraid of)

Therefore, when consulting your dictionary for verbs and nouns generally, pay attention to how particular word + preposition combinations can determine very different directions for the meaning of the main word. For example, compare your dictionary entries for bestehen + aus vs. bestehen + auf. Dictionaries explain such prepositional combinations within the entry for the main word, not under the preposition’s own entry.

In other words, it’s often best to translate prepositions last, after you’ve analyzed the sentence structure and after understanding the surrounding context. Always start with the meaning of the entire construction, rather than how you would translate the preposition if it stood on its own, and only then express that meaning using English.


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