Unit 5: Prepositions, Reflexives
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|
|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)|
|für||for (on behalf of)||von||from, of, by (means of)|
|gegen||against, towards||vor||in front of / before, ago|
|gemäß||according to||wegen||on account of / because of|
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:
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.