Common German Prepositional mistakes

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Common German Prepositional mistakes

Prepositions are always tricky in any language. One of the best ways to learn prepositions is to learn them in phrases, because the idiomatic collocation often does not directly translate. Here are ten of the most common prepositional mistakes I hear when I teach German and their correct forms. Learn these correctly and you’ll be on the right track to sounding more like a native speaker

1. Ich bin auf dem Bus. 

You think you’re saying:

“I’m on the bus.”

The German speaker understands:

You’re standing on the roof of the bus.

Explanation:

auf literally means on and this is where German and English speakers view the situation differently. Germans see the bus as an enclosed unit that you get into, like cars. In German we also use in for cars (Wagen / Autos), taxis (Taxis), trains (Züge) and planes (Flugzeuge) and boats (Boote). But note that we use auf for ships (Schiffe).

Correct:

Ich bin im Bus. (I’m on the bus.)

2. Der Wein ist von Frankreich. 

You think you’re saying:

“The wine is from France.”

The German speaker understands:

The wine is from Frankreich (a person). Of course here they actually understand what you mean, but that’s not what they say.

Explanation:

We use the preposition aus to suggest origin or what things are made of in German. When implying origin we generally use the verb kommen (place of origin) or stammen (time of origin). With the verb sein we say what it’s made of. Read more about von vs. aus.

Correct:

Der Wein kommt aus Frankreich. (The wine comes from France.)
Das Fass ist aus französischer Eiche. (The barrel is made of French oak.)
Diese Kollektion stammt aus dem 19. Jahrhundert. (This collection dates back to the 19th century.)

3. Ich gehe zu Hause.

You think you’re saying:

“I’m going home.”

The German speaker understands:

This person doesn’t understand the difference between zu/nach Hause.

Explanation:

Yes, you’ve learned that zu means to, but remember nach? We use nach for to when we talk about geographical places. Zu Hause and nach Hause are common German collocations that you have to learn. Read here for more detail.

Correct:

Ich gehe nach Hause. (I’m going home.)
Ich bin zu Hause. (I’m at home.)

Während du schliefst...While you were sleeping.

Während du schliefst…
While you were sleeping.

4. Über die Ferien waren wir in Zermatt Ski fahren.

You think you’re saying:

“During vacation, we went skiing in Zermatt.”

The German speaker understands:

About the vacation, we went skiing in Zermatt.

Explanation:

For talking about periods of time where in English you might use over, during, or while, in German we use the genitive preposition während. Über often means about in German or is used for talking about where something is or is moving over. Read more about German two-way prepositions here.

Correct:

Während der Ferien waren wir in Zermatt Ski fahren. (During the vacation, we went skiing in Zermatt.)

5. Ich warte für den Bus.

You think you’re saying:

“I’m waiting for the bus.”

The German speaker understands:

You’re waiting for the bus and while you’re doing that you should also reference a German grammar book.

Explanation:

This has to do with the turn of phrase in German for “waiting for” is “warten auf.” Important to note here is that it’s followed by the accusative.

Correct:

Ich warte auf den Bus. (I’m wait for the bus.)

Steppenwolf, der Klassiker von Hermann Hesse

Steppenwolf, der Klassiker von Hermann Hesse

6. Das ist das Buch bei Hermann Hesse.

You think you’re saying:

“This is the book by Hermann Hesse.”

The German speakers understands:

This is the book with Hermann Hesse.

Explanation:

Though bei sounds like the English by, their means are different. The German bei means with where it’s similar to at or alongside or by means of. When giving credit to the creator of something we use von (from). Remember that von takes the dative. Read more about German dative prepositions here.

Correct:

Das ist das Buch von Hermann Hesse. (This is the book by Hermann Hesse.)

7. Das Café liegt auf der Seestrasse.

You think you’re saying:

“The café is located on Lake Street.”

What German speakers understand:

The café is literally located in the middle of Lake street. Well that is rather absurd and dangerous.

Explanation:

First off both auf der Strasse and in der Strasse exist in German. However, their meanings are different. Auf der Strasse is literally where cars drive (in the middle of the street). In der Strasse is somewhere along the street safe from cars and bikers etc. Just a quick note that the English may be a North American way of looking at it, as I believe that I’ve heard British English speakers refer to houses in a street and mean on the side of the street. Interesting is that you could say your flat is located on a main street and the traffic is terrible. In that case you are not mentioning the specific address, or street name and you can use an. z.B.:Meine Wohnung liegt an einer Hauptstrasse und es gibt immer viel Lärm. (My house is situated on a main street and there’s always a lot of noise.)

Correct:

Das Café liegt in der Seestrasse. (The café in located on Lake Street.)

8. Ich wohne auf dem See.

You think you’re saying:

“I live on the lake.”

What German speakers understand:

You have a houseboat. You literally live on the water.

Explanation:

This is a case of auf/an confusion. Auf is used for on a horizontal surface and an for vertical surfaces or the edge of something. You’re house is located on the water’s edge and therefore we use an. Don’t forget that if there is no movement (direction) that an is preceded by the dative. Read more about German two-way prepositions here.

Correct:

Ich wohne am See. (I live on the lake.)

9. Haben Sie etwas für Kopfschmerzen?

What you think you’re saying:

“Do you have anything for headaches?”

What German speakers understand:

You want something to give you a headache. You’re weird.

Explanation:

German is a practical language. Headaches and pain are not fun or enjoyable and we try to get rid of them as quickly as possible. You want something that works against (gegen) the pain.

Correct:

Haben Sie etwas gegen Kopfschmerzen? (Do you have anything for headaches?)

10. Es riecht wie Zimt!

What you think you’re saying:

“It smells like cinnamon.”

What German speakers understand:

You’re confused and need to work on your intonation: It smells… How cinnamon?

Explanation:

Though wie can mean like, the German collocation for smells like is “Es riecht nach…” Think of it as it smells after, insinuating that the source of the smell is there or has been there. Es riecht nach Zimt –> there must be cinnamon around somewhere. Es riecht nach Chanel Nr. 5 –> someone is wearing this perfume nearby.

Correct:

Es riecht nach Zimt. (It smells like cinnamon.)

Learning Tip

One final note, when you read texts, pay special attention to preposition use. Keep a list of these and try to incorporate them into your writing and speaking. A good place to check is on Google.

Exercises:

Which preposition is the correct one?

1. Bitte legen Sie das Buch ___ ___ Tisch.
a) am
b) auf dem
c) auf den

2. ___ der Nacht ist unser Hund verschwunden.
a) Während
b) Durch
c) Trotz

3 Sie reden immer ___ das Wetter.
a) von
b) über
c) auf

4 Mario wartet ___ ___ Freundin.
a) auf seiner
b) an seine
c) auf seine

5 Wir fahren morgen ___ ___ Schweiz.
a) nach der
b) zur
c) in die

6 In der Garage riecht es ___ Benzin. Ist etwas mit dem Auto passiert?
a) wie
b) vor
c) nach

7 Markus und Ingrid reisen nächste Woche ___ ___ USA.
a) in den
b) in die
c) in der

8 Wann fährst du ___ Genf?
a) zu
b) nach
c) auf

9 Lisa freut sich ___ den Urlaub. In zwei Wochen reist sie nach Paris.
a) über
b) auf
c) an

10 Maria arbeitet ___ ihrem ersten Buch. Es ist ein Roman.
a) durch
b) von
c) an

11 Howard tanzte ___ Freude.
a) nach
b) vor
c) für

12 Meine Freunde fahren ___ ___ Bahn in den Urlaub.
a) mit der
b) bei
c) auf die

13 Fragen Sie doch den Apotheker, ob er etwas ___ Bauchschmerzen hat.
a) für
b) gegen
c) von

14 Der Weg ___ ___ Hölle ist mit guten Vorsätzen gepflastert.
a) nach
b) in die
c) zur

15 Ludwig van Beethoven wurde 1770 ___ Bonn geboren.
a) in
b) auf
c) nach

16 ___ schlechtem Wetter werden wir uns in der Halle treffen.
a) Mit
b) Bei
c) Am

17 Ja, dieses Tram fährt ___ ___ Universität.
a) an der
b) zur
c) auf der

18 Mathias hat Angst ___ dem Fliegen. Er fliegt nie.
a) vom
b) auf
c) vor

19 Meine Mutter leidet ___ Arthritis. Meine Schwester muss ihr viel helfen.
a) an
b) von
c) auf

20 Es gibt nichts Neues ___ ___ Sonne.
a) über der
b) vor der
c) unter der

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  1. TompulTompul12-28-2012

    very helpful, thank you. Danke sehr

  2. Joey BeckJoey Beck12-29-2012

    This was extremely helpful. I knew all of them very well, except for 7 and 10. Excellent insight, totally funny (#9 LOL :D), and easily understandable. Thanks for helping me out. Vielen Dank! 🙂

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