Where you’re from — Using the German prepositions von and aus
During last week’s Stammtisch here in Zurich, many people were speaking about where they were from and where they had recently traveled to. It’s always great to hear about people’s background and see the plurality of different cultures that are moving to Switzerland and diversifying the city. Of course there is plenty of opportunity to practice using the perfect tense. However, when it came to talking about where people were from and/or where they’d recently come from many people were making a von/aus mistake. So I thought I’d address this issue in today’s blog post.
Remember that both of these prepositions take the dative. That means: z.B. der Tisch = dem Tisch, das Fenster = dem Fenster, die Stadt = der Stadt, die Flüsse = den Flüssen
Read more here: Dative prepositions
Aus actually means “out of,” and von is literally “from“.
However, depending on the usage and the scenario, aus may also be translated as “from“.
That said, your sentences may actually have a different meaning if you use one instead of the other, even though aus and von can both be translated to “from“.
- Wir kommen aus Amerika. (We’re from America.)
- indicates that you’re from America and therefore American.
- Wir kommen von New York. (We’re coming from New York.)
- indicated that you’re traveling via New York or that you’ve arrived at a new place from New York. This version does not indicate nationality but just the place where you come from (geographically). This sentence is a colloquial version of saying it. In standard German you would use aus for both.
Using aus and von for talking about where things are from
1. Geographical places usually take aus, no matter how big they are.
- Ich komme aus Griechenland/Peloponnes/Kalamata/… (I come from Greece/Peloponnese/Kalamata/…)
- generally means you are a native of that area, or that is where you grew up. It can also mean that you’ve just arrived from there. Again the context will help make this clear. if you’ve just arrived from there you may say something like: Ich komme gerade aus Griechenland, wo ich meine Ferien verbracht habe. (I’ve just come from Greece, where I spent my vacation.)
2. Buildings can take either aus or von, though the nuance changes.
- Ich komme von/aus der Kirche/Schule. (I’m coming from church/school.)
- The emphasis is a bit different aus is more closely related to the building itself, whereas von puts emphasis on the activity you have done there and that you’ve now finished.
3. Use von when saying that you’re coming from a person’s or an activity:
- Ich komme von meiner Oma. (I’m coming from my grandmother’s.)
- Ich komme vom Deutschunterricht. (I’m coming from German lesson.)
- Ich komme von der Fahrstunde. (I’m coming from driving lessons.)
4. Sometimes von can mean you work somewhere:
- Ich komme vom Ordnungsamt. (I come from the town clerk’s office.)
- means you work there, or you have just visited the office. Again here the situation will tell the listener/reader which you mean.
- Ich komme aus dem Ordnungsamt. (I’m coming from the town clerk’s office.)
- means you’ve just left the office/building.
Kurz und Knapp
I hope that after reading this you take away two things:
- When talking about geographical places you’re never wrong using aus.
- In communication, our sentences exist in a larger context that does not exist in grammatical exercises. Important is to speak, and most often your listener/reader will be able to understand you.
1. Der neue Kollege ist nicht Österreicher, sondern er ist ____ Bayern.
2. Es ist nicht sehr weit ____ hier bis zum Bahnhof.
3. Die Übungen ____ unserem Lehrer sind oft sehr schwer.
4. Nimm bitte deinen Regenschirm ____ dem Rucksack.
5. Die Räuber kommen in diesem Moment ____ der Bank.
6. – Wo warst du in der letzten Stunde?
– Ich musste ein Buch zurückbringen. Ich bin gerade ____ der Bibliothek gekommen.
7. Der Rock ____ Frau Blümchen ist sehr modisch.
8. Dieses Paket kommt ____ den USA.
**If you live in Zurich and the surrounding area, and are looking to improve your German, Marathon Sprachen is always offering intensive and customized courses. Just want to practice your conversation? Check out our free Stammtisch Meetup group.