When it comes to German grammar learning, I always get asked one big question: “How can I learn those prepositions?” The answer is always the same:”You just have to learn them.”
The problem with prepositions is that they are not easy translatable. For example, in English we say ‘I’m on the bus’ which literally translated says ‘I’m on top of the bus’ in German. The Germans say ‘ich bin im Bus’ which means ‘I’m in the bus’ – not quite as bad as being on top of the bus!
The second, and bigger, problem is that some prepositions are followed by the accusative case (so you need to know your den, die, das), others by the dative (dem, der,dem) and others by either the accusative or dative – it’s enough to drive anybody mad!!!
(There is another group, those prepositions which take the genitive case, but we won’t mention them here because a lot of Germans don’t understand them either. Don’t tell them, this is our secret ;-))
So, is there at least a way to memorise which prepositions take which case?
Some people swear by mnemonics. I have to admit, they don’t work for me at all. I may remember the word or sentence but don’t recall what they represent. Others find them very useful, so here’s one for the accusative prepositions, which are:
um (around/for/at (time)
The letters in bold now read the words fudge bow. That doesn’t help me at all, but if it helps you, brilliant!
If you like classical music, you can revise those prepositions that take the dative with the Blue Danube:
Or you may prefer this version:
Or, the BBC website suggests singing them to the beginning of Good King Wenceslas.
The most trickiest prepositions are the two-way prepositions, because they take the accusative if the sentence talks about an action (you can ask ‘where to?’), or they take the dative because they are about position (ask ‘where?’).
To learn them, all you need is this video and I promise , you won’t forget them (nor the tune – sorry 😉 )
Oh, and if anybody knows a song for the accusative prepositions, I’d love to know if there is something better than fudge bow!
Edited: Herr Antrim, an American teacher, who also teaches German, sent me his two versions to practise the dual prepositions. Feel free to use whichever you like best!
EDIT 2017: If you would like a back to basic information about the four cases and prepositions, I have created an online course German grammar – the four cases