How to memorise those pesky prepositions

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:

für (for)
um (around/for/at (time)
durch (through)
gegen (against)
entlang (along)
bis (until)
ohne (without)
wider (against)

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, who teaches German in the US, 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

20 Responses to How to memorise those pesky prepositions

  1. Excellent ideas there, Angelika!

    • Denise says:

      Brilliant, Suzan, thank you!

      Your method will merge well with the memory techniques I use to remember the new words.

      Metivier actually figured that, when you place words in a memory palace, you can add a visual representation for their gender. So, for male words you’d use a mustache. For female words a skirt. Etc.

      This will make it very hard to forget the preposition of any word. Though, you’ll need some time to prepare your memory palace.
      (Got it from his post on

      Have you got any experience using Metiviers memory method for language learning?

      Liebe Gruesse,


  2. Freya Wahler says:

    I belong to the group of German people who know the use of the genitive case :-). But indeed mostly the dative case is used. Perhaps they don´t know the interrogative pronoun “wessen”.

    • It’s a very elite group, don’t you think? 😉
      I don’t know if it’s they can’t work out the ‘whose’ or if it’s just because with feminine nouns the genitive is the same as the dative case. It just confuses some people.

  3. Shasheta B says:

    Interesting, in Russian will be the same “I’m in the bus ” as in German 🙂

  4. […] Events How to memorise those pesky prepositions Help, how do these German dual prepositions work? By Angelika Davey On October 24, 2013 […]

  5. Viktor Tolstov says:

    Hey, for the Akkusativ Prapositions I have used the german song Laurentia, as here on this website alternatively, I have come to the realisation that “We wish you a merry christmas, we wish you a merry christmas, we wish you a merry christmas and a happy new yeear” also works as a tune. 🙂 Enjoy, and hope this info isn’t coming too late.

  6. […] For example: Ich liebe dich – I love you. ‘I’ is the subject and ‘you’ is the object, so you are the object of my desire ♥ Ich rufe dich an – I’ll call you. Ist das für mich?  –  Is that for me?  ’Für’ is a preposision which takes the accusative, so you need ‘mich’. Wir gehen ohne ihn. – We’re going without him. Another accusative preposition. (For more prepositions check here) […]

  7. How to memorise those pesky prepositions - Ange... says:

    […] Send to Kindle When it comes to German grammar learning, I always get asked one big question: “How can I learn those prepositions?  […]

  8. […] How to memorise those pesky prepositions – Angelika's German Tuition & Transl… When it comes to German grammar learning, I always get asked one big question: “How can I learn those prepositions?” […]

  9. Dave Smith says:

    This is only really helpful if you’re British, but you can sing “Gegen, ohne, durch, um, fur” to the theme music from Eastenders.

  10. Kay says:

    Shouldnt the dativ prepositions include gegenüber? Shame as I like the blue danube idea.

  11. Nat says:

    To fit gegenüber in the blue danube song just say it as ge-gen-über in the second verse like this, aus ausser bei mit – nach seit – von zu
    aus ausser beit mit – ge – gen – über.
    And for the accusative prepositions you can use the song ‘London bridge is falling down’ which works pretty well, durch für gegen ohne um – ohne um – ohne um
    durch für gegen ohne um – wider – bis bis

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