How to memorise those pesky prepositions

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   😉 )

Enjoy!

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 thoughts on “How to memorise those pesky prepositions

    1. 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 https://unchainmybrain.com/memorize-vocabulary/)

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

      Liebe Gruesse,

      Denise

      1. Thanks for stopping by, Denise.
        None of these memory methods work for me. But I know they work for others, so I encourage anybody to try them and use them… if they like the method.

  1. 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”.

    1. 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.

  2. Pingback: How to memorise those pesky prepositions - Ange...
  3. This is only really helpful if you’re British, but you can sing “Gegen, ohne, durch, um, fur” to the theme music from Eastenders.

  4. 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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