German Verb Power: “an” + Verb Combinations PLUS Grammar Explanation

Hallo, Deutschlerner. This is my first of several lessons that will introduce you to a ton of verb and preposition combinations in German. Today’s video focuses on the combinations of “an” and German verbs.

German Verb Power: "an" + Verb Combinations PLUS Grammar Explanation

I have a few lessons about the so-called “verbs with fixed prepositions”, but none of them have really gone into as much detail as I would have liked. For that reason, I am starting a series of videos to take a deeper dive into them. Each video will explore a particular preposition and the verbs that are commonly used with them. You can find all of the lessons in this series so far linked below.

German Verbs with Fixed Prepositions Series of Lessons

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $9.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

How to Choose Accusative or Dative with the German Preposition “an”

Today I’m focussing on the preposition “an”, which is one of the two-way prepositions or “Wechselpräpositionen”. This means it can use either the accusative or dative case based on whether or not it describes a change in location or state.

The usual logic can sometimes be confusing with these kinds of verb-preposition combinations, as they are figurative and not literally showing a change of location or a static location or state. For me, it was easier to simply memorize which case is used as I came across these combinations, but some Deutschlerner want to know the why behind the how. For those Deutschlerner, I’ll try to explain the logic as much as possible.

A List of the Most Common Verbs Used with the German Preposition “an”

So without further ado, let’s get into the list.

German VerbCase Used with PrepositionEnglish Translation
ändern andativeto change X about Y
arbeiten an dativeto work on
denken an accusative to think of
erkranken an dativeto get sick with
fehlen an dative to be lacking in
glauben an accusativeto believe in
hindern an dativeto prevent X from doing Y
hängen an dative to be attached to
leiden an dativeto suffer from
liegen an dativeto be due to
sich beteiligen an dativeto participate in
sich erinnern an accusativeto remember
sich gewöhnen an accusative to become accustomed to
sich halten an accusativeto control oneself
sich orientieren an dativeto follow someone’s example
sich wenden an accusativeto contact, turn to
sterben an dativeto die from
teilnehmen an dativeto participate in
vermieten an dativeto rent to
zweifeln an dativeto doubt about, to be dubious about

ändern an (dat) – to change X about Y

Ich ändere nichts an deinem Plan. –
I’m not changing anything about your plan.

This combination requires the dative case. Why? The “nothing” being changed is located on the “plan”. It isn’t showing a change in location, even figuratively. Therefore, dative.

arbeiten an (dat) – to work on

Er arbeitet an einem neuen Projekt. –
He is working on a new project.

Again, we used the dative case, because the “project” is the location at which the “work” is being done.

denken an (acc) – to think of sth.

Ich denke oft an dich. –
I often think of you.

This one requires the accusative case. You can think of it as you casting your thoughts in the direction of someone else.

erkranken an (dat) – to get sick with

Sie erkrankt an Grippe. –
She is getting sick with the flu.

Although there is no article in this sentence to indicate it for us, this requires the dative case. You can think of it as describing the location of the reasoning for the sickness, i.e. flu. Therefore, we need the dative case.

fehlen an (dat) – to be lacking in

Dem Team fehlt es an Erfahrung. –
The team is lacking in experience.

Again, we need the dative case, because we are showing the location of the lacking, i.e. experience.

Also keep in mind that you could phrase this sentence without using “an” by saying:

Dem Team fehlt Erfahrung. –
The team is lacking experience.

glauben an (acc) – to believe in / to have confidence in

Ich glaube an dich. –
I believe in you.

This is showing the destination of your belief, which is why we need the accusative case. Your belief is changing location as illustrated by the preposition “an”.

hindern an (dat) – to prevent X (accusative) from doing Y (dative)

Die schlechte Wetterlage hindert uns am Ausflug. –
The bad weather prevents us from going on the trip.

Where is the hindrance? On the trip. Dative, because it is a figurative, static location.

hängen an (dat) – to be attached to

Die Fotos hängen an der Wand. –
The photos are attached to the wall.

This one is literal, which makes it incredibly obvious that you need the dative case. Be careful with this one, however, as you can also hang something on the wall with the same verb and preposition combination. This is describing a change in location for the thing being hung, which requires the accusative case. For example:

Ich hänge die Fotos an die Wand. –
I am hanging the photos on the wall.

leiden an (dat) – to suffer from

Er leidet an einer Allergie. –
He suffers from an allergy.

Just like being sick, the location of the problem is expressed in the dative case.

liegen an (dat) – to be due to sth.

Die Verzögerung liegt an technischen Problemen. –
The delay is due to technical issues.

Where is the delay? On the technical issues. Therefore dative.

sich beteiligen an (dat) – to participate in / to take part in

Er beteiligt sich aktiv an der Diskussion. –
He actively participates in the discussion.

Where is he taking part? In the discussion. That is a static location, therefore dative.

sich erinnern an (acc) – to remember

Ich erinnere mich an unseren letzten Urlaub. –
I remember our last vacation.

Similar to thinking about someone or something, you can cast your memory in the direction of someone or something. This requires the accusative case.

sich gewöhnen an (acc) – to become accustomed to

Sie gewöhnt sich schnell an neue Situationen. –
She quickly becomes accustomed to new situations.

This one is a bit of a stretch of the logic I have been using so far, but it is still generally the same idea. You are changing your state of being. You used to not be accustomed to this situation, but now you are. This isn’t a change in location, but rather a change in state.

sich halten an (acc) – to contain/control oneself

Sie hält sich an die Regeln. –
She controls herself according to the rules.

I had a bit of trouble wrapping my brain around this one in the past, but the alternative translation of this sentence helped me out. You could also say “She adheres to the rules.” Think of what an adhesive does. It sticks things onto other things. This changes the location of the first thing. That’s what is happening here. She was somewhere else and now she is adhering to the rules. The figurative location changed, so we use the accusative case.

sich orientieren an (dat) – to follow someone’s example

Die Studenten orientieren sich an ihrem Professor. –
The students follow their professor’s example.

At first I thought this was some sort of exception to the rules, but it actually follows them quite well. This isn’t saying they changed from some other orientation to this new orientation around the professor. It is saying they are already with the professor and they are staying with him throughout the whole expression. This is just like climbing on a wall (an einer Wand klettern). This phrase uses the dative case, because the location of the action is not changing. It is applying the same rule I have mentioned so far, but the opposite of what most of the examples have done. Orientation is a static action performed in your brain. There is no change in location or state either literal or figurative, so we have to use the dative case.

sich wenden an (acc) – to contact sb. / to turn to

Er wendet sich an einen Anwalt. –
He contacts a lawyer/turns to a lawyer.

The verb “wenden” on its own is generally translated as “to turn”. This phrase says that “er” is turning himself towards the lawyer. This changes his location and therefore requires the accusative case. If you tried to use the dative case, it would mean that the act of turning is taking place physically on the lawyer, which is obviously not what is meant.

sterben an (dat) – to die from

Er starb an einer schweren Krankheit. –
He died from a serious illness.

Just like getting sick or suffering from, the death in this sentence is located on the illness, which requires the dative case. Again, if we tried the opposite case, it would indicate that the person is dying in the direction of a serious illness. The accusative case doesn’t work here.

teilnehmen an (dat) – to participate in / to compete in

Sie nimmt an einem Wettbewerb teil. –
She participates in a competition.

Where are they taking part? In the competition. The phrasing may sound a bit funny, but the meaning is still there. No change in location has occurred.

vermieten an (acc) – to rent to

Wir vermieten das Haus an eine Familie. –
We rent the house to a family.

This one pushes the rent towards a family, which shows a change in the figurative location of the rent. That makes this sentence use the accusative case with “an”. If you tried to use the dative case here, the renting would have to take place physically on a family. Since that isn’t what we are trying to express, we need the accusative case.

zweifeln an (dat) – to doubt about sb./sth. / to be dubious about sth.

Ich zweifle an seiner Aussage. –
I doubt his statement.

Where is the doubt? On his statement. Therefore, dative case.

A General Rule

As a general rule, if you can use a person after the preposition “an” with this kind of verb and preposition combination, you use the accusative case. For example: denken an, glauben an, sich erinnern an, sich wenden an, vermieten an. If the object of the preposition “an” has to be an inanimate object or place, you usually need the dative case. Exceptions to this occur with the verbs: sich gewöhnen an and sich halten an.

I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion around these verbs when combined with “an”. Das ist alles für heute. Danke fürs Zuschauen. Bis zum nächsten Mal. Tschüss.

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