Fixed Two-Way Prepositions & Dative

Hallo, Deutschlerner. Today I’ll explain some of the verbs that are often paired with the Wechselpräpositionen or two-way prepositions and the dative case. These are often called “verbs with fixed prepositions”, but as you may have seen in my post about verbs with fixed prepositions, calling them this is problematic at best.

Today I’m only focusing on verbs used with two-way prepositions when they use the dative case and the meaning of the preposition varies from the usual translation, as these are the ones with which most learners struggle. So without further ado, let’s get into the lesson. 

Other Dative Case Lessons in This Series

Indirect Objects with the Dative Case
What is a dative sentence?
Personal Pronouns of the Dative Case
Word Order with Direct & Indirect Objects
Prepositions Used with the Dative Case
Dative Prepositions and Their Common Verb Partners
Wechselpräpositionen (Two-Way Prepositions)
Wechselpräpositionen and Their Common Verb Partners with the Dative Case
Special Dative Phrases
Dative Verbs
Everything Dative Case Materials

an – on

First up we have the preposition “an”, which usually translates as “on”. This would be simple enough if it weren’t for that pesky word “auf”, which also means “on” and we have to decide which one to use. Let’s try some examples and explore why they use “an” instead of “auf”. 

arbeiten an
to work on

Ich arbeite gerade an meinem Auto.
I am working on my car right now. 

This one is a pretty simple distinction. You aren’t on top of your car. You are working on it. Since it could lead to some confusion if you used “auf”, we use “an” instead. Whether you like it or not, most of the other times you need to say “on” with some sort of expression, it is going to use “auf”, which I’ll show you once we are done with the examples of “an”. 

erkranken an
to get sick with

Mein Bruder erkrankt an Durchfall.
My brother is getting sick with diarrhea. 

This one requires us to use a bit of the process of elimination in order to find out why we used “an”. Why not “mit”? Well, that would mean that he is making himself sick with COVID-19, which kind of implies he did it on purpose, which is probably not the case. Why not “auf”? That shows a physical location again, which is not an option when talking about a disease.

sterben an
to die of

While we are on the topic of illness, you also use “an” when you die from something for the same reasoning. 

Mein Bruder stirbt an Durchfall.
My brother is dying of diarrhea. 

leiden an
to suffer from

You also use “an” when you are suffering from something. 

Er leidet an einem ganz schlimmen Fall von Dummheit.
He is suffering from a very bad case of stupidity. 

leiden unter
to suffer due to

You can also suffer under something, which is basically the same thing, but you have to use “unter” instead of “an”. 

Ich leide unter Heuschnupfen.
I suffer from/under allergies. 

liegen an (es liegt an)
to be due to sth. (it is due to)

You can use “an” with the verb “liegen” to express that something is due to something, too. 

Es liegt an seinem niedrigen Bildungsniveau.
That is due to his low education level. 

zweifeln an
to doubt about sb./sth. / to be dubious about sth.

Der Polizist zweifelt an der Unschuld des Mannes.
The police officer is dubious of the innocence of the man. 

As you can see from the examples so far, the preposition “an” when combined with a verb and that dative case, shows a connection between the action and the reason or origin. Think of it as a more figurative version of location.

sich beteiligen an / teilnehmen an
to participate in

There are a couple of ways to say that you are participating or taking part in something with the preposition “an”. 

sich beteiligen an
to participate in / to take part in

Die besten Schüler beteiligen sich aktiv am Unterricht.
The best students participate actively in class. 

teilnehmen an
to participate in / to compete in

Ich nehme heute an einem Marathon teil.
I am participating in a marathon today. 

hängen an
to be attached to 

One last example of “an” has nothing to do with the others, but is more of a perspective switch from how people generally think of “an”. 

Ein Stück Klopapier hängt an seinem Schuh.
A piece of toilet paper is attached to his shoe. 

In this one you see “an” being used as a literal location

Confused Student: But I thought ‘an’ was used for vertical things.

Herr Antrim: Unfortunately, your options are limited here. You could try “auf”, but that means something is on top of something else and if it is hanging, that clearly isn’t the case. You could try “von”, but that is only used with “abhängen”, which is a different verb and means “to depend upon”. The other prepositions don’t really make much sense either. This is another case where it just doesn’t work to use a different preposition, so we are left with what we can use. 

auf – on

There is, of course, another preposition on the list of Wechselpräpositionen, which also means “on”, “auf”. The easiest way I have found to tell “an” and “auf” apart when they aren’t used for their literal location meanings, is to translate “an” as “on” and “auf” as “upon”. Take a look at these examples to see what I mean. 

basieren auf
to be based upon

Dieser Film basiert auf einer wahren Begebenheit.
This film is based upon a true event. 

beruhen auf
to be based on / to rely on

Dieser Film beruht auf einer Fernsehserie von Joss Whedon.
This film is based on a TV series by Joss Whedon

The verb “harren” means “to await”. Add the prefix be- and it becomes “to persist”. Add the preposition “auf” to the mix and it means “to insist upon”. 

beharren auf
to insist upon

Das Mädchen beharrt auf ihrem Standpunkt.
The girl digs in her heels.
(Literally: The girl insists upon her position.) 

sich irren in / sich täuschen in
to be mistaken

When you are mistaken about something, in German you are mistaken in that thing. There are two verbs to express this in German. For example: 

sich irren in
to be mistaken about

Meine Mutter irrt sich in fast jedem Fall.
My mother is mistaken in almost every case. 

sich täuschen in
to be wrong about

Sie täuschen sich in ihm. Er ist ein sehr netter Junge.
You are wrong about him. He is a very nice boy. 

vor – before, in front of

Our last preposition for today is “vor”, which usually means “before” or “in front of”. When used with certain verbs, however, the English translation doesn’t quite fit. If you are escaping something or fleeing from it, you use “vor”. 

fliehen vor / flüchten vor
to escape from / to flee from

Peter flieht vor dem alten Mann, Mr. McGregor.
Peter flees from the old man, Mr. McGregor. 

Viele Menschen flüchten vor dem Krieg in ihren Ländern.
Many people are fleeing from the war in their countries. 

Confused Student: How does that make any sense? Why not “von”? They are fleeing from those things. 

Herr Antrim: Well, there are actually a few options with “flüchten”. Check out these examples: 

Herr Antrim flüchtet aus dem Gefängnis.
Herr Antrim flees out of the prison

Dann flüchtet er von der Insel.
Then he flees from the island. 

Er flüchtet vor Angst.
He flees out of fear. 

Confused Student: Ok. Now I am even more confused. How do I know which preposition to use? 

Herr Antrim: When you are leaving somewhere, if you would use “aus” with any other verb, use “aus” with “flüchten”. Same with “von”. If neither of those seem right for the situation or it is more abstract, use “vor”. 

Ich gehe aus dem Haus. Ich flüchte aus dem Haus.
I am going out of the house. I am fleeing out of the house. 

Ich fliege von der Erde weg. Ich flüchte von der Erde.
I am flying away from the earth. I am fleeing away from the earth. 

Ich flüchte vor dem Sturm.
I am fleeing away from the storm. 

sich fürchten vor
to be afraid of

If you are afraid of something, you also use “vor”. 

Ich fürchte mich vor keiner Spinne, aber diese Spinne ist riesengroß. –
I am not afraid of any spider, but this spider is gigantic. 

schützen vor
to protect from

You can also protect someone from something with the preposition “vor”. 

Er schützt mich vor dem Regen.
He is protecting me from the rain. 

warnen vor
to warn about

It naturally follows then that you would use “vor” with the verb “warnen”, too. 

Der Obdachlose warnt uns vor dem Weltuntergang.
The homeless man warns us about the end of the world. 

Other Dative Case Lessons in This Series

Indirect Objects with the Dative Case
What is a dative sentence?
Personal Pronouns of the Dative Case
Word Order with Direct & Indirect Objects
Prepositions Used with the Dative Case
Dative Prepositions and Their Common Verb Partners
Wechselpräpositionen (Two-Way Prepositions)
Wechselpräpositionen and Their Common Verb Partners with the Dative Case
Special Dative Phrases
Dative Verbs
Everything Dative Case Materials

Learn More About German Prepositions

Accusative Prepositions
Dative Prepositions
Two-Way Prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen)
Genitive Prepositions
Verbs with “Fixed Prepositions” Don’t Exist
Verbs Commonly Used with Dative Prepositions
Verbs Commonly Used with Two-Way Prepositions & the Dative Case
von vs vor
German Prepositions Songs
Download all of Herr Antrim’s materials about Prepositions here!

Herr Antrim
Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites. *This site uses a variety of affiliate links. If there is a link that leads to an outside site from which you could potentially make a purchase, it is very likely an affiliate link for which Herr Antrim will receive a small portion of your purchase. This does not cost you any extra, but it does help keep this website going. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you would like more information about the affiliate programs this site uses, click here.
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