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 video about verbs with fixed prepositions, calling them this is problematic at best. If you want to learn how the prepositions that always use the dative case work with certain verbs, click here.
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.
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”.
to work on
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
to participate in / to compete in
Ich nehme heute an einem Marathon teil.
I am participating in a marathon today.
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.
to be based upon
to be based on / to rely on
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”.
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
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:
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”.
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.
to warn about
It naturally follows then that you would use “vor” with the verb “warnen”, too.
That’s my list for today. Das ist alles für heute. Bis zum nächsten Mal. Tschüss.
Indirect Objects with the Dative Case
Personal Pronouns of the Dative Case
Prepositions Used with the Dative Case
Dative Prepositions and Their Common Verb Partners
Wechselpräpositionen and Their Common Verb Partners with the Dative Case
Special Dative Phrases
Accusative Case Master Class
Dative Case Master Class