Verbs with Fixed Prepositions & the Dative Case
Keeping with our theme of the dative case, today I would like to explain a few verb and preposition combinations that use the dative case, but might not make a whole lot of sense to non-native German speakers. These are traditionally called “verbs with fixed prepositions”, but as you saw in my previous lesson about “verbs with fixed prepositions”, calling them this leads to some confusion. If you haven’t seen that, I recommend you check it out. Today’s lesson is just focusing on the dative stuff as it relates to certain verb and preposition combinations.
Why most lists of “verbs with fixed prepositions” are useless
Some lists of “verbs with fixed prepositions” include dative prepositions. I find these lists to be mostly useless, as they simply point out that you can say things like “Wir beginnen heute mit den Dativverben.” (We are beginning today with the dative verbs.) Obviously that is dative, because “mit” requires the dative case all of the time. The meaning of the word “mit” didn’t change from the usual translation of “with”. It is used in the same way that the English is. So why bother trying to memorize that this is the way you phrase it when this is how I would have phrased it even if I hadn’t known that this verb and preposition combination was how I was supposed to express that?
There are a few times, however, that the dative prepositions are used with certain verbs that aren’t as obvious. Let’s start with a few that use “aus”.
Verbs used with the Dative Preposition “aus”
There are two verbs traditionally listed with the preposition “aus”. They are “bestehen aus” (to consist) and “folgen aus” (to result). To me, these make sense, but some people have trouble understanding why we didn’t use “von” here. So let’s take a look at a few examples and figure out what’s going on here.
to consist of
Mein Tag besteht aus zwei Teilen, essen und schlafen.
My day consists of two parts, eating and sleeping.
The problem here is the attempt by many to translate “of” from the English literally into the German. This doesn’t work, however, as the usual translation for “of” is “von”. So we go back to last week’s lesson and see what the difference was between “von” and “aus”.
“aus” means out of or from. It is used to show that something was in something and is now no longer.
So try this translation with “out of” instead of just “of”.
Mein Tag besteht aus zwei Teilen, essen und schlafen.
My day consists out of two parts, eating and sleeping.
I think that this translation makes sense and helps to understand why you use “aus” with “bestehen” to express “to consist of”. Just don’t get it confused with “bestehen” + “auf”, which means “to insist on” and will be explained when we get to the “auf” verbs in next week’s lesson.
to result from
Ich habe einen dicken Bauch. Das folgt aus meiner Liebe zu Keksen.
I have a fat stomach. That is a result of my love of cookies.
This is another question of “why not ‘von’?” The answer may not satisfy you. It is essentially saying “out of this follows this result”. It is within this reasoning that we can find the result, which is represented with the preposition “aus”.
There is also “folgen” + “auf”, which means “to follow on” according to dictionaries, but “to be followed by” according to anyone who reads a sentence with this phrase. Unfortunately, that one is not on our list for today, as it is used with the accusative case.
Verbs used with the Dative Preposition “bei”
There are several verbs that are often paired with “bei”, but the logic behind them is pretty straightforward as long as you use my translation given in last week’s video. It generally translates as “at”. This works when you use “arbeiten” + “bei”. Most dictionaries translate it as “to work for”, but I prefer “at” for consistency purposes. Remember that “bei” expresses a location and not a connection. “Mit” is used to express connections. Here are some examples of the verbs that are often used with “bei”.
to work at/for
Ich arbeite bei einer Firma in der Stadt.
I work at/for a company in the city.
sich bedanken bei
to give thanks to
Mein Bruder bedankt sich bei den Eltern seiner Freundin für das Abendessen.
My brother thanks his girlfriend’s parents for the dinner.
sich beschweren bei
to complain at
Der Mann beschwert sich jeden Tag bei dem Restaurant, geht aber immer noch hin.
The man complains at the restaurant every day, but still comes there.
to stay with
Meine Nachbarin bleibt bei ihrem untreuen Mann.
My neighbor stays with her disloyal/unfaithful husband.
sich entschuldigen bei
to apologize to
Der Schüler entschuldigt sich bei seiner Lehrerin für seine Verspätung.
The student apologizes to his teacher for his tardiness.
“bei” is not always “at”
You may notice that the definition of “at” doesn’t always work in these sentences. That’s the problem with translating prepositions instead of understanding their use. “bei” indicates a location. Sometimes this is not a literal location, but rather a more abstract location where the action of the sentence takes place. This is true for phrases like “bei ihrem untreuen Mann” (with her unfaithful husband) or “bei seiner Lehrerin” (to his teacher).
Verbs used with the Dative Preposition “mit”
Next up we have the easiest and by far the most widely used dative preposition that is often used with a bunch of verbs “mit”. I personally don’t understand why some people think these need to be classified as “verbs with fixed prepositions”. “Mit” means “with”. It is almost always used the same as the English. Since there are so many of these prepositions, I won’t be giving examples of them all. I’ll just list them in this image.
I will give you a few examples, however, of some more complicated ones.
to stop (with)
Kannst du bitte mit dem Geheul aufhören?
Could you please stop with the wailing/crying/whining?
sich begnügen mit
to be content with
Der Lehrer begnügt sich mit seiner heutigen Arbeit.
The teacher is content with his current work.
to calculate, reckon on something, expect
Wann können wir mit dem nächsten E-Book von Herrn Antrim rechnen?
When can we expect the next e-book from Herr Antrim?
Verbs used with the Dative Preposition “nach”
One that I personally struggle with is when “nach” is used with certain verbs. It almost never means “after”, “to” or “towards” like it would under normal circumstances. Sometimes it translates as “about”. For example
sich erkundigen nach
to inquire about
Ich möchte mich nach der Schokoladentorte erkundigen. Wie viel kostet sie?
I would like to inquire about the chocolate cake. How much does it cost?
to ask about
Dieser Junge fragt in jedem Restaurant nach Filet Mignon.
This boy always asks about filet mignon in every restaurant.
Those two verbs actually work if you think of “nach” pointing in the direction the action is traveling. “erkundigen” is being pointed in the direction of the chocolate cake and “fragen” is being pointed in the direction of the filet mignon. Now apply that kind of logic to the rest of these combinations and you should be able to figure out why they work well together.
sich richten nach
to go by sb./sth. / to comply with sth.
If you don’t already know, the verb “richten” means to straighten. If you add “nach” you mean that you are straightening something in the direction of whatever comes after “nach”. When you make this reflexive, you are straightening yourself in the direction of someone or something. In other words, you are aligning yourself to that person’s way of thinking. For example:
Die Firma richtet sich nach den Maßnahmen der Regierung.
The company complies with the actions of the government.
sich sehnen nach
to yearn about / to long for sb./sth.
“sehnen” as a verb means to yearn or long for. When you add “nach” it points the yearning in a direction. For example:
Ich sehne mich nach Eis.
I year for/long for ice cream.
to search for
This one I don’t think is very difficult. The main problem is that most English speakers think it should be “für” instead of “nach”. This is where the differences between “für” and “for” come into play. The context of “für” is usually for the benefit of the person or thing after “für”. You can go shopping for someone.
Ich kaufe heute für meine Mutter ein.
I am shopping for my mother.
Obviously you aren’t shopping for a mother. You know, like you don’t like your mother, so you are in the market for a different one. You are shopping in your mother’s stead, for her benefit. The same is almost always applied to “für”. For this reason, we have to use “nach”, which indicates the direction of our search.
Ich suche nach deinem Gehirn. Habe es leider noch nicht gefunden.
I am searching for your brain. Haven’t found it yet, unfortunately.
If something smells or tastes like something in German, we also use “nach”. If you think more figuratively, this works with the same definition as before. It smells in the direction of eggs. It tastes in the direction of chicken.
to smell of
Dein Zimmer riecht nach schmutzigen Socken und alten Schuhen.
Your room smells like dirty socks and old shoes.
to taste / to savor of
Dieser Wurst schmeckt nach Sand.
This sausage tastes like sand.
Verbs used with the Dative Preposition “von”
Next up are a few verbs commonly used with “von”. Most of them are pretty straightforward. absehen von – to abstain from, sich erholen von – to recover from, erzählen von – to tell of, profitieren von – to profit from, träumen von – to dream of/about, sich verabschieden von – to bid farewell to and überzeugen von – to convince of. Those simply take the meaning of “from” or “of” like I explained last week. There are a few, however, that take a bit more thought.
to depend (up)on
Das hängt von der Laune meiner Frau ab.
That depends on the mood of my wife.
“Von” doesn’t usually translate as “on”. This one works, because you can also say this with “from”, if you use the literal translation of the verb “hängen” (to hang). That hangs from the mood of my wife. This makes sense to my brain. Hopefully it works for yours, as well.
to come from / to expect
Wir können von diesem Ereignis ausgehen, dass der Verbrecher im Gefängnis bleibt.
We can expect from this incident that the criminal will stay in prison.
This one isn’t difficult because of “von”, but because we have the prefix “aus” and the preposition “von” in the same sentence. Many people seem to think that these two can’t be used at the same time. I’m not sure why, but as long as you keep in mind that one is a prefix and the other is a preposition, you should be ok.
to enthuse about / to have a passion for
Ich schwärme von Dinosauriern.
I have a passion for dinosaurs.
If you haven’t been following the pattern so far, this one still goes pretty well with “von”, as you could simply look at the verb “schwärmen”, which means to enthuse or daydream and add “from”. I daydream from dinosaurs. It takes a bit of a stretch of the English, but it works.
Verbs used with the Dative Preposition “zu”
The last dative preposition on our list for today is “zu”. It almost always translates as “to”, but can occasionally be “for” or “in”. Personally, I see this one as a simple straightforward translation. Let’s try a few examples.
to contribute to / to add sth. to
Alle Mitschüler müssen zur Diskussion beitragen.
All classmates must contribute to the discussion.
sich eignen zu
to qualify for
Du eignest dich zu diesem Preis leider nicht.
Unfortunately, you don’t qualify for this prize.
sich eignen zu vs sich eignen für
Confused Student: WAIT! I have always seen “sich eignen für”, which makes a lot more sense to me. The word “für” means “for”, so why not just use that?
Herr Antrim: You can use “für” with “sich eignen”, but it no longer means “to qualify for”. Now it means “to be suited for”.
Confused Student: What’s the difference? Sounds the same to me. If I am qualified for a job, I am suited for it, too.
Herr Antrim: What if your temperament doesn’t match the rest of the team? There is most definitely a difference between being qualified for something and being suited for it. Technically I am qualified to teach middle school, but it is in the best interest of everyone involved that I don’t teach 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Ich eigne mich dazu, aber nicht dafür. – I am qualified for that, but not suited. Let’s try a few more examples of the preposition “zu”.
to invite to
Ich möchte deine Mutter zu einer Party einladen. Darf ich ihre Handynummer kriegen?
I would like to invite your mom to a party. Can I get her number?
sich entschließen zu
to decide to
Er entschließt sich dazu, ein Eis zu kaufen.
He is deciding to buy an ice cream.
to result in
Jeden Tag Eisessen führt zu Dickwerden.
Eating ice cream everyday results in (leads to) getting fat.
to belong to
Dieser Schuh gehört zu deiner Mutter.
This shoe belongs to your mother.
Confused Student: Doesn’t “gehören” already mean “to belong to”? You don’t need to add “zu” in that sentence. You could just say “Dieser Schuh gehört deiner Mutter. – This shoe belongs to your mother.”
Herr Antrim: Yep. There is no difference between your version and my version.
to congratulate on
Ich gratuliere Ihnen zu Ihrem Geburtstag.
I congratulate you on your birthday.
I didn’t personally understand why this one uses “zu” instead of any of the other prepositions that mean “on” until I started trying to plug them into this sentence and see what it does to the meaning.
Ich gratuliere Ihnen an Ihrem Geburtstag.
I congratulate you on your birthday.
This version says it is your birthday and I am congratulating you, but the two events are not connected other than they are happening on the same day. I could be congratulating you for the promotion you just got, but didn’t do so until it was your birthday. The point is that the preposition “an” in this sentence doesn’t show us the reason for the congratulations, but rather the time at which the congratulating was done, namely “your birthday”.
Ich gratuliere Ihnen auf Ihrem Geburtstag.
I congratulate you on your birthday.
This version says your birthday is somehow a location and again does not explain the reason for the congratulating. The only way you can express the reason for the congratulations is with the preposition “zu”.
to tend to, be prone to
Dieses Auto neigt zu einer Explosion, wenn ihm hinten reingefahren wird.
This car tends to explode when it is rear ended.
to belong to
Deutschland zählt zu den besten Ländern der Welt.
Germany belongs to (is one of) the best countries in the world.
If you want to practice what you have learned from this lesson, you can download a worksheet with an answer key to go with this lesson here. Das ist alles für heute. Danke fürs Zuschauen. 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