In German, prepositions tell you which case to use for the following noun. You should never learn a preposition without learning the associated case.
The following lists are meant to be as complete as possible, so they include some less-common prepositions that you may not find in textbooks. Rather than leave anything out, we’ve italicized these less important words so you don’t spend too much time on them. The genitive group in particular has many little-used members.
Keep in mind that it’s almost impossible to translate prepositions exactly in any language, because they have so many idiomatic usages. Imagine trying to explain the word “up” to someone learning English in a way that accounts for phrases like “give up,” “screw up,” “put up with,” “put up a fight,” “what are you up to?” and so on. What you’ll find in this section are the most literal and/or common English equivalents, but they’re not exhaustive.
A few terms marked with an asterisk can also be used after the noun, as “postpositions.” For example, wir liefen den Strand entlang (we walked along the beach) rather than wir liefen entlang den Strand. The line between postpositions and separable verb prefixes can be a little fuzzy – some German teachers would read that first sentence and see the verb entlanglaufen with no preposition – but it’s often a distinction without a difference.
When two or more prepositions are used together, the one closer to the noun trumps. For example, in ab ins Bett mit dir ("off to bed with you"), the bed is in the accusative case from the “in” (ins = in das) rather than the dative case from “ab.”
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