Dative prepositions

Dative prepositions need to be followed by the dative case:

  • aus – out of, from
  • bei – at, amongst, with (like ‘chez’ in French)
  • mit – with
  • nach – after; to (country)
  • seit – since
  • von – from, of
  • zu – to, at
  • gegenüber (von) – opposite
  • außer – except, apart from

To help remember the dative prepositions, sing them to the first two lines of the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas. Remember that King Wenceslas first set out on the ‘date’ (= dative) of the feast of Stephen:

A page of sheet music with the opening line of the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas showing the dative prepositions as the lyrics.
The preposition gegenüber is a little unusual. Traditionally, it always used to be placed after the noun. But in modern German it will often come before the noun, just like the other dative prepositions, and sometimes also followed by the preposition von. So to translate ‘He lives opposite the park’, you may see two possible versions - er wohnt dem Park gegenüber or er wohnt gegenüber von dem Park. Both versions are correct.

If it's easier to remember, you could also sing aus-außer-bei-mit, nach-seit, von-zu to the tune of Strauss' Blue Danube known as An der schönen blauen Donau in German.

Unfortunately, gegenüber doesn't fit this tune, so you'll have to remember it as a separate word. It might help you remember that gegenüber is used a little differently to the other dative prepositions.

A page of sheet music with the opening bars of Strauss' 'The Blue Danube' with the dative prepositions as the lyrics.

Getting the meaning right

Be careful that the correct meaning of the prepositions is used - you can’t translate everything literally.

For example, English speakers ask “What is on television?” to mean what’s being broadcast. The German word for 'on' is auf, but that actually means 'on' in the sense of 'on top of'.

So if you ask Was ist auf dem Fernsehen? you are really asking what is literally 'on top of' the TV set, eg an ornament, or a remote control.

The correct way to find out what programmes are being televised is to ask, Was ist im Fernsehen?, which literally means ‘what is in the television?’.

An image showing an object on top of a TV screen showing a man reading the news to show correct usage of prepositions.

Did you know?

In 1800 Queen Charlotte, the German wife of George III, decorated the first known English Christmas tree in Queen's Lodge, Windsor.

Christmas trees were only seen in homes of the aristocracy until Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, imported spruce trees from Germany in 1840.

The German word for fir tree is der Tannenbaum, which is the title of a well-known carol. Look out for the two dative prepositions in the lyrics.

O Tannenbaum

by Ernst Anschütz
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Decorating Christmas tree
The tradition of decorating fir trees at Christmas time was first introduced by German royalty