Two-Way Prepositions

Novice to Intermediate

In this module, you will review the usage of German two-way prepositions with the correct usage of the definite articles. Two-way prepositions are prepositions which take either the accusative or the dative case. Depending on the context, you will need to choose the accusative or dative case after the two-way prepositions.

Let’s first start by reviewing the definite articles in the Accusative and Dative cases.

Here are some examples of the cases in context. Look at these sentences with the preposition in.


Masculine: Der Vater geht in den Keller.
Feminine: Die Mutter fährt das Auto in die Garage.
Neuter: Das Kind läuft in das Haus.


Masculine:  Der Vater ist in dem Keller.
Feminine:  Das Auto steht in der Garage.
Neuter:  Das Kind ist in dem Haus.

Activity 1

After reading the sentences above you most likely recognized that they describe places. Pairs of verbs that frequently are used for this purpose are liegen – legen, sitzen –setzen, stehen – stellen. Can you identify which verbs are associated with place as position and which ones with place as direction? If needed, you can consult the online dictionary LEO.

Activity 2

Now, let’s explore examples with these verbs and the two-way preposition in using Das Digitale Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache (DWDS), a large electronic collection of German texts known as a corpus.  Below you will see two images that show examples taken from this corpus. They are presented in form of a concordance – stacked lines of examples with the search words bolded and centered.  If you find the text hard to read, direct links to the DWDS Corpus are provided just below the images.

Read corpus examples below and answer the questions that follow them.



two way prepositions 1
DWDS search results for verb-preposition collocations retrieved May 17, 2021.


two way prepositions 2
DWDS search results for verb-preposition collocations retrieved May 17, 2021.

Activity 3

Next let’s review the meaning of more German two-way prepositions by matching them with their English equivalents.

Activity 4

Read these sentences below and decide which sentence is a Wo sentence and which is a Wohin sentence and choose its correct case.

Activity 5

Now, bring together what you learned about the meaning and the grammar of place descriptions with two-way prepositions.

Choose the correct statement.

Activity 6

Verbs of motion are also frequently used with two-way prepositions. Let’s review some of these verbs by matching them with their English equivalents.

Activity 7

Read the concordance lines with rennen in and answer the questions below.

rennen in
DWDS search results for “rennen in” retrieved May 21, 2021.


For each concordance line (1-10), choose the correct case for the definite article that appears to the right of the bolded preposition in. The nouns have the following gender: der Keller, die Küche, die Manege, der Schlafsaal, das Unterholz, der Betrieb, der Hof, der Ziegenstall, die Feldmark. For their meaning, you can consult the online dictionary LEO


Activity 8


Let’s try a few more on your own.  Go to the corpus and read the 10 concordance lines with laufen in. Pay attention to the case of the bolded articles! Note that some articles may be in the plural form. Click the numbers of the concordance line(s) that contain the bolded article in the dative case and, thus, describe a position (and not a direction).

Now repeat this search for all verbs + prepositions below to find concordance lines with articles in the dative case. You will need to replace laufen in in the search window with the verb and preposition you are trying to find. Keep the definite article der as is.


fliegen über


fahren auf

You may wish to play around with other verb-preposition combinations in the corpus.

Activity 9

Now summarize what you have learned in this module. Choose the correct statement.

Activity 10

On your own. Using the two-way prepositions from this module, write 3 sentences where you describe position (location) and use articles (definite or indefinite) in the dative case and 3 sentences where you describe direction (destination) and use articles in the accusative case.

For example:

Ich gehe jeden Morgen in die Garage. Der Hund liegt immer unter dem Auto.

Here are some verbs which may help you:

fahren, gehen, laufen, rennen, bleiben, stellen, stehen, setzen, sitzen, liegen, legen, werfen…

Here you can read more about the usage of two-way prepositions in German.

 Schirin Kourehpaz & Nina Vyatkina


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