Tags: accusative, change in meaning, dative, difference, german article, german cases, german prepositions
German prepositions and German cases can be tricky sometimes, and my 6 year old son is evidence of that. We were riding in the car recently and suddenly he asked me: Mommy, why do we say “in der Fahrspur “and then “in die Fahrspur”?
In fact the only difference we can see in German is in the article.
Ich fahre in der Fahrspur.
Ich fahre in die Fahrspur.
As a learner of the German language this is important to know because this tiny switch in the article changes the meaning of the entire sentence.
Ich fahre in der Fahrspur. I am driving in this lane.
Ich fahre in die Fahrspur. I am driving into this lane.
With the English translation you can see the difference clearly in this example.
Ich fahre in der Fahrspur. Dative –>Expresses a location I am driving in this lane.
Ich fahre in die Fahrspur. Accusative –> Expresses a Direction I am driving into this lane.
Let me give you an even more drastic example related to the change in meaning:
Ich fahre in dem Auto. Dative –> Expresses a location I am driving in the car.
Ich fahre in das Auto. Accusative –> Expresses a Direction I am driving into the car. (Ouch!)
You see in this case how important it can be to use the correct German case and article.
There are many more German verbs that can express both – location as well as direction.
All of these verbs express some movement. The movement can happen in a particular spot = location.
The movement can also happen into a direction.
German prepositions like: an, in, über, hinter, unter, vor, auf, neben, zwischen can be used in both cases – for location (Dative) and direction (Accusative).
As you can tell already in some cases only the case of the article determines whether one or the other is being expressed.
Recently I read a discussion about how important grammar is in language. This proves the point that grammar can be extremely important in expressing meaning in a language. The German cases and prepositions can make that much difference.
Let’s step it up a notch. Even trickier in these examples:
Er läuft hinter dem Haus. Dative –> Expresses a location He is walking behind the house.
Er läuft hinter das Haus. Accusative –> Expresses a Direction He is walking behind the house.
Der Hund rennt vor dem Auto. Dative –> Expresses a location The dog is running in front of the car.
Der Hund rennt vor das Auto. Accusative –> Expresses a Direction The dog is running in front of the car.
For the Germans among us these two examples won’t pose a problem.
But how about the German learners – Can you figure out how the meaning changes in these two examples and what the two cases in each one of the above examples exactly express?
Feel free to give me your take on it in the comment section…