I would like to talk about local prepositions in this post. Whaaaat? Yes! You need local prepositions in order to express where you are, where you come from or where you want to go to. In German it is quite important to precisely describe your location. It is not enough to say: I am going to the mall. You have to be detailed and say whether you just got there and are hanging out in front of the mall (=zur) or are going inside (=in) or are sitting on top of the roof (auf) (maybe there is a rooftop bar:)

So correctly using zum / zur, in auf, von, an / am etc. is one of the bigger chapters in German grammar and even for native speakers not as clear sometimes. But do not worry, I am going to break it down for you.

Beforehand I want to mention this: Make yourself comfortable and take some time with me to imagine the following –  you are walking inside some sort of building. You change your location from being outside to being inside. It can be anything – your house, the cinema, the theater etc. In order to walk inside, you probably have to open a door. That is when in German you have to use the preposition “in”.

When in english you say:

I am going to the cinema, in German it would be I am going into the cinema = Ich gehe in das Kino.

But now more in detail:

1)  Location in relation to people

If you want to describe your location in relation to people that you are coming from, are currently with or are going to remember these three prepositions:

Question/Answer:

Where from?     “Von” – Ich komme von Peter – I am coming from Peter’s (house)
Where?               “Bei” – ich bin bei Peter – I am with him!
Where to?           “Zu” –  ich gehe zu Peter = I am going to Peter’s (house)  

So: “von, bei, zu” are used to express your location and interaction with persons.

2) Activities

Where are you? I am eating, dancing, playing tennis…. In German there is no -ing version of verbs to express that you are doing something right in that moment. You have two options: you can either use the word “gerade” e.g. ich tanze gerade” or ich bin beim Tanzen” and make a noun out of the Verb. We are going to stick with the second option today. I’ll give you a couple of examples:

Question/Answer:

Where from?    “Vom” – ich komme vom Tanzen – I am coming from dancing
Where?               “Beim” – ich bin beim Tanzen  (right now!) – I am dancing
Where to?          “ Zum” – ich gehe zum Tanzen – I am going to the dance

Note that you just need to put an “m” at the end of the prepositions because Verbs that are turned into nouns are always Neutral. As you might notice, this is Dativ:

von dem = vom
Bei dem = beim
Zu dem = zum

If you don’t know that rule yet, don’t worry you will get there in due time but for now just try to remember the words.

3) Location

This is a bit of a tricky one but let’s first start with the options here:

Ich komme aus dem Kino – aus dem =  out of –  so Germans think like having to have to open a door first before they could get out of the cinema. As soon as a door is involved you use “aus”. If you were only standing outside the cinema, not having gone inside, then you could say “von”.

Question/Answer:

Where from? (Woher?)     “Aus dem” – Ich komme aus dem Kino
Where? (Wo?)                       “Im” – Ich bin im Kino
Where to? (Wohin?)            “Ins” – Ich gehe ins Kino

Let’s use another example. Der Berg = the mountain. You don’t have to open a door to get to or to come to or are at a mountain but you have to climb it – “auf”. Look what happens

Question/Answer:

Where from?      Ich komme vom Berg
Where?                 Ich bin auf dem Berg
Where to?            Ich gehe auf den Berg

Because this topic can become a bit confusing when presented linearly I have prepared a graphical cheat sheet for you. Just sign up and get it. You can put it on the fridge or on the bathroom door or wherever else where it’s within your daily reach somehow.

And don’t forget – Wiederholung ist die Mutter des Talents = repetition is the mother of all skills. Also the German speaking skill:)

4) Cheat Sheet

Yes we’ve made a cheat sheet regarding local prepositions. Have fun :))