German Location vs. Direction Prepositions

Learn prepositions referring to location and direction in German

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German Location vs. Direction

Location: the prepositions in, an, auf and bei (followed by the dative case) are used with fixed locations, while aus and von (also followed by the dative case) are used to signify origin.

in enclosed spaces Ich bin in der Kirche.
Wir sind in der Schule.
I'm at church.
We are at school.
an denotes border or limiting area Er ist am See.
Das Bild ist an der Wand.
He is at the lake.
The picture is on the wall.
auf on surfaces, or at public buildings Es ist auf dem Tisch.
Sie sind auf der Bank.
It's on the table.
They are at the bank.
bei before name of place or business
where someone lives or works
Ich arbeite bei McDonald's.
Ich wohne bei meiner Tante.
I work at McDonald's.
I live at my Aunt's (house).
aus comes from enclosed or defined space,
such as country, town or building
Sie kommt aus dem Zimmer.
Ich komme aus den USA. 
She comes from the bedroom.
I come from the USA.
von comes from open space,
particular direction or person
Das Auto kommt von rechts.
Ich weiß es von ihm.
The car comes from the right.
I know it from him.

Direction: the prepositions in and auf (followed by the accusative case) or zu and nach (followed by the dative case) are used.

in building or enclosed space; countries
and cities that have definite articles*
Ich gehe in die Kirche.
Ich fliege in die USA.
I'm going to church.
I'm flying to the USA.
auf open spaces or public buildings Er geht auf den Markt.
He's going to the market.
zu specifically  named buildings or places,
and people
Sie geht zum Strand.
Sie gehen zu McDonald's.
Ich gehe zur Bank.
She's going to the beach.
They're going to McDonald's
I'm going to the bank.
nach countries and cities that have no articles Ich fliege nach Österreich.
Ich fliege nach Paris.
I'm flying to Austria.
I'm flying to Paris.


Only a few countries include the articles, such as der Iran (m.), die Niederlande (pl.), die Schweiz (f.), die Türkei (f.), and die USA (pl.), because they are not neuter.

Remember the two idioms with Haus:  zu Hause is a location and means at home, while nach Hause is a direction and means (to) home.



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