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My confusion at the moment lies in the difference in the two prepositions, aus and von. Please note that Dict.cc is my main resource for words and phrases, and it shows the following:

Possible Meanings of Aus

Possible Meanings of Von

I'm fairly confident in my ability to use these words properly but sometimes I have used aus when I should have used von and vice-versa. What is the distinction between these two words, and when should one be used over the other?

For example:

Du hast ein Herz aus Gold!

If I hadn't memorized the fact that aus should be used in that situation, I would have likely used von.

More examples:

Fenster sind nicht aus Metall.

Additionally, tu-chemnitz.de shows the following for the two words:

Additional Meanings of Aus Additional Meanings of Von

What is the technical, linguistic explanation for using one over the other?

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4 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Aus

In a local sense, "aus" is the opposite of English "in/into". So it carries the idea of "out of". It is no problem to understand why it is used in context of buildings and stuff you can enter.

Ich gehe aus dem Haus.

However, it is not quite so obvious why it would be used for countries and cities. I think in German those are just considered "enterable" and that's all there is to it.

Ich komme aus Berlin.

And then there is the material use.

Der Tisch ist aus Holz.

Using "von" here would be more logical I suppose since the table is made from a part of the matter that is wood. I guess German sees it as more of an emergence. Just like plants that grow "out of the soil". A wooden table has been "scooped" out of the matter wood. This is just my personal theory but I doubt that there is a better explanation. Use of prepositions is really random sometimes and maybe people just liked "aus" better.

von

In a local sense, "von" denotes an origin that you cannot enter. The best example are persons

Ich komme von meinem Bruder.

but there are more

Ich komme von der Reise.

This "not enterable" idea works fairly well but you will always find examples that do not fit the simple pattern. Best example are brand names.

Ich komme von Aldi.

Aldi is a supermarket and so of course it is "enterable", yet, there are several Aldi stores so the actual venue with its door is not what matters. What matters is the chain. As soon as you specify a certain market, you'd use "aus" again.

Ich komme aus dem Aldi (the one right next to the gas station)

So as a rule of thumb... "aus" is used to indicate origins that you can enter, that are a material and that are human made geographical entities, "von" is used for origins which cannot be entered ... like people.
And then there are 1000 exceptions you'll just have to learn.

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actually, as @Robert noted, "von" used to be used for material use. (damn that's many uses) –  Vogel612 Feb 3 at 9:22
    
@Emanuel I think I have found another exception to your rule in addition to "Aldi." Technically you can "enter" "in the back," but you don't hear anyone saying "aus hinten." It's always von. Am I looking at this correctly? –  Dustin Feb 4 at 18:36
    
@Dustin... "hinten" is like "links" and "rechts" and all the others and has no door. In German you always come "von" those locations. And you are just there "Ich bin links/hinten/vorne..." English is different in that it uses different word combinations sometimes (like "in the back") and different prepositions but "from the left/right, from behind, from the front, from above" are quite similar to how it is done in German. So... just because it is "in" in English doesn't mean that it'll be "in" in German. –  Emanuel Feb 4 at 22:12
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Ich fürchte, Du wirst die Präpositionen auswendig lernen müssen...

Zu Deinen Beispielen: "aus" verwendet man, um zu sagen, woraus etwas gemacht ist: der Tisch ist aus Holz, das Fenster ist aus Glas. "von" klingt in dem Zusammenhang alt: ein Tuch von feinstem Stoffe, ein Haus von Stein.

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aus is used mostly when you refer something coming from an specific place, a place that is "closed" like a country or your own experience.

Aus meiner personlichen Erfahrung kann ich nur sagen, dass...

Ich komme aus den USA.

Von is used if the place from where you come from is important and has more relevance than the place you are. Let's say that your mother asks you where you were all morning:

Wo warst du?

Ich komme von der Schule

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As in Engllish a lot of prepositions have five or ten different uses, sometimes even more. In German "aus" and "von" are very frequently used prepositions and I am sure that each one has more than ten different uses. You should try to use more then one online dictionary and also online grammars where "aus" and "von" are reasonably presented.

The proper use of prepositions in in any language one of the most complicated grammar points and one can say that grammars can't cope with this problem because it would fill a separate book. And dictionaries can't cope with this problem either, they as well would need a separate dictionary.

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