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When do you use "im" and when do you use "in"?

I'm taking introduction to German, and have seen both of them being used as 'in' in English.

EDIT: I don't speak much German, so it would be much appreciated if you explain your answers in English a bit, so I could understand what's going on :)

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

"im" ist eine Verschmelzung von "in dem".

In vielen Fällen kann "im" allerdings nicht mehr durch "in dem" ersetzt werden. Laut dem "Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm":

  1. wenn das Neutrum von Adjektiven substantivisch gebraucht wird (z.B.: im Allgemeinen, im Trüben fischen, im Großen und Ganzen) besonders auch vor Superlativen (nicht im Geringsten)

  2. bei allgemeineren Ortsangaben (im Garten, im Meer), auch uneigentlich (im Deutschen)

  3. bei allgemeineren Zeitangaben (im Frühling, im Augenblick), auch wenn eine solche Zeitangabe in dem Infinitiv einer Handlung inbegriffen ist (im Handumdrehen)

  4. bei Substantiven des Zustandes, der Lage, der Handlung (im Streit auseinander gehen)

  5. bei Angabe der Art und Weise, des Grundes, der Möglichkeit (im Scherz, im Vertrauen, im Falle das...)

  6. bei Angabe von Kenntnissen und Fertigkeiten (im Rechnen bin ich gut)

Dagegen wird "in dem" verwendet, wenn nicht über etwas Allgemeines gesprochen wird:

In dem Schrotthaufen sind sie hergeflogen? Sie sind mutiger als ich dachte!

oder

In dem Moment, in dem das Licht ausging, fühlte sie einen Schauer über ihren Rücken laufen.

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Ich will kein Klugscheisser sein ;). Trotzdem: Fehlen bei dem Satz "In dem Moment in dem das Licht ausging fühlte sie einen Schauer über ihren Rücken laufen." nicht die Kommas, die den Relativsatz "in dem das Licht ausging" umgrenzen? –  Daniel S. May 19 at 16:28

There are two meanings of im:

  1. im as a contraction of in dem

    in dem Haus ist Licht > Im Haus ist Licht. There is light in the house

  2. im in the meaning of during or at a course of action

    Die Konferenz ist im Gang(e). The conference is in progress.

    Note that there are two meanings of Gang - in case we want to say that the conference was held in a corridor we would use im as a contraction of in dem

In addition to this there are many fixed combinations where a separation is rarely if ever done:

Im Sommer, im Licht, im Verlauf, im Großen und Ganzen, im Traum, ...

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2  
Your second im is the same as the first. –  Carsten Schultz May 19 at 7:21
1  
@CarstenSchultz definitely not... Also you would have gotten some upvotes. at least mine .. –  Vogel612 May 19 at 7:22
2  
Oh Duden... what about "im Lichte" , "im Prinzip", "im Endeffekt", "im Großen und Ganzen"... I think dividing "im" into 2 meanings is just plain stupid because it is arbitrary. I strongly suggest you limit your answer what it should be... "im is a contraction of in+dem" or, if you want to do the non-separable ones justice, just say that there are fixed expressions of VARIOUS sorts that use "im".. ps: - 1 for using the (always disappointing) Duden online dictionary. If it didn't have the name people would see it for what it is. –  Emanuel May 19 at 9:41
2  
@Emanuel: you are wrong there. There are usages when we can not separate im to in dem without producing a semantically wrong sentence. See my example where the meaning changes, and also have a look at the examples from Duden. BTW the dispute here shows once more that this is a good question which should not be closed. In case you have a better ressource than Duden telling something different you should write an answer rather than writing an unconstructive rant about Duden here. –  Takkat May 19 at 11:13
1  
@Emanuel sorry, but do your examples not fit into the first category?? I fail to understand the point you want to make with these examples :( –  Vogel612 May 19 at 11:21

So... "im" evolved as a contraction of the preposition "in" and the dative article "dem", which is used for neuter and for masculine.

Mein Schlüssel ist im Auto.

My key is in the car.

The German articles used to actually be demonstrative articles, and they are still used as a weakened version between "this" and "that". If they are used as such, they are not contracted.

Mein Schlüssel ist in DEM Auto. (possibly accompanied by a finger gesture)

My key is in this/that car.

If you fail to contract something then it simply sounds as if you want to point at something. That can be confusing but it's not a big problem.

Finally, there is a good load of expressions that use "im". Saying "in dem" would sound really weird and might destroy the idiomatic feel. Some examples:

im Sommer, im Laufe des Tages, im Großen und Ganzen, im Wesentlichen, im Prinzip

Lastly, not every English "in" will translate to "im" or "in" in German and vice versa.

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There really is no logical way to explain the use of 'in' or 'im' as it varies depending on the sentence.

As same have said "im" is short for "in dem" which means "in the" in a masculine form. The more one tries to explain, the more complex it becomes. At the end of the day ANY German will understand you regardless of what you use.

If you need this for grammatically correct correspondence, then you will have to check case by case.

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