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My understanding is that they can both be translated "of."

Digging deeper, "von" seems to mean "from." Von Deutschland.

And "auf" seems to mean "out of." Auf dem Land.

Is this correct or not?

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Are you sure you mean "auf", not "aus"? The latter would indeed mean "out of". "Auf dem Land", however, means "in the country" (meaning rural areas). If you're talking about nationality, always use "aus": "Ich komme aus Deutschland." (one place) If you're talking about a move, use "von": "Ich bin von Deutschland nach Frankreich gezogen." (two places) –  Mac Sep 28 '11 at 16:26
    
@mac: OK, aus means "outside of." Auf, in the sense of "out of," can mean "out of" the ground. –  Tom Au Sep 28 '11 at 16:30
    
Oh, now I see! I didn't realise that the "out of" in your example was simply meant as "not in" - many Germans tend to infer the directional implication of "aus". That's what growing up under the shadow of "Out of Rosenheim" does to you. :) Still, "vom Land" appears to be one of only two instances where "von" works with places of origin; the other one is, when you're from some kind of island or peninsula: "Er kommt von den friesischen Inseln/von der iberischen Halbinsel." –  Mac Sep 29 '11 at 8:04
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These prepositions, like most prepositions in most languages, have myriads of meanings. I think to get a more useful answer you'll need to say more about which uses you're interested in. "Auf" does not have a sense "out of" as far as I'm aware; could you give an example of that? "Aus" does have such a sense. It does seem to me that you might mean "von" and "aus"; both can denote origin and it can be hard to decide which to use; "von" and "auf" don't really have much in common. –  Felix Pahl Sep 29 '11 at 10:06
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As a native speaker it very easy to tell the difference between the prepositions auf and von.

auf

Most of the time when auf is used, it means "on top of" (locally/räumlich). It can either have a "static" meaning ("wo?" – Dativ):

Auf dem Hochhaus sitzt ein Vogel.
Auf meinem Bankkonto herrscht gähnende Leere.
Auf der Hochzeit war es schön.

or it can be used when movement is involved (towards something "wohin?" Akkusativ):

Der Vogel flog auf das Hochhaus.
Der Geldbetrag wurde auf mein Bankkonto überwiesen.
Nach der Ankunft im Hotel ging sie sofort auf ihr Zimmer.

Also, the preposition "auf" is used with some geographic places like islands:

Auf Sizilien gibt es einen Vulkan.

You can find some other meanings of "auf" on the Duden Online page.

von

The primary meaning is from.

Ich habe die Hose von meinem Bruder ausgeliehen.
Ich komme von der Besprechung.

That doesn't mean that "von" is always to translate with "from":

I'm from Germany. → Ich komme aus Deutschland.

"von" also means "of" as in this example:

Das Buch von Goethe liegt dort.

The preposition is also a replacement of the Gentiv case:

Die Geschichte des Peter → Die Geschichte vom Peter.

Here's a complete list of all meanings.

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Von can be translated as of, but not in the sense of from as in from a country:

Er ist von adeliger Herkunft. He is of noble descent.

As Mac already said in a comment (thanks for the examples), von can mean from when moving from one place to another:

Ich bin von Deutschland nach Frankreich gezogen. I moved from Germany to France.

Vom Supermarkt kommend muss man links abbiegen. Coming from the supermarket you have to turn left.

But:

Ich komme aus Deutschland. I am from Germany.

However, for the supermarket example, aus could also be used, but it changes meaning. Aus dem Supermarkt kommend means you're coming out of the supermarket. Vom Supermarkt kommend means that you're coming from the supermarket, i.e. from the direction. In this meaning, aus can generally be translated as out of, while von means from. As already said, this is only applicable to movement, not to origin.

Auf is not really a translation of out of. It is a preposition that is used for certain constructs like the Land (countryside):

Er wohnt auf dem Land. Er ist aufs Land gezogen. He lives in the countryside. He moved to the countryside.

It does not mean that someone is from the countryside. Of course, this is somehow implied in this example ;) However, because the countryside is kind of special, being from it is von:

Er ist/kommt vom Land. He is from the countryside.

But:

Er ist/kommt aus der Stadt. He is from the city.

In general, auf means on or on top of.

This related question is about other prepositions. The problem is that prepositions typically don't translate literally, so there is no simple rule which preposition to use for which case.

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