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I'm new to German and I get a bit confused about when it's "dem" or "im" or "den" rather than "in der" or "in dem" and so on.

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"Duden - Die Grammatik" 8th edition chapter 3.5 - Verschmelzung von Präposition und Artikel will tell you everything - and a little more - you might wanna know about your special problem and all further efforts in learning German. A less 'hardcore' version is Duden - Richtiges und gutes Deutsch. – mramosch Sep 1 at 13:33

4 Answers 4

In many languages, prepositions and articles are sometimes contracted.

Obligatory contractions:

  • an + dem + noun → am + noun
  • in + dem + noun → im + noun
  • zu + dem + noun → zum + noun
  • zu + der + noun → zur + noun

Contractions that may occur in informal speech:

  • vor + dem + noun → vorm + noun

As for choosing between different cases:
If the case comes after a verb, you have to know what case the verb demands.

This corresponds to the knowledge of deciding if the correct English sentence is "I touch you." or "I touch to you." and very often, the construction with "to" corresponds to dative in German and without it to accusative in German. In the light of the next phrase it can be more helpful to think of the action being done "for" someone when the dative is used.

For prepositions again, you should learn what case they demand, but an important rule is: If the meaning is where something is, then the object has to take the dative, if the meaning is where it moves to, then the object has to take the accusative. Note that this deviates from the correspondence with "to" in the previous paragraph.

It would be good to ask a more specific question if you want to know more.

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Schiller has also used "ueberm (Sternenzelt)" as far as I recall. Is it normal in colloquial speech? – Armen Tsirunyan Jan 30 '12 at 15:59
@ArmenTsirunyan Where I live not only "überm" but also "übern" is used. Also "unterm"/"untern", "durchn", "in'n", "mitm", "miter" (for "mit der") and so on are used. – Alexander Kosubek Aug 8 '13 at 9:42
So for feminine nouns, "zur" works, but if you preposition was "in" then your are SOoL and have to use "in der"? Or is that just wrong? – Adrian Ratnapala Sep 12 '14 at 23:03
There are so many contractions that exist but aren’t listed in this post while at the same time the post reads itself as if it presented an exhaustive list. – Jan Sep 1 at 8:26

Und noch mehr:

zu + der = zur (Ich gehe zur Schule)

Aber die Frage war "when would one ..." :

Praktisch immer, ausser in sehr förmlichen Texten, wie in Gesetzestexten oder behördlichen Schreiben.

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In written German, use only the contractions listed by Phira.

Use contractions:

  • in patterned speech

    Etwas zum Besten geben, zur Schule gehen

  • in superlatives

    Hans ist am größten.

  • If the noun to which the preposition is related has already been introduced or needs for other reasons not to be emphasized (e.g., if it is not important which one it is), it is better to use a contraction with a less "emphasizing" character:

    Ich bin zum Bäcker gegangen.


    An dem Tag habe ich schon etwas vor.

If you are in doubt, I would advise not using contractions, as they tend to sound a little "uncouth" if overused.

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The superlatives aren’t contractions as they also don’t change genders. – Jan Sep 1 at 8:24

In informal speech, uncontracted expressions like in dem Haus, an der Strasse etc. may occur, but always in a meaning like in diesem Haus or an dieser Strasse.

A: »In welchem Haus wohnt er?«
B zeigt auf das linke Gebäude und sagt: »In dem Haus.«

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Is "in dem Haus, in dem ich damals lebte" really informal? At the same time, I cannot replace the first occurrence of "dem" with "diesem" in that construction (the second one is something else, anyway, of course). – O. R. Mapper Aug 26 at 18:11
@O. R. Mapper, you can't replace it by "diesem" but still the house you are talking about is specified by the Relativsatz. I think, the specification is the important thing. – Iris Sep 1 at 15:09

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