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In one lesson from the software Memrise, there is the sentence Vor einer langen Zeit. (but there are not so many matches when I google it)

If ever the sentence is correct and common, I don't understand why it is not: Vor einen langen Zeit. Why does the declension becomes einer?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The preposition vor is used with the Dativ in this case (no pun intended).

From the Duden Online entry:

drückt aus, dass etwas dem genannten Zeitpunkt oder Vorgang [unmittelbar] vorausgeht; früher als; bevor das Genannte erreicht ist

Grammatik
mit Dativ; zeitlich

Beispiele
vor wenigen Augenblicken
vor Ablauf der Frist
das war schon vor Jahren, vor meiner Zeit
[...]

Zeit is a female noun and this is the correct declination:

  1. die / eine Zeit
  2. der / einer Zeit
  3. der / einer Zeit
  4. die / eine Zeit

If you're asking why the adjective is langen and not langer, it's because of the German strong and weak declination. If an adjective is used without an article it will be strongly declined:

vor langer Zeit

and with article, it will be weakly declined:

vor einer langen Zeit

A side note

Vor einer langen Zeit ...

is grammatically correct, but this version is commonly used

Vor langer Zeit ...

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OK, but then what I don't understand is why it is not "Vor einer langer Zeit"... I don't understand the mismatch between ein and lang declensions. –  Stephane Rolland Sep 1 '12 at 20:20
1  
@StephaneRolland I updated my answer. See the Wikipedia article I linked for strong and weak declination. –  splattne Sep 1 '12 at 20:42
1  
Good explanation, but the most important comment for this particular phrase is the last two lines. –  user1914 Sep 3 '12 at 19:50
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Another approach:

The indefinite article "ein" has to be declined in congruency with the noun "Zeit". To decline "ein" correctly, you need to determine:

  1. the gender
  2. the case

of the noun. The grammatical gender of "Zeit" is female. And this fact rules out "einen" as option; see this overview regarding how to decline "ein". So, "einen" can't be correct in connection with "Zeit", independent of the case.

So, you finally have to select between "eine" and "einer". Here, you'll have to look at the case of the noun (see splattne's answer), so "einer" is correct.

To pick up your comment regarding "lang":

"lang" is quite difficult to handle: just compare the declination table for "ein" cited above to that overview of the different forms of "lang".

In this case, you need the first three tables for the "positive" (neither comparative, nor superlative) form of "lang". Here, we need the third table, because there's "ein", so it's a case of mixed inflection. The noun is singular female dative, so the correct version is "einer langen".

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Are you shure that "einer" is a pronoun? I would say it is an undefined article ("unbestimmter Artikel"). Or can it be both? –  Hubert Schölnast Sep 2 '12 at 7:20
    
You're right of course - in this case, "ein" is a indefinite article. There's also a pronoun "einer" ("Einer von uns hat Recht...oder wir beide?"), but in this case, it's the article. I've edited my answer to eliminate the mis-places pronoun and to provide a link to the correct declination table. –  tohuwawohu Sep 2 '12 at 9:09
    
More on "einer" as pronoun at canoo: canoo.net/services/OnlineGrammar/InflectionRules/FRegeln-P/… –  tohuwawohu Sep 2 '12 at 9:24
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"Vor" is a space or time preposition, and there is a very simple rule (that you might already know if you learned Latin at school) which applies to a lot of these prepositions :

  • If there is a movement in the direction indicated, then use Akkusativ (it's a special accusative called directive i think) : "Ich gehe vor das Haus" means you go to the back of the house.
  • If there is no movement in the direction indicated, then use Dative (it's called locative) : "Ich gehe vor dem Haus" means you're already in the front of the house, just walking there in no precise direction and watching the sun.

The prepositions this rule doesn't apply to are all fixed-case prepositions or expressions like aus, zu, ausserhalb von (dative) or um, über (accusative) as well as some figurative expressions (eg Geh vor dich hin = go in front of yourself = just go ahead)

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