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The following three sentences use the definite feminine nouns in dative case:

Der Mann arbeitet an der Tankstelle.

Sie arbeitet in der Bank.

Er arbeitet bei der Post.


Questions:

  • When should I use an, in and bei? Or can I use more than 1 in some (all) situations?
  • Is it the same for indefinite article einer?
  • Please provide examples!

Danke :)

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Related but not answered for work place prepositions (hence no dupe!): german.stackexchange.com/questions/2540/… –  Takkat Sep 12 '13 at 6:02
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isn't it bei or auf der Bank?? it sure means in the building, but not neccesarily "at" the credit institute... Maybe auf is just a regionalism in my area?? also "Die Post" is a more idiomatic expression. there you cannot use indefinite Article. –  Vogel612 Sep 12 '13 at 6:50
    
@Vogel612: The Variantenwörterbuch attributes this usage of auf to Switzerland only; I also know it from southwest Germany, though. –  chirlu Sep 12 '13 at 7:36
    
@chirlu Well, I don't agree to the Variantenwörterbuch as I live far away from Switzerland (rural area close to Cologne) but I do know auf in this context, too. Though, I cannot say how common its use actually is. –  Em1 Sep 12 '13 at 7:44
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I don't know if there is a rule. I use different prepositions, depending on context, for instance

Sie arbeitet bei der (Deutschen) Bank.

or

Er arbeitet in der Post (neben dem Bahnhof).

would sound totally ok to me too.

If you would have to come up with a rule, I would say:

Say "in" if you mean the place or building (in einer Bankfiliale, in der Poststelle, im Einkaufszentrum etc.)

Say "bei" in combination with an indefinite article, if you refer to a company or instituion (bei einer Bank, bei einer Aktingesellschaft etc.) or in combination with an definite or without an article, if you refer to a particular company or instituion (bei der Post, bei der Bahn, bei der Technik GmbH, bei Müller & Söhne etc.)

Say "als" if you refer to the profession (als Postbote, als Bankangestellter, als Zugführer etc.)

Say "an" if you mean "near"/"close to" (am Bahnhof, an der Ecke) OR "working on" (an einer Klassenarbeit, an einem Projektauftrag etc.) OR if you refer to the location, but "in" wouldn't make sense (am Bahnhofsschalter, an der Kasse, an der Rezeption etc.)

Still, these are not absolute, static rules. Basically, you can use a lot of other prepositions too, for instance "auf":

Er arbeitet auf der MS Princess (Schiff).

Sie arbeitet auf dem Markplatz.

...or even:

Er arbeitet unter dem Hauptbahnhof im Technikraum.

etc. etc. ...

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well written, but where is the preposition "an"? –  Vogel612 Sep 12 '13 at 7:48
    
I will accept, but yes, if you could clarify when to use an, that would be great! Thanks –  Oleksiy Sep 12 '13 at 9:25
    
You can also say Er arbeitet an einer Tankstelle without meaning a certain one or a certain company. The explanation for this (which I can't give either) is vague. –  Thorsten Dittmar Sep 13 '13 at 6:45
    
@ThorstenDittmar The explanation you are referring to (meaning a certain company) was for bei, not an! Apart from that: of course it is vague! I don't think there's a rule, it's just for orientation. I also updated my explanation though... –  marsze Sep 13 '13 at 7:32
    
I'm referring to the correct one :-) You say say "an" if you mean "near" [...] or if you refer to the location, but "in" wouldn't make sense. That is correct, but vague, as it doesn't explain the an der Tankstelle vs. in der Tankstelle (the latter meaning that the person never goes outside). And in that explanation you're saying that working im Bahnhofsschalter wouldn't make sense - it does. It refers to the fact that the person is sitting behind the counter, not in front of it. My comment wasn't criticism to you, but an explanation to the OP about there not being a clear rule. –  Thorsten Dittmar Sep 13 '13 at 8:25
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