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I've seen a sentence like

Ich habe Deutsch an der Schule gelernt.

instead of

Ich habe Deutsch in der Schule gelernt.

Why is the preposition "an" used? Does it have something to do with the past?

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2  
Where exactly did you find the sentence with "an der Schule"? Where, in fact, do you find most of the half-baked, almost, but not quite right sentences? I've asked you that before. You seem to have a wealth of slightly off sentences, either grammatically or in word choice. Where did you come across these? Can you please cite your sources? If these claim to be proper German, they are way off. – teylyn Jan 15 '14 at 9:54
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Well, to me (as a Bavarian) both seems to be correct, even an der Schule without mentioning a special school.

an der Schule

specifies the act of learing or teaching at a school to me

in der Schule

specifies the location or the act of learning or teaching

Das Wahllokal ist in der Grundschule

You can't say 'an' in this case.

Again, this is my personal opinion.

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As a German, I actually have not heard "an der Schule gelernt" and think it's incorrect in this context. "in der Schule" is correct.

"an" is only correct in the right context, like "An meiner Schule war es immer nett" (It was always nice at our school), referring to the building or place rather than school as an institution or part of your life. You can also say "an" if you're making reference to a specific school, like "Ich habe Deutsch an der Albert Einstein High School gelernt"

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And here's another one : which one is correct am Goethe or beim Goethe? I always say "Ich lerne Deutsch beim Goethe" in reference to the building and at the same time to the German poet. If I say ' "Ich lerne Deutsch am Goethe," am I still referring to the building or the language i am studying? German learners always confuse 'bei' and ' an' as at – DerPolyglott33 Jan 13 '14 at 21:34
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"beim" (in this case) is only valid if you use it with a square/plaze, like "am Goetheplatz" or if you sit next to his statue while learning, but your sentence was not correct. If you want to reference to the poet, use "Ich lerne Deutsch mit (Hilfe von) Goethe" or "Ich lerne Deutsch durch Goethe". Referencing to a place called "Goethe" can read above. – Mathis Jan 13 '14 at 21:39
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I think "Goethe" in that example is short for Goethe-Institut – thekeyofgb Jan 13 '14 at 22:30

You can say "Ich habe Deutsch an der Schule gelernt", but only if you talk about specific school:

Ich habe Deutsch an der Goethe-Schule in XYZ gelernt

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1  
Could you explain a bit further to reveal any underlying rule, please? I agree "an der Schule" sounds slightly off without specifying which school, but then, "an der Universität" seems completely fine to me. In fact, when asking what kind of an educational institution someone attends to learn German, I would perceive it as idiomatic to ask: "Lernst du Deutsch in der Schule oder an der Universität?" – O. R. Mapper Jul 22 at 6:49

An der Schule means standing beside the school and in der Schule means inside the school.

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Note that "an der Schule" does not always mean "next to the school". "Er lehrt an der Grundschule." Also see the other answers. – Robert Jul 22 at 1:15
    
I am an A+ student but still make mistakes ;) – DerPolyglott33 Jul 22 at 1:21

Both versions are correct, and both versions are Standard German.

In German German (official language* in Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium) the correct term is:

Lisa lernt etwas an einer Schule.
Markus geht zur Schule. (zur = zu der)

*offical language means: laws and other legal documents are written in this language, and this language is taught in schools. Also newspapers and magazines are written in this language, and news speakers in TV and radio also use this language.

In Austrian German (official language in Austria and parts of Italy) the correct term is:

Lisa lernt etwas in einer Schule.
Markus geht in die Schule.

There is a third standardized variation of German which is Swiss Standard German (not to be confused with Swiss German, which is a group of German dialects spoken in Switzerland), which is official language in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. But i am not firm with Swiss Standard German, so I don't know if it is »an der Schule« or »in der Schule« in Switzerland.


What I said before was about standard German. But most people in the German sprachraum speak colloquial German, which is close to standard German, but influenced by regional and local dialects. In the colloquial German spoken in the south of Germany, i.e. in Bavaria, you find a lot of terms that are part of the official standard of Austrian German. »In der Schule« is one of it.

Since there are more people living in Bavaria than in Austria (12.8 M in Bavaria, 8.7 M in Austria) the closely related dialects spoken in Bavaria and Austria are called »bavarian dialects«. But the version of German language spoken in the south of German sprachraum is standardized as a standard language only in Austria (and in South Tyrol, which is a part of Italy), so it is called »Austrian German«.


The difference between »an der Schule« and »in der Schule« comes of the different way of thinking about what a school is in Germany and Austria.

In Germany people think of a school as an institution. Take some teachers, a director, and some students, and you have a school. When teachers are teaching students, sitting under trees in the green gras, then this would be a school. So when you attend school in Germany, you are at an institution named school:

Heinz lernt an einer Institution die »Schule« genannt wird.

When people in Austria hears the word »Schule«, they have the building in mind. A school is a building where teachers and students meet to learn. So when you go to school, you go into a building named school:

Heinz lernt in einem Gebäude, das »Schule« genannt wird.

There is also a joke in Austria about Germans going to school:

Kein Wunder, dass die deutschen Kinder so schlecht lesen können. Die gehen ja alle nur zur Schule. In Österreich gehen die Kinder auch hinein.

It doesn't wonder that german kids are bad in reading. They only go to the school. Kids in Austria also enter it.

This joke works, because for example »er geht zum See« means »he goes to the lake« it does not mean »he goes into the lake«. But in Germany the same construction is used for going to school: »er geht zur Schule«. In Austria this will be interpreted as: »He goes to the school, but does not enter it.« And this is, because in Austria the word »Schule« will more likely be understood as the name of a building, not as the name of an institution.

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This brings nothing new to the table - Austrian German does not differ in usage for the sentence in the OP. (Teutonic * an der Schule* would refer to a specific school (=institution), which is not given in the example). Had the OP sentence been Ich habe Deutsch in/an der Goetheschule gelernt. (specific school name), your answer would maybe have had merit. – Chieron Jul 22 at 7:35

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