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My confusion at the moment lies in the difference in the two prepositions, aus and von. Please note that Dict.cc is my main resource for words and phrases, and it shows the following:

Possible Meanings of Aus

Possible Meanings of Von

I’m fairly confident in my ability to use these words properly, but sometimes I have used aus when I should have used von and vice-versa. What is the distinction between these two words, and when should one be used over the other?

For example:

Du hast ein Herz aus Gold!

If I hadn’t memorized the fact that aus should be used in that situation, I would have likely used von.

More examples:

Fenster sind nicht aus Metall.

Additionally, the University of Chemnitz’s website shows the following for the two words:

Additional Meanings of Aus Additional Meanings of Von

What is the technical, linguistic explanation for using one over the other?

  • 5
    I am a german native speaker. When I was learning english I had the same problems with english prepositions. There just is no way to translate them one to one. Learning the correct prepositions is one of the hardest things when learning a new language. – Hubert Schölnast May 22 '14 at 16:44
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    There's also constant change in language: "Ein Herz von Gold" would have been perfectly acceptable 150 years ago. – tofro Aug 5 '16 at 7:02

10 Answers 10

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Aus

In a local sense, "aus" is the opposite of English "in/into". So it carries the idea of "out of". It is no problem to understand why it is used in context of buildings and stuff you can enter.

Ich gehe aus dem Haus.

However, it is not quite so obvious why it would be used for countries and cities. I think in German those are just considered "enterable" and that's all there is to it.

Ich komme aus Berlin.

And then there is the material use.

Der Tisch ist aus Holz.

Using "von" here would be more logical I suppose since the table is made from a part of the matter that is wood. I guess German sees it as more of an emergence. Just like plants that grow "out of the soil". A wooden table has been "scooped" out of the matter wood. This is just my personal theory but I doubt that there is a better explanation. Use of prepositions is really random sometimes and maybe people just liked "aus" better.

von

In a local sense, "von" denotes an origin that you cannot enter. The best example are persons

Ich komme von meinem Bruder.

but there are more

Ich komme von der Reise.

This "not enterable" idea works fairly well but you will always find examples that do not fit the simple pattern. Best example are brand names.

Ich komme von Aldi.

Aldi is a supermarket and so of course it is "enterable", yet, there are several Aldi stores so the actual venue with its door is not what matters. What matters is the chain. As soon as you specify a certain market, you'd use "aus" again.

Ich komme aus dem Aldi (the one right next to the gas station)

So as a rule of thumb... "aus" is used to indicate origins that you can enter, that are a material and that are human made geographical entities, "von" is used for origins which cannot be entered ... like people.
And then there are 1000 exceptions you'll just have to learn.

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  • 2
    actually, as @Robert noted, "von" used to be used for material use. (damn that's many uses) – Vogel612 Feb 3 '14 at 9:22
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    @Emanuel I think I have found another exception to your rule in addition to "Aldi." Technically you can "enter" "in the back," but you don't hear anyone saying "aus hinten." It's always von. Am I looking at this correctly? – Dustin Feb 4 '14 at 18:36
  • @Dustin... "hinten" is like "links" and "rechts" and all the others and has no door. In German you always come "von" those locations. And you are just there "Ich bin links/hinten/vorne..." English is different in that it uses different word combinations sometimes (like "in the back") and different prepositions but "from the left/right, from behind, from the front, from above" are quite similar to how it is done in German. So... just because it is "in" in English doesn't mean that it'll be "in" in German. – Emanuel Feb 4 '14 at 22:12
  • thoughtco.com/aus-versus-von-1444440 ... helps a bit too – Martin Vseticka Apr 25 '17 at 5:11
  • The preposition "aus" is sometimes translated as "procedente" in Spanish, which is a word that can mean "originating from." Knowing that, its use with cities and countries seems rather fitting. – Lisa May 17 at 21:38
4

Try thinking of these sentences as shortened forms; note how there is no proper verb!

  • Du hast ein Herz aus Gold!

    Read this as

    Du hast ein Herz, das aus Gold gemacht ist!

    That makes sense. If you say instead,

    Du hast ein Herz, das von Gold gemacht ist!

    you are saying that person named Gold crafted said heart.

  • Fenster sind nicht aus Metall.

    Reading

    Fenster sind nicht aus/von Metall gemacht.

    has a similar effect.

So, if you encounter such a sentence, pick a strong verb that describes the intended meaning best and look up (e.g. in Duden) the preposition that goes with that verb.

Advice for learning: don't try to learn all uses of prepositions by heart. Instead, always learn the proper prepositions along with the verbs.

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3

Ich fürchte, Du wirst die Präpositionen auswendig lernen müssen...

Zu Deinen Beispielen: "aus" verwendet man, um zu sagen, woraus etwas gemacht ist: der Tisch ist aus Holz, das Fenster ist aus Glas. "von" klingt in dem Zusammenhang alt: ein Tuch von feinstem Stoffe, ein Haus von Stein.

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2

"Von" is used in front of adverbs, as well as to manifest starting point and point of arrival. When you want to indicate origin, referring to the place of origin, "aus" is used, except in front of adverbs, and also to express that it comes from a certain building or means of transport.

E.g.

Er ist von Berlin nach München gefahren.
Er ist Amerikaner. Er kommt aus Amerika.
Von hier bis nach Hause.
Habe von meiner Oma ein Geschenk bekommen.
Wir sind von Freitag bis Samstag im Urlaub.
Der Eiffelturm ist aus Metall (Stahl) gebaut.
Wir kommen von unserer Oma.
Jetzt kommt der erste Passagier aus dem Flugzeug.
Ich komme von der Arbeit.
Im komme aus dem Haus heraus.
Von wem kommst du?
Er kommt vom Arbeiten.
Du bist schon wieder krank. Das kommt vom vielen Rauchen.

vom = von+dem

source: https://aleman.org/ejercicios/preposiciones/aus-von/

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1

aus is used mostly when you refer something coming from an specific place, a place that is "closed" like a country or your own experience.

Aus meiner personlichen Erfahrung kann ich nur sagen, dass...

Ich komme aus den USA.

Von is used if the place from where you come from is important and has more relevance than the place you are. Let's say that your mother asks you where you were all morning:

Wo warst du?

Ich komme von der Schule

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  • I don't doubt that what you've said is true, but can you cite a source for this information? – Lisa May 11 at 5:43
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In Engllish a lot of prepositions have five or ten different uses, sometimes even more. In German "aus" and "von" are very frequently used prepositions and I am sure that each one has more than ten different uses. You should try to use more then one online dictionary and also online grammars where "aus" and "von" are reasonably presented.

The proper use of prepositions is in any language one of the most complicated grammar points and one can say that grammars can't cope with this problem because it would fill a separate book. And dictionaries can't cope with this problem either, they as well would need a separate dictionary.

Have a look at Collins German-English

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/german-english/aus

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1

It looks as if you are already using some sort of method to figure out how language is used. In fact the use of good dictionaries is probably the best thing to start with, but let me mention some other ways language can be examined. What I am referring to, specifically, is the linguistic term "collocations" and the many databases out there that help one identify and study them. Granted, each language has its own patterns and those that have been identified can help a language learner immensely. For example, knowing that German one-syllable words ending in the letter "z" tend to be masculine is rather helpful. Short of that, what we have are random collocations that, short of massive exposure to the language, will simply have to be memorized. On that note, I'd like to point out some very helpful collocation databases you may or may not already be aware of. I will use the prepositions you've asked about in your post as examples.

The first I want to mention is the one I tend to go to first when trying to decide which combination of words may be more common (or whether or not a certain combination can even be found on the web). It is the Google Ngram Viewer. Most are probably already aware of it, but if not, here's what it can show us for "ein Herz aus Gold" vs. "ein Herz von Gold":

Keep in mind that the Google Ngram is limited to searches of four words or less, but if you take time to examine it, it is actually a pretty versatile tool for language study. Note that this example supports what tofro mentioned — that "ein Herz von Gold" would have been perfectly acceptable 150 years ago.

If the Google Ngram doesn't help me and/or I need to do a search of more than four words, I then just do a regular Google search with quotation marks. The number of pages that are returned for each gives me some sense of how frequently each combination of words is used (if at all). Please be aware that just because a combination of words doesn't show up in a Google search does not mean that the phrase is not used or doesn't sound perfectly natural. A random search of some phrases in your own native tongue will be evidence enough of that. Still, this method can be helpful. Again, I'll use the two prepositions you have inquired about as an example:

Also, if such a search still makes me curious, I'll choose a newspaper I respect for its quality of writing (e.g., Der Spiegel) and filter with that or apply a Google Book filter. If I choose to do a Book filter, I look at the names of the authors to try to guess whether or not the book was written in its native language or translated from another. For example, if I were looking up a German phrase, I would want to see lots of books pop up in the results with authors whose names looked German. If I don't see that, it leaves me with suspicions about how natural or common a certain word or phrase may be.

I could also mention the Wortschatz-Portal, which is mentioned in this German Stack Exchange discussion. Though it is extremely interesting, I am unaware of how it could specifically answer your question. If someone disagrees, please feel free to correct me!

Obviously, I have not directly answered your question about what the difference between these two words are. I have chosen not to do so because I don't feel as if I can add to the resources referenced or to what has already been mentioned. However, your post made me think that you (and others) may benefit, both with this specific example and others you may have in the future, from what I've added to this discussion thread. So I hope it helps in some way.

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found this explanation of the difference along with more reasoning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dh09-SEajw - simpler explanation of the difference

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4zpvnuV7wE - more complex but more detailed differences

hope this reduces the confusion a bit

Cheers VJ

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    Welcome to stackexchange. Simple links don't help a lot. Can you sum up what's in these videos? That way the answer is still valuable even if these videos get removed. – Robert Aug 1 '16 at 21:25
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Aus literally translates into "out of." It is used to describe coming from an origin that is either enclosed, or has boundaries.

Aus dem Haus. Out of the house. Aus Deutschland. Out of Germany.

Von is translated as "from," and refers to coming from a general area or direction.

Weit von hier. Far from here. Vom Norden. From the north.

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You may have to explain that even if your plane arrived from Paris your base or origin is in London. "Ich kam aus Paris, aber ich bin von London" seems to be correct. If so, the movement is associated to "aus" and the fixed point to"von".

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  • It should be "Ich bin aus London". "Ich kam aus Paris" is also weird. Better would be "Ich bin von Paris aus hier hingeflogen/hergekommen" – fifaltra Feb 22 '15 at 23:55
  • actually, I'd consider it the other way around in your example - Ich bin aus London - You are a Londoner (question: Wo kommst du her?). Ich komme von Paris/Ich komme gerade aus/von Paris - You just arrived from Paris. Mostly for answering the corresponding question (Von wo kommst du?), which generally does not ask for your home. – Chieron Aug 2 '16 at 7:54

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