I know both "von" and "in" are dative (in can also be accusative) prepositions and when there is an article either masculine or neutral, they are declined to "vom" and "im". Normally, when I speak German I say "von dem" and "in dem" without realizing it.

Is this declination grammatically mandatory? Or is it correct when someone like me says "von dem" or "in dem"?

  • They are not declined. They immerse the following article. Note that declination would result in ‘*vom einem Bild’ or other incorrect structures.
    – Jan
    Dec 24 '15 at 17:22

It is not a declension of von or in. It is a contraction and fusion of the preposition and the article together into a single word. Thus, the entire thing has nothing to do with grammar.

It is a feature more present in spoken and even more in colloquial language, where often other prepostions fuse in the following articles, too. To give just a very small number of examples:

  • in’n from in + den

  • abm from ab + dem

  • unters from unter + das

These contractions are never mandatory, it is always possible to use the long form, e.g. to give emphasis. It is not possible to use them when dealing with relative pronouns, e.g:

Das Lied, von dem ich gehört hab.

However, while never being mandatory, the forms im and vom are so common that they are even considered acceptable/encouraged in formal written language. So it would be better style to use them. In fact, especially im and vom are so common that not using them is often identified as an especially strong from of emphasis.

A: Ich mag es, wenn es in dem Winter kalt ist.
B: In welchem Winter?

(Example inspired by Carsten S in a comment. It is so unusual that one feels prompted to ask which winter since it is so close to in diesem Winter.)

We can distinguish between a declension and a contraction by the following thought experiment: Consider it to be a declension. Then, these forms should also turn up in some way when switching from a definite article to an indefinite one. However it is:

Ich habe im Park eine hübsche Blume gesehen.

Ich habe in einem Park eine hübsche Blume gesehen.

  • 2
    Wenn Ich „in dem Winter ist es kalt“ hörte, würde ich fragen, in welchem.
    – Carsten S
    Dec 24 '15 at 20:14
  • @CarstenS Was den Punkt »Betonung« meines Erachtens hervorhebt ;) Wie gesagt, ist nicht falsch, aber wer es hernimmt, sollte irgendeinen Grund haben, insbesondere bei in und von.
    – Jan
    Dec 24 '15 at 23:09
  • Dies ist die beste Antwort bisher. Ich würde (wie Carsten) ergänzen, daß die Verwendung der Langform anstelle der Kontraktion (am/im/vom/beim) leicht demonstrativ (deiktisch) klingt, wohl weil die Kontraktion fast immer verwendet wird, so daß die Langform so klingt, als wolle man auf etwas bestimmtes zeigen. Also klingt in dem Winter fast schon wie in diesem Winter, während im Winter, im Sommer das gleiche ist wie winters, sommers.
    – Lumi
    Dec 25 '15 at 11:05

It is correct in the sense that people will readily understand you, and are unlikely to correct you. However, in many constructions this will immediately mark you as a non-native speaker. In present-day usage, the contraction is so much more common than the theoretically 'normal' form that the full form now seems unusual:

Im letzten Spiegel wurde berichtet...


In dem letzten Spiegel wurde berichtet...

(slightly unusual)

  • 2
    FWIW, I have had Germans correct me when I've used the full form ;)
    – Tim
    Dec 24 '15 at 7:34
  • 4
    Also - it might be worth mentioning that the full form is compulsory in the case of relative pronouns. E.g. "Das ist der Park, in dem ich oft spazieren gehe."
    – Tim
    Dec 24 '15 at 7:35
  • Interesting what you pointed out. It will mark me as a non-native speaker.
    – Charlie
    Dec 24 '15 at 12:43

It depends on the liking of the person writing :

Ich gehe in dem/ im Park herum.

Ich habe eine Message von dem/ vom Mann erhalten.

Either way its correct. You can contract them or no. It depends on your liking.

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