I've come across the following exchange:

"Seit wann bauen Sie diese Schule?"
"Wir bauen seit einem Jahr an dieser Schule."

I understand the use of the preposition an + the dative here, but my question is whether it is necessary to phrase the answer in this way. Would this be an equally acceptable answer? And if not, why?

"Wir bauen diese Schule seit einem Jahr."

  • I think the difference is a contrast in telicity, a concept which I only learned recently. Bauen usually implies a finished action, while bauen an doesn't. At least it feels like that for me... so here, while not really wrong, the sentence without an sounds a bit more unnatural (and erbauen would be even stronger). Jun 28, 2017 at 13:07
  • Is that right though? By that logic, if I understand you correctly (and do please correct me if I don't) the sentence "Sie bauen ein Haus" would mean that the house is already built. That doesn't seem quite right to me.
    – Theo
    Jun 29, 2017 at 8:43
  • It's only speculation, so I might have misunderstood the concept, but: it's not that they have built it, but that the sentence means they also (plan to) finish the action of building. In contrast to "sie streicheln einen Hund" (they pet a dog), which does not have an intrinsic notion of being finished with it, like, in my feeling, "sie bauen an einem Haus", doesn't have a natural end -- you can do that repeatedly, and for varying times. Jun 29, 2017 at 10:32
  • I only know of telicity because in Finnish, it is a relevant distinction, since there the case of direct objects depend on it (but I don't know Finnish good enough yet, hence my doubts). I've never heard about it having a distinctive meaning in German, though. Jun 29, 2017 at 10:34
  • If anbauen is a separable verb, then why does an not come at the end of the sentence?
    – riqitang
    Jun 29, 2017 at 13:57

5 Answers 5


Both expressions generally mean the same, with a slight difference:

Wir bauen diese Schule seit einem Jahr clearly states that the school was built from the ground up, that is, there was nothing there before.

Wir bauen seit einem Jahr an dieser Schule can mean the very same, but it could also mean general construction work at an already existing building, like an expansion or a major refurbishment.

  • 2
    tofro captures one important difference. Also, Wir bauen seit einem Jahr an dieser Schule may also be used to express some angry feelings about this situation. Jun 28, 2017 at 11:02
  • But it feels like the question "Seit wann bauen Sie diese Schule?" is not leaving much room for interpretation and states its a new building.
    – Zibelas
    Jun 28, 2017 at 11:40
  • @Zibelas Is it? It is a question, after all. How should the guy that needs to ask when they started construction work be able to state whether the building was new or old by then? I'm nit-picking, but you're as well ;)
    – tofro
    Jun 28, 2017 at 13:02
  • 1
    @tofro How about "Wann haben die Bauarbeiten begonnen?". And the same as your answer, "an" in the question can mean as well both things but if its missing in the question it feels more like it's a new building.
    – Zibelas
    Jun 28, 2017 at 13:35
  • 1
    @Omegacron The difference would be in English roughly between "They built the school in one year" and "There were construction works at the school for one year".
    – tofro
    Jun 29, 2017 at 8:00

The answer

"Wir bauen diese Schule seit einem Jahr."

is completely correct and would be accepted by any native speaker. I'm currently thinking, if there are any subtle differences between both answers, but can't find any.

  • 1
    I can't help but feel that "Wir bauen diese Schule seit einem Jahr" is more correct than the first one, in response to the particular question as it is phrased, but I don't know if that instinct is correct. The use of the phrase "an dieser Schule" seems to me to imply that they've also been building elsewhere, whereas the second answer more directly and explicitly answers the question. Maybe that's all it is.
    – Theo
    Jun 28, 2017 at 8:32
  • 2
    @TheoP. It is just a switch in focus. "Wir bauen diese Schule seit einem Jahr." Sets the focus to school. There may be a different company at the beginning and later on they switched. The whole time will be counted. While "Wir bauen seit einem Jahr an dieser Schule" focus on the one who is talking. The school may at construction for more than just a year, but only the ones which refer to "wir" will count. However, most people in Germany doesn't care for the difference. ;P Jun 28, 2017 at 10:18

We usually say »diese Schule« if the school is already built:

Siehst du diese Schule?
Wir schließen diese Schule.
Diese Schule wird demnächst modernisiert.


Wir bauen diese Schule seit einem Jahr.

sounds a bit contradictory and would be clean only in a slightly changed shape like

Wir bauen diese Schule seit einem Jahr um.

which of course has another meaning.

So the best choice for your case is:

»Seit wann bauen Sie an dieser Schule?«

»Wir bauen seit einem Jahr an dieser Schule.«


I'm a native speaker; I would understand it, but it sounds a little off. –

Bauen an sets the focus on the specific works which are done to complete the school. Therefore, if you ask about the time it took to execute those tasks, this is the right version.

Wir bauen an dieser Schule seit einem Jahr.

Implies that the person speaking is directly involved as a construction worker, architect, etc. since a year. The school was maybe there before she/he started to work on it.

Bauen without preposition comes with a broader perspective which includes the overall process and the result.

Wir bauen eine Schule.

If this version is used it implies, that a school is being built from scratch (as already pointed out by @tofro) and the person speaking is maybe just remotely involved in the actual construction process.


"Seit wann bauen Sie diese Schule?"

"Wir bauen seit einem Jahr an dieser Schule."

The answer does not match to the question. The questions asks about the complete creation of a new school that has not been exists before whearat the answer points out that the school already exists before and is not created new.

So there are two cases of possible - and differnt - conversations:

Correct case 1

"Seit wann bauen Sie diese Schule?"

"Wir bauen seit einem Jahr diese Schule."

The conversation belongs to the creation process of a new school that has not been exists before.

Correct case 2

"Seit wann bauen Sie an dieser Schule?"

"Wir bauen seit einem Jahr an dieser Schule."

The conversation belongs not on the creation process of a new school! It belongs to a build process on an School that has already exists before but needs a process of repair or enhancement.

Intelligent and creative answering / hearing

In the optimization of conversations its sometime used to repeat the question in the answer itself by 100%, to let the person who asks know that you fully understand the question, highlight the core of the question with your words, affirm clearness and pretent a sentence that can be cited in publishments (like newspaper/literature) to third persons.

Where is the intelligent hearing? The difference between the question and the answer might be a correction of the question itself. Whearat the question asks about the creation of a new school does the answer points out that the school is not created new and has already exists in the past and only an enhancement or repair process is in work.

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