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I already asked about the translation of the word "about", but I am still having a question which I also do not find the answer on the god "Google", but I really want to know what is the difference between "um", "von" and "über", those three sometimes can be used on the same case, but is there a difference or even a hint to understand the difference between those three ways. I know that "über" can be "on", I am talking about the translation in a sense of translation from the word from the German "about"

PS: I am sorry if this looks repetitive, tell me if yes

  • I am sorry, it should be 'About' – Schilive Mar 9 '19 at 6:45
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    You just cannot translate a preposition in isolation. – Carsten S Mar 9 '19 at 6:48
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    @Schilive That means, you need to look at the context. Certain verbs or phrases require certain prepositions. – Arsak Mar 9 '19 at 8:18
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    Short answer: the difference is in the association of certain prepositions with certain verbs and nouns. You cannot learn a language word by word. You have to learn (= get used to) entire expressions consisting of multiple words. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 9 '19 at 14:42
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    PS: Using a word to word approach, me, as a German, would speak English like: I white this not. There must I overlay. (Ich weiß das nicht. Da muss ich überlegen.) – Christian Geiselmann Mar 9 '19 at 14:44
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As pointed out in the comments, certain verbs require certain prepositions and you can not translate it without context.

Comparing English and German, a lot of times prepositions actually match

(to) talk about
über etwas sprechen

(to) come from somewhere
von irgendwo herkommen

(to) major in physics
seinen Abschluss in Physik machen

Constructing sentences with the phrases above feels quite natural to either native speaker. However, some constructions are different.

(to) be dependend on
von etwas abhängig sein

Now you are confused why the Germans use von instead auf auf. But bear in mind, that the German is just as confused as you, why the English language requires on and not from. Long story short, it's highly dependend on the context and sometimes another language is just fundamentally different than your native one.

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Echoing the thoughts of the other users - a lot of these rules simply need to be memorized, i.e. "auswendig gelernt." Like in English (or most languages for that matter), some phrases frequently crop up in everyday language and are learned through exposure rather than applying a rule.

Here are a couple of examples that may come up more often:

Es handelt sich um...

It is about... (This can describe a plot of a book/show, but can also describe an issue or principle.)

Wir reden über [ein Thema].

We talk about [a theme].

If I'm being honest, I can't think of any examples wherein "von" used in place of "about." At least not off the top of my head - the closest I can think of is in place of "of," where "of" is similar to "about" in context.

So rather than explaining why this is or isn't the case, here are some tips for knowing when to apply which one:

  1. Look up prepositions when you use the verb. Linguee and Leo are generally pretty decent for this in my opinion.
  2. Try to focus on phrases you use very often.
  3. Pick up on the prepositions native speakers use when they express themselves, as well as the context. If they use the same phrase with different prepositions depending on the context, ask about the difference.

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