Duden provides the folowing definition of auf:

zur Angabe der Richtung; bezieht sich auf eine Stelle, Oberfläche, auf einen Erstreckungsbereich, einen Zielpunkt o. Ä., bezeichnet den Gang zu einem/in einen Raum, zu einem/in ein Gebäude; gibt die Richtung in einem Seins-, Tätigkeitsbereich o. Ä. an

Why, then, is the following sentence an example of an rather than auf?

an eine andere Dienststelle versetzt werden

It seems like auf would fit the example better?

  • What is your source for this example? In Duden online I can't find your example. – IQV Mar 27 '19 at 11:40
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    @IQV The example is from the “an” page on Duden but I was wondering why it wasn’t “auf” – Aaron Mar 27 '19 at 13:48

There is no special explanation for this. It is simply used this way.

For Stelle in the meaning of occupation, appointment, job position, etc., but also sometimes for the other meanings like location, it is expressed this way and not using auf.

It is an eine Stelle versetzt werden, and not auf eine Stelle versetzt werden, etc.

In the other meanings (Platz, Ort, i.e. location, position), auf kann be used too, but there is also a third possibility, e.g. zur Stelle sein (to be present).

You'll simply have to learn these things by, er... doing.

  • Both an and auf are possible for the occupation context. This seems to depend on the region, though. – Janka Mar 27 '19 at 12:47
  • Is there a reason the definition of “auf” includes “auf eine Stelle”? Is it used differently? – Aaron Mar 27 '19 at 16:37
  • Auf eine Stelle is usually a different meaning of Stelle, i.e. location, position. But, as others said, this may differ from region to region and probably also from other things (subculture, etc.). – Rudy Velthuis Mar 27 '19 at 16:43
  • In other words: Stelle has many different but somehow related meanings. Sometimes, "an" sounds more appropriate, sometimes other prepositions (auf, zu, in) are "better". I personally find "Sie ist auf eine andere Dienststelle versetzt" sound weird. Others may find it natural. But note that it is anstelle von (in lieu, instead), and not aufstelle von. – Rudy Velthuis Mar 27 '19 at 16:52
  • Warum das so oder so ist, das steht an anderer Stelle <- that does really never take auf; vice versa auf einem anderen Blatt. It's possible, in my humble opinion, that the initial syllable of "an-der-er" facilitates use of the prep. an, but Stelle, viz aufstellen, tends to auf instead!? auf is illogical, strictly speaking, because we work an etwas. Even, the multi-way mismatch between En. on, up, and Ger. an, auf ... shows that it's not strict nor easy, historically. – vectory Mar 27 '19 at 17:29

I see no pattern. If there is one at all, it's about avoiding ambiguity.

Sie wurde an die Pestalozzischule versetzt.

This is clearly about the occupation, because talking about putting a person next a building makes little sense.

Sie wurde auf die Pestalozzischule versetzt.

Same, we aren't talking about putting someone on the roof. It must be about the occupation.

Sie wurde in die Pestalozzischule versetzt.

This may be about the occupation, but it may also mean she's put into the school in her mind, because versetzen may also mean consider, dream:

Versetz dich doch mal in ihre Lage!

  • Would “an” and “auf” be synonymous in this context? Is there a reason you would opt for one over the other? – Aaron Mar 27 '19 at 17:07
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    I live at the border between lower and upper German and I see no difference. Casually I would use auf and I think people further north agree. For written texts I would use an, because that sounds upper German and thus "more correct". – Janka Mar 27 '19 at 17:27

Im also learning german. Might be wrong but.. "An" logically means position of being next to things (sticked). You stand next to kiosk (little shop), you stand next to "schalter" (which is window that you are provided with service). But it gets little bit weird when its not physical position but rather imaginary one. Its like putting chess knights next to box or "office" another example is that anstellen means employ and angestellt means employed and therefore Angestellter means cleric or employee. Try to imagine that you are putting that employee to next to office. Also i think they are lot of words that require specific preposition like auf, an or so, even though there is no exact reason

  • an means many different things in different contexts. Certainly, next to is frequently neben. One could think it relates to an (due to the n), but that's a different topic. You basically have an a and a kind of morphemic inflection n that escapes analysis to a large degree. Compare Angabe, Anfang, Antrag or whatever. – vectory Mar 27 '19 at 17:33

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