Which preposition is the right one and what are the differences in the usage of the following prepositions?

For example: Sich spezialisieren in, auf oder für?

Beispiel: "Diese Organisation hat sich ... Quanten-Forschung spezialisiert".


1) auf

The most common usage. Would most likely be used in your example sentence

Diese Organisation hat sich auf Quanten-Forschung spezialisiert

Simply tells us what you specialize in.

2) in

You might come across this, too. Wiktionary gives an example

Deshalb sei es heutzutage besonders wichtig, dass Sie den Arbeitsmarkt genau beobachten und sich rechtzeitig in gefragten Bereichen spezialisieren, um notwendige Kompetenzen zu erlangen.

Can have the same meaning as auf. But it may also look like you narrow down the subject area and tell us that you specialize in some specific part of it. For example, to specialize in law, without specifying the legal subject, like property law.

3) für

This would convey a completely different meaning, for example

Sie spezialisiert sich für ihre neue Aufgabe.

In this case, für would not point to something you specialize in, but someone/something you do this for (i. e. ihre neue Aufgabe). It doesn't tell us what they specialize in, though.

  • Since the English equivalent is "specialize in", you can probably expect 2) to become slowly more common like so many other anglicisms. – Kilian Foth Aug 19 '19 at 6:17

For a specific topic you only use Spezialisieren with auf. The object must be in accusative.

Diese Organisation hat sich auf Quanten-Forschung spezialisiert

But The Awful Language is right with 2), you can use in when you are discribing the field in which you specialize on a few topics instead of trying to be good in the whole field. Like within programming you specialize on Java and ignore C:

Er spezialisiert sich in der Programmierung auf Java und ignoriert C.

In this case, the object related to the in-part needs to be dative.

Part 3) of Awful's answer - this is grammatically correct, but I never encountered this wording before.

  • thanks - but isn't "für" accusative as well? – J. Doe Aug 15 '19 at 14:07
  • 1
    yes, für would also go with accusative, but doesn't fit spezialisieren ... I slightly re-worded my answer; perhaps you mistook the part after the comma as "in case of" instead of a supplementary information. – Volker Landgraf Aug 15 '19 at 14:09
  • Sollte der Beispielsatz nicht besser lauten: Er spezialisiert sich auf Programmieren in Java und ignoriert C. ? – Martin Peters Aug 16 '19 at 9:03
  • @MartinPeters das wäre wiederum ein Spezialisieren auf ein einzelnes Fach (das "in" dahinter hat nichts mit dem Spezialisieren zu tun sondern kommt vom Programmieren in einer Sprache), in meinem Beispielsatz ging es um das Spezialisieren in einem Bereich (innerhalb des Programmierens). – Volker Landgraf Aug 16 '19 at 9:23

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