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I came with a question that compares two sentences:

Und der Teppich liegt hier links, an der Seite.

and another

Und die kleinen Sachen … die legen wir an die Seite.

I want to understand why in the first, we have to use dative while the second we need to use the accusative, since both have "an".

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    It is not the same verb. Please read the sentences once again carefully.
    – RHa
    Jul 19 at 6:05
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In German we sharply distinguish between places and directions. For places we use dative case, for directions accusative case.

Und der Teppich liegt hier links, an der Seite.
And the carpet is here on the left, on the side.

»on the side« is a place, so you have to use dative case in German.

And the little things ... we put them to the side.
And the little things ... we put them to the side.

»to the side« is a direction, so you have to use accusative case in German.


Another point is, that for some situations we not only just use different cases but even different verbs. These pairs are:

directional verb - verb of location

  • legen - liegen
  • stellen - stehen
  • setzen - sitzen
  • hängen - hängen

That hängen also belongs here will become obvious in the following examples.

Here are examples:

  • legen - liegen

    1. Walter legt das Buch auf den Tisch.
    2. Walter legt sich in das Bett.
    3. Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch.
    4. Walter liegt in dem Bett.
  • stellen - stehen

    1. Barbara stellt die Vase auf den Tisch.
    2. Barbara stellt sich vor ihren Mann.
    3. Die Vase steht auf dem Tisch.
    4. Barbara steht vor ihrem Mann.
  • setzen - sitzen

    1. Doris setzt die Puppe auf das Kissen.
    2. Doris setzt sich auf den Stuhl.
    3. Die Puppe sitzt auf dem Kissen.
    4. Doris sitzt auf dem Stuhl.
  • hängen - hängen
    Here the difference will not be visible in Präsens, so I use Präteritum

    1. Thomas hängte das Bild an die Wand.
    2. Das Kleinkind hängte sich mit seinem ganzen Gewicht an die Hand seiner Mutter.
    3. Das Bild hing an der Wand.
    4. Das Kleinkind hing an der Hand seiner Mutter.

The directional verb is shown in 1 and 2. The verb of location in 3 and 4. The sentence with the number 3 is the result of the sentence #1 and #4 is the result of #2.

In sentence #1 the directional verb is used transitive, in #2 recursive. The verb of location is always an intransitive verb, so it must be used intransitive in both, 3 and 4.

Another difference is that the directional verb is inflected regularly (legen - legte - gelegt; hängen - hängte - gehängt) while the verb of location is irregular (liegen - lag - gelegen; hängen - hing - gehangen)

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  • For the stellen and stehen what would it be in english? Jul 19 at 10:16
  • "For places we use dative case, for directions accusative case." Only with two-way prepositions.
    – Carsten S
    Jul 19 at 14:44
  • @JoãoVíctorMelo: The directional verbs have no one-to-one translation in English. Three them can be translated as "to put". (Put the book on the table, put the vase on the table, put the doll on the pillow) only hängen is "to hang" (Thomas hung the picture on the wall.) The verbs of location are: liegen = lie, stehen = stand, sitzen = sit, hängen = hang. Jul 19 at 20:46
  • @CarstenS: At the moment I can't think of any one-way-preposition that violates this rule. Those who need dative case can only be used for places and those who need accusative case can only be used for directions (including temporal and modal equivalents of places and directions, i.e. states and transitions). Jul 19 at 20:50
  • You are probably right. I just wanted to warn that one cannot just make preposition into a two-way preposition, even where it would make sense.
    – Carsten S
    Jul 20 at 9:13
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The answer of Hubert is great! I completly aggree with him.

What usually helps is asking either:

  • where? > Wo ist der Teppich? der Teppich liegt hier links, an der Seite.

  • where "to"? Wohin legen wir die kleinen Sachen? die kleinen Sachen … die legen wir an die Seite.

You can read more on this and do some exercises here: Wecheslpräpositionen

Hope that helps! :)

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  • Welcome to German.SE. Would you say that your "questions to ask yourself" are the core of your linked page? If yes, it is fine. If not - please add the core information regarding this answer from linked page. It is common sense in the SE sites to quote needed information thus visit linked page only for further reading - as the page can move/go offline etc. Thanks. (and some less greetings like your intro and outro - try to read your answer as standalone!) Jul 19 at 8:37

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