What is the correct preposition to use in the following structure:

Das Problem liegt in / an / bei / mit X

Das Problem liegt darin / daran / dabei / damit, dass X...

  • 1
    For the first sentence I can imagine different prepositions depending on the context. I suggest to edit your question and add more context or examples for X in German or English.
    – Bodo
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 17:37
  • @Bodo, this is a general question not related to a specific situation. There is nothing to edit. Please, see a proper answer below. Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 12:31
  • My comment was not intended as an answer but a comment asking for clarification. Of course it would be possible to add examples of what you want to say. Or even adding the information that you don't know in which context you want to use this phrase or that you want to know all possible contexts anyone can think of. IMHO there are even other situations/meanings not covered by Hubert Schölnast's answer.
    – Bodo
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 19:39

1 Answer 1


It depends.

It could be in:

Tom: Wir haben ein Problem. (We have a problem.)
Angelica: Was für ein Problem? (What kind of problem?)
Tom: Das Problem liegt in der großen Truhe. (The problem lies in the big chest.)
Angelika öffnet die Truhe und findet darin die Leiche von Dr. Steiner. (Angelica opens the chest and finds the body of Dr. Steiner inside.)

Similar examples can be constructed for every local preposition (auf, unter, über, hinter, außerhalb von, ...) as long as the problem can have a spatial location.

It could be an:

Willst du damit sagen, es liegt an mir? Glaubst du wirklich, das Problem liegt an mir? Wer hat denn unser ganzes Geld ausgegeben? Wer hat das Auto zu Schrott gefahren? War ich das etwa? Nein, das warst alles du! Das Problem liegt nicht an mir. Es liegt ganz allein nur an dir!

Are you saying it's because of me? Do you really think the problem is about me? Who spent all our money? Who totaled the car? Was it me? No, it was all you! The problem is not about me. It's all because of you!

It also could be bei. In the example using an you can replace any bold an with bei and you also get perfectly correct sentences that mean exactly the same.

But mit is a wrong preposition for problems and the verb liegen.

But still something like this can happen:

Das Problem liegt mit an der Drosselklappe, aber die eigentliche Ursache sind die Zündkerzen.
The problem is also with the throttle, but the real cause is the spark plugs.

But here the word mit is not a preposition. The preposition is the next word: an, and we discussed an in the section before.

The word mit is here an adverb. You often find mit as prefix of other German words: Mitarbeiter = co-worker (employee), Mitbewohner = co-resident (roommate), Mitfahrer = co-driver (passenger) and when ever it is used it describes something that happens with (in the sense of: in addition to) something else. And when mit is used as standalone adverb, it has the same meaning. So, in this example, the word mit expresses, that the throttle is an additional problem. The word mit in this construction is not a preposition that belongs to »Problem liegt« in the same way as the words in, an and bei in the examples above.

  • 1
    Thank you for taking your time to write such an elaborate answer! It helped me soooooo much in lerning German. I saw "Problem liegt" with different prepositions before and found it consufing. Now I see the logic! Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 12:29
  • "Das Problem liegt in der großen Truhe." is actually a linguistic joke. Usually das Problem liegt in is used with a cause, not a location: "Das Problem liegt in deiner Faulheit." (The Problem is that you are lazy.) When someone says "Das Problem liegt in der Truhe", the expectation is that the chest or freezer is the problem, not that it is something lying inside it.
    – user52445
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 19:59

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