Firstly, I would like to give some background info. My German teacher has explained to us (the class) when to use Dativ and Akkusativ with Wechselpräpositionen. The rule roughly goes like this: If an action is not yet finished then one must use Akkusativ, and Dativ otherwise.

However we encountered these two (unrelated) sentences while completing exercises:

  • Kannst du die Hausschuhe unter das Bett stellen? (notice Akkusative in Bold)
  • Ja, hier schon. Aber in unserer Wohnung können wir diese Kommode nicht zwischen die Fenster stellen. (first one Dativ, and then the next one is Akkusativ, I think?)

This does not seem to fit the rule that the teacher explained. Could you help me out to understand why in the second sentence is the first bold part in Dativ and not Akkusativ? Maybe there was a mistake?

Danke für Ihren Hilfe!

2 Answers 2


This is definitely not the correct rule. The complement of the preposition is dative if it is about a position, a place. The complement is accusative if the meaning is a path which ends in that position. The whole literature agrees on that.

(Note that the rule is only valid for prepositions that switch between dat/acc; it is not a rule about "the meaning of the cases", because there are path prepositions with dative, like nach, but these don't switch).


Your teacher explained it wrong.

Throughout all of German, not limited to the nine Wechselpräpositionen, what you have to tell apart is location vs direction.

Have you noticed? Nowhere it says something about whether the action is finished or not. Consider the following example:

Auf dem Marktplatz zeigt ein Wegweiser auf den Brunnen.

The signpost points to the standpost. It does so forever. Day and night. No action at all.

Yet one auf employs dative case and one auf employs accusative case. That is because the first auf adverbial tells a location and the second auf adverbial tells a direction.

Knowing this, you can easily see why you can replace the second auf(+Akk) with zu(+Dat) but not the first auf(+Dat):

Auf dem Marktplatz zeigt ein Wegweiser zum Brunnen.

Again, the leading auf adverbial tells a location and the zu adverbial tells a direction. Zu adverbials always take dative and always tell a direction. You can't replace the first auf adverbial that way because it tells a location. Not a direction.

Further, the direction given must be the target. Compare:

Der Stürmer schießt den Ball ins Tor.

Der Stürmer schießt den Ball am Tor vorbei.

The latter has the goal as a location rather than a direction because the ball doesn't end up in the goal.

And finally, locational adverbials and directional adverbials are placed at a different sides of the noun accusative object in the default word order:

Der Junge schießt auf dem Spielplatz den Ball in den Sandkasten.

  • "because the ball doesn't end up in the goal" - this reasoning sounds questionable to me. It doesn't matter where the ball ends up (Vielleicht bleibt er am Tor liegen?); rather than that, "vorbei" kind of describes the ball's trajectory, and it does so relative to a fixed location. Sep 14, 2023 at 0:04
  • "the direction given must be the target" - I dispute this claim. In "Der Ball fliegt über die Hecke und dann hinter das Haus.", neither the hedge nor the house are the target, they are just on or near the path to the actual target. Sep 14, 2023 at 0:07
  • The example is carefully chosen. No one would dispute that the whole expression am Tor vorbei is indeed a direction. That is by the way the reason why it is placed right of the noun accusative object. However, the goal itself is not the target of this direction, hence it is given at a location.
    – Janka
    Sep 14, 2023 at 11:58

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