Updated: Aug 1
im is the abbreviation for in dem – in the. It is used for masculine and neuter nouns together with the dative case. The feminine equivalent would be in die, which has no short form. The plural would be in den.
im is often used to specify a place (Wo?/Where?). For example: Robert ist im Büro - Robert is in the office. Der Hund ist noch im Haus. – The dog is still in the house.
ins is the abbreviation for in das – into the. It is used for neuter nouns together with the accusative case. The feminine equivalent would be in die, which has no short form. The masculine equivalent would be in den and also has no short form. The plural would be in die - into the.
ins is used with verbs of movement to specify a destination (Wohin?/Where ... to?). For example: Robert geht ins Büro. Robert is going into the office. Der Hund rennt ins Haus. – The dog is running into the house.
There are different types of prepositions in German: Prepositions of place, time, manner and reason /purpose.
Example with im (short for in dem): Er ist im Supermarkt. / Er ist im Büro. He is in the supermarket / He is in the office.
in is a preposition of place.
Example: Er war in Deutschland. He was in Germany.
in can be used in both the accusative and the dative case; it is a "two-way preposition". Since it is a two-way preposition, the main thing is to distinguish between both cases to determine whether you mean a "movement" (for accusative) or a "place" (for dative).
So, if you are talking about a movement or a change of place, you should use accusative. In this case, use in die/in den/ins = into the. This case is naturally used with into in English since it implies a movement.
If you are talking about a place or a fixed position, you should use dative and in this case use in der/im/im = in the.
When is "in <country name>" and when is "im <country name>" used?
You are undoubtedly already aware that "in" and "im" combined with country names do not follow any recognisable grammatical rule. For example, one says "in Deutschland", "in Russland", "in Somalia", but also "im Irak", "im Sudan", "im Kongo".
How does this happen?
It depends on which article the country has. The vast majority of states in the world have no article (that is the short story*). A few are feminine (die Schweiz), masculine (der Kongo) or are used with plural (die USA).
If you want to say you are someone is in the country, you use dative. If a state has an article, it is declined accordingly: in Deutschland (no article), in der Schweiz (feminine), im Kongo (masculine), in den USA (plural).
der Tschad → im Tschad (in Chad)
die Mongolei → in der Mongolei (Mongolia)
die Niederlande (pl) → in den Niederlanden (the Netherlands)
Kanada (no article) → in Kanada (in Canada)
das schöne Kanada → im schönen Kanada (in beautiful Canada)
*It is actually not true that in German, most countries have no articles. They all do have one: das. However, it is unceremoniously skipped. das can reappear when adjectives for the county are used or in sentences such as "Das Deutschland meiner Kindheit existiert nicht mehr. - The Germany of my childhood no longer exists."
In English, only countries and regions using plural have an article: the USA, the Faroe Islands, the Bahamas, or the United Arab Emirates.
Accusative is used when it is about moving into a state. Then it means in den Kongo (masculine), in die Mongolei (feminine), in das (ins) schöne Kanada (for countries without article you also say nach: nach Kanada) or in die Niederlande (plural).
Incidentally, this is not only used for state names but also regions and other areas. For example, im Landkreis (county/district), im Saarland (Saarland), in den Alpen (the Alps).
The most commonly used verbs followed by the preposition in are:
einbauen in - to build in / incorporate into / install in
sich verlieben in - to fall in love with
versinken in - to sink into / submerge in
zerteilen in - to divide into / disolve into
What are the different types of prepositions?
Depending on their meaning in the sentence, we distinguish different types of prepositions: There are local (place), temporal (time), modal (way), causal (reason/purpose) and neutral prepositions. Some preposition can belong to several types.
lokal (Wo?/Wohin?) - an, auf, hinter, in, neben, vor, zu
→ local (Where?/Where?) - at, on, behind, in, next to, in front of, to
temporal (Wann?) - an, bis, gegen, in, nach, seit, um, von, vor
→ temporal (when?) - on, to, against, in, after, since, around, from, before
modal (How?) - with, without, against
→ modal (Wie?) - mit, ohne, gegen
kausal (Warum?/Weshalb?) - anlässlich, aufgrund, bezüglich, dank, gemäß, infolge, laut, mangels, trotz, ungeachtet, wegen, zwecks
→ causal (Why?/Wherefore?) - on the occasion of, due to, concerning, thanks to, according to, as a result of, according to, for lack of, in spite of, in spite of, because of, for the purpose of
For each preposition, a certain case is required: The corresponding word (noun, pronoun, article) must be used in genitive, dative or accusative.
After some local prepositions, we have to differentiate whether it is a place (dative) or a movement (accusative). The following overview with example sentences tells you which prepositions require which case.
German prepositions in the accusative
When you come across these German prepositions, you can be sure that the following nouns and pronouns are always in the accusative case. As long as you memorise the following, you'll be sure to have your German pronouns in the accusative (German can be quite easy for a change).
bis - until
durch - through
für - for
ohne - without
gegen - against
um (herum, zu einer bestimmten Zeit, für) - around (around, at a certain time, for)
entlang - along
German prepositions in the dative case
All the words listed below hint that the noun or pronoun occurs in the dative case.
aus - from
außer - except
gegenüber - opposite
bei - at
mit - with
nach - to
seit (since, for – wird nur für zeitliche oder zeitliche Aussagen verwendet) - since (since, for - used only for temporal or chronological statements)
zu - to
von - from
German prepositions in the genitive case
I refer both to German prepositions in the genitive case and to the genitive itself as the "dying case", since many native German speakers (when speaking informally or in everyday conversation) use the dative instead.
Although easy to understand, this is technically incorrect. Especially when writing letters or speaking in more formal contexts (job interviews and the like), you should use the correct spelling (i.e. the genitive) for the following prepositions.
anstatt ← manchmal auch einfach „statt“ - instead of
während - during
trotz - despite
wegen - because of
außerhalb - outside
innerhalb - inside
oberhalb - above
unterhalb - below
diesseits (auf dieser Seite) - this side (on this side of)
jenseits (auf der anderen Seite) - beyond (on the other side of)
beiderseits - on both sides
Note: While you can use the dative informally when you use prepositions like "während" or "anstatt", the prepositions außerhalb, innerhalb, oberhalb, unterhalb must be used with the genitive.
German would not be German if there were no exceptional cases for everything. The same applies to German prepositions. You may sigh in frustration now, but I assure you that you can remember these things easily!
Pronouns and nouns after the words listed below will either be in the dative or accusative case. However, how do you know which is used?
It is pretty simple: as soon as movement is involved (especially when talking about a specific place), the preposition is in the accusative. When it is not a motion, or the motion does not have a specific destination or place it is going to, or you are talking about a place, you use the dative.
You can distinguish the two by asking: In case of dative, ask, "wo?" (where?). In case of accusative, ask, "wohin?" (where ... to?)
Wo bist du? In Frankreich.
Wohin gehst du? Nach Alaska.
Where are you? In France.
Where are you going to? To Alaska.
Wo sind Sie? Im Tschad.
Wohin gehen Sie? Ins schöne Kanada.
Where are you? In Chad.
Where are you going to? To beautiful Canada.