https://www.duolingo.com/Jason2302

Why is this 'auf' instead of 'mit'?

Why is the sentence "Sie spielt eine schöne Melodie auf der Flöte," uses auf (which means 'on') rather than mit (with the flute)?

Vielen Dank

5/14/2017, 8:17:03 AM

7 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/AdamKean
  • 25
  • 14
  • 1111

The two other comments have really covered this question. I just want to go into prepositions a bit more broadly here.

Whilst it is true that in a lot of situations there is a direct translation between a German preposition and an English one (like „auf“ to "on" and „mit“ to "with"), please note that in certain contexts, these rules pretty much disappear. What I'm mainly talking about is when prepositions no longer represent physical relations between objects.

In English, we say "What did you get for Christmas?", but when you stop and think about it, why do we say for? This could almost be interpreted as if you know someone called Christmas, or you've omitted the word Father.

The German is „Was hast du zu Weihnachten bekommen?“, and the closest direct translation for zu into English is to.

I really could go on for hours. Like how if it's a birthday rather than Christmas, in English we change it to "... for your birthday?", whereas in German it changes to „... zum Geburtstag?".

Then you have times when there is a preposition in one language and nothing in the other. What?! Look at the verb "to remember". This translates to „sich erinnern an“. A couple of examples:

"Do you remember her?" - „Erinnerst du dich an sie?“

"Do you remember what happened yesterday?" - „Erinnerst du dich daran, was gestern passiert ist?“

I'll try and give a reverse example, though please note this troubles both English and German learners alike (myself included):

"I have been living abroad for five years." - „Ich lebe fünf Jahre im Ausland.“ (or „Ich lebe seit fünf Jahren im Ausland.“)

The trouble ^here^ for both learners is that they are in different tenses (I believe the English tense is called "past progressive/continuous", and the German is in the present - präsens) and that you either have a situation where a preposition is being lost in translation or is translated to a different preposition; for typically translates to für, and seit typically translates to since.

So, as you can see this matter of prepositions can be a bit of a pickle, and with my post I didn't want to scare you off or anything, but rather just open your eyes beyond translating a preposition directly.

P.S. On another note, I would just quickly like to raise an issue with your question. For me "She is playing a beautiful melody on the flute." actually sounds better, more natural and less likely to give the wrong impression than "She is playing a beautiful melody with the flute". The latter gives me the impression that she was whistling the tune, and then someone came along with a flute and said "Hey! That would sound way better with this!".

5/14/2017, 1:47:28 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/pont
  • 25
  • 23
  • 18
  • 16
  • 14
  • 14
  • 12
  • 11
  • 7
  • 5

For me "She is playing a beautiful melody on the flute." actually sounds better, more natural and less likely to give the wrong impression than "She is playing a beautiful melody with the flute".

Yes, "on" is definitely the correct preposition in English here. "With" would be comprehensible in context, but sounds quite strange. (I don't think that the OP is a native English speaker.) But of course, the question about German is independent of whether English uses the corresponding preposition.

I never really know how to answer these "why" questions about prepositions. In the end, the answer simply comes down to "because that's how the language developed". Maybe one could find some deeper psycholinguistic or historical explanation, but it's seldom relevant to learning the language.

dqxxmvyvoedn

5/15/2017, 10:09:34 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/AdamKean
  • 25
  • 14
  • 1111

I never really know how to answer these "why" questions about prepositions. In the end, the answer simply comes down to "because that's how the language developed". Maybe one could find some deeper psycholinguistic or historical explanation, but it's seldom relevant to learning the language.

Yes, I totally agree. Whilst questioning and being inquisitive has greatly improved my understanding of the German language (and probably thereby improved my ability with the language), simply asking "Why?" - especially with prepositions - is often a futile task.

Sure, you might find out some interesting etymological information, and gain a much deeper understanding behind the meaning of the word, but at the end of the day; you, a native speaker who's never thought about it, and someone who just decided to memorise it, are still all going to say "What did you get for your birthday?" and whomever you're speaking to will be none the wiser.

5/15/2017, 11:04:10 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/sweilan1

Excellent response!!

5/14/2017, 7:25:16 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Jellllllly
  • 14
  • 10
  • 3
  • 3
  • 2
  • 2
  • 2
  • 2

Hallo!

Let's try this: -If you say: "Ich spiele auf der Flöte" it would mean that you "can play on a flute". -However, if you say: "Ich spiele mit der Flöte" it means that you are "playing with a flute". (e.g. Like kids who play with different toys.)

Does it make any sense?

Have a wonderful day!!

5/14/2017, 8:53:23 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/JoeRoution

Thanks. That clears up some things.

5/14/2017, 4:10:47 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Tuxfriend
  • 25
  • 24
  • 23
  • 11
  • 11
  • 11
  • 10
  • 2

Playing instruments, you always say 'auf': - auf dem Klavier - auf dem Saxophon - auf der Gitarre

Maybe it's because your hands are on the instrument when you're playing.

5/14/2017, 9:49:47 AM
Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.