Prepositions for Islands in German

If we want to talk about where we come from or where we live, islands are special in terms of prepositions. In this post I’ll explain what prepositions we use with islands in German and why.

1. To live in/on an island: auf

Similar to English, in German we consider islands to be surfaces that stand out of the sea. So, we consider to be “on” (auf) an island and not “in” an island because this would sound as if you lived inside the island’s ground.

Regarding the grammar, since auf is a 2-way preposition, and the verbs “(to) live/stay” (wohnen/leben, bleiben) don’t express any movement or (loco)motion, we always have to use dative case with these prepositions.

  • Ich wohne auf einer Insel.
  • Lebst du auf (der Insel) Gran Canaria?
  • Wir leben auf den Kanarischen Inseln.

2. To come from an island: von

When we talk about a country or city where we come from, we use aus meaning that we “came out of” that city or country because we consider to live inside a city or a country.

Islands are different as you have just read in point 1: we don’t live inside (in) an island but on (auf) an island. This is the reason why, when we come from “on an island”, we can’t use aus.

The correct preposition when you come from “on something” (the same applies to a square, Platz) is von.

  • Ich komme von einer Insel.
  • Kommst du von (der Insel) Gran Canaria?
  • Wir kommen von den Kanarischen Inseln.

3. Verb sein

The verb seen (to be) can be used with both points explained above. Its meaning changes depending on the preposition used:

  1. (to) be in/on an island (= staying): auf einer Insel sein.
  2. (to) be from an island (= origin): von einer Insel sein. (However, in this case, we use more often the verb kommen.)

4. To go to: nach

This is the only case where islands are not treated differently. We use the same preposition for going to an island (but it must be named!) as for going to a city/country: nach (+ dative).

Only if we use the word “island” or if we refer to a whole archipelago (island group), we have to use auf (+ accusative).

  • Ich ziehe nach Gran Canaria.
  • Ich ziehe auf eine Insel.
  • Ich ziehe auf die Kanarischen Inseln.

5. What if the island is a country?

In the case of Cuba, Cyprus and Malta, for example, islands that constitute whole countries, in terms of grammar we treat them as countries.


Cities, regions, countries, continentsIslands
(to) live/stayin + dativeauf + dative
(to) come fromaus + dativevon + dative
(to) go tonach (countries without article) + dative
in (countries with article) + accusative
nach (island's name) + dative
auf (word "Insel" or island group) + accusative

Download “Exercise: Prepositions for Islands”

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