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stehen/stellen, liegen/legen, hängen/hängen, sitzen/setzen 

 
Summary Please refer to the main Preposition page for practice exercises and diagnostic exercises on this topic
Examples Usage Notes

Summary

  • Stehen, liegen, hängen (describing where something is hanging) and sitzen are strong (irregular) verbs that describe where something is located (standing, lying, hanging, sitting) (==>Wo?), and therefore take the dative with two-way prepositions.
  • Stellen, legen, hängen (describing where you hang something) and setzen are weak (regular) verbs that are used when a person or thing is moved (==>Wohin?) into a new location and therefore take the accusative with two-way prepositions.  In practice, this means forming sentences with two accusatives, which is unusual: the object being moved is the direct object of the verb and therefore in the accusative, and the place to which the object is being moved will be in the accusative also, since it will be the object of a two-way preposition and motion is involved.
  • Stehen/stellen, liegen/legen, hängen/hängen and sitzen/setzen are almost always used in conjunction with two-way prepositions.  As usual with two-way prepositions, you can remember location ==> dative; motion ==> accusative.
  • There are more such pairs (e.g. sinken/senken; verschwinden [=to disappear]/verschwenden [=to waste] etc.), but they are less common (and not closely associated with two-way prepositions), so here we will focus on these four.
  • See the usage notes below for information on the distinction between stehen/stellen and liegen/legen, information on when to use sitzen/setzen, and information on using tun or stecken and sein for describing where something is being put or where something is located.

Examples

stehen, stand, gestanden to stand, to be situated
stellen, stellte, gestellt to put (in a standing position)
Die Büste von Mozart steht auf dem Bett (dative: location). The bust of Mozart is standing on the bed.
Ich stelle die Büste (accusative: direct object) auf das Klavier (accusative: motion). I put (stand) the bust on the piano.
Eine Mumie stand mitten in ihrem Wohnzimmer (dative: location). A mummy stood in the middle of her living room.
Sie stellte die Mumie (accusative: direct object) in die Ecke (accusative: motion). She put (stood) the mummy in the corner.

 
 
liegen, lag, gelegen to lie, be situated
legen, legte, gelegt to put (in a lying position)
Das Besteck liegt in der Badewanne (dative: location). The silverware is lying in the bathtub.
Du legst das Besteck (accusative: direct object) auf den Tisch (accusative: motion). You put (laid) the silverware on the table.
Eine Schlange hat auf dem Boden (dative: location) gelegen. A snake was lying on the floor.
Wir haben die Schlange (accusative: direct object) in das Bett (accusative: motion) unseres RAs gelegt. We put (laid) the snake in our RA's bed.

 
 
hängen, hing, gehangen to be hanging
hängen, hängte, gehängt to hang (something/someone)
Ein Bild von Justin Bieber hängt im Schlafzimmer (dative: location). A picture of Justin Bieber is hanging in the bedroom.
Du hängst das Bild (accusative: direct object) über die Toilette (accusative: motion). You hang the picture above the toilet.
Der Kronleuchter hat im Keller (dative: location) gehangen. The chandelier was hanging in the basement.
Wir haben den Kronleuchter (accusative: direct object) ins Wohnzimmer (accusative: motion) gehängt. We hung the chandelier in the living room.

 
 
sitzen, saß, gesessen  to be sitting
(sich) setzen, setzte, gesetzt to sit (down)
Wir saßen auf dem Esstisch (dative: location). We were sitting on the dining room table.
Wir setzten uns (accusative: direct object) auf die Stühle (accusative: motion). We sat down on the chairs.
Ich habe auf Lassie (dative: location) gesessen. I was sitting on Lassie [bad of me!].
Ich habe mich (accusative: direct object) auf Flipper (accusative: motion) gesetzt. I sat down on Flipper [worse...].

Usage Notes

stehen/stellen vs. liegen/legen vs. sitzen/setzen

  • stehen/stellen is usually used for things that can be regarded as standing on a firm base:
plates, statues, people and animals who are standing, drinking glasses, bottles, buckets, vases, etc.
  • liegen/legen is usually used for anything else that is not sitting or hanging, especially 'floppy' things:
silverware, newspapers, snakes, people and animals who are lying down, eyeglasses, vases (or bottles or drinking glasses etc.) that have fallen over, etc.
  • sitzen/setzen, unlike the English "to set," can only be used with things that have knees and can thus actually sit:
people, dolls and puppets, and certain animals, but not, for example, worms, fish, or inanimate objects other than dolls and puppets.
  • If a book is standing or being stood vertically (e.g. in a bookshelf), you would use stehen/stellen; if it is lying or being laid flat (e.g. on a coffee table), you would use liegen/legen.  Similarly, for bottles standing or being stood on their base (or even on their mouths), you would use stehen/stellen; if they are lying around or being laid on their sides (e.g. on the floor), you would use liegen/legen.
  • More examples:
Die Bücher liegen auf dem Tisch (dative: location). The books are lying on the table.
Wir stellen die Bücher (accusative: direct object) ins Regal (accusative: motion). We put the books on the shelf.
Mein Bruce Springsteen Poster lag auf dem Boden (dative: location). My Bruce Springsteen poster was lying on the floor.
Ich hing es (accusative: direct object) über mein Bett (accusative: motion). I hung it above my bed.
Das Baby hat auf dem Fernseher (dative: location) gesessen. The baby was sitting on the TV.
Du hast es (accusative: direct object) ins Bett (accusative: motion) gelegt. You put it to bed (laid it in the bed).

Tun, stecken and sein

  • Often, when you are describing where you are putting something, especially if you are putting something inside something else, none of the above verbs will be appropriate.  For example, if you are putting a handkerchief in your purse, neither stellen nor legen describes what you are doing, and hängen and setzen are obviously inapplicable.  In these cases, you should use the verbs  tun or steckenTun has the widest range of applications, whereas stecken can only be used in situations where you could use "stick" in English, as in "I stuck it in my pocket" or "Stick that under the bed."  Occasionally, stecken must be used instead of tun (see the last two examples below).  The following are some examples of situations where you need to use tun or stecken in this way, because stellen, legen, hängen and setzen are all inapplicable:
Ich tue/stecke mein Taschentuch in meine Tasche. I put my handkerchief in my pocket.
Ich tue/stecke die Flaschen ins Recycling. [Could possibly use legen or stellen here depending on how you place the bottles in the bin.] I put the bottles into the recycling bin.
Hast du die Bücher in deinen Rucksack getan/gesteckt? Did you put the books in your backpack?
Sie tat/steckte den Schlüssel ins Schloss. She put the key in the lock.
Ich musste schnell aufräumen, also hab ich einfach alles unters Bett getan/gesteckt. I had to clean up quickly, so I just put everything under the bed.
Meine Eltern haben mich in ein Internat getan/gesteckt. [A more positive formulation: "...haben mich auf ein Internat geschickt."] My parents stuck me in a boarding school. [vs the more positive formulation "...sent me to a boarding school."]
"Es funktioniert nicht!" -- "Haben Sie den Stecker in die Steckdose getan/gesteckt? Did you put the plug in the outlet?
  • Tun can be used more generally as an informal substitute for stellen and legen and occasionally setzen, whereas stecken can only be used in situations where you could use "stick" in English, as in "I stuck it in my pocket" or "Stick that under the bed."
Sie können Ihre Hausaufgaben in mein Fach tun/stecken/legen. You can put your homework in my box.  [With stecken, it would mean "You can stick your homework in my box."]
Bitte tu/steck/leg das Besteck auf den Tisch. Please put the silverware on the table.
Ich habe einen Zettel auf Ihren Schreibtisch getan/gesteckt/gelegt. I put a note on your desk.
Wo hast du die Schlüssel hingetan/ hingesteckt/hingelegt? Where did you put the keys?  [With stecken, it would mean "Where did you stick the keys?"]
Wir haben das Kind ins Bett getan/gesteckt/ gelegt. We put the child to bed. [With stecken, it would mean "We stuck the child in bed."]
Ich habe das Buch unters Bett getan/gesteckt/ gelegt. I put the book under my bed.  [With stecken, it would mean "I stuck the book under my bed."]
  • Finally, if you are trying to describe where something is located and stehen, liegen, hängen and sitzen are all inapplicable, you can of course always just use sein, as in the examples below.  In some cases, you can also use stecken for this purpose, and again this usually give the sentence an informal tone.  You can also generally substitute sein for stehen, liegen and setzen (but not usually for hängen) if you don't mind losing a little specificity (though your instructor may not always let you do this on tests, if s/he wants to test your ability to use stehen, liegen and setzen!).
Das Taschentuch ist/steckt in meiner Tasche. The handkerchief is in my pocket.
Die Flaschen sind im Recycling. [Could possibly use liegen or stehen here depending on how the bottles are positioned in the bin.] The bottles are in the recycling bin.
Waren die Bücher in deinem Rucksack? Were the books in your backpack?
Der Schlüssel war/steckte im Schloss. The key was in the lock.
Das Kind ist/liegt im Bett. The child is/is lying in bed.
Das Bild ist/hängt an der Wand. The picture is hanging on the wall.
Der Eimer war/stand in der Garage. The bucket was/was standing in the garage.
Der Schlüssel steckt [Idiomatic expression for:] The key is in the lock.



   
 

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