In this series I explain how we use the 4 different cases in German continuing with the genitive case or “Genitiv “.
In the last part I talked about the use of the definite article, the noun and the nominative case. In this part I am focussing on the genitive case.
First of all what is the genitive case?
The Genitiv is used to show possession, i.e that something or someone belongs to someone. You ask – whose xx is it? Or wessen xx ist das?
Das Fahrrad der Frau war kaputt – The woman’s bike was broken.
Die Katze meiner Schwester ist 9 Wochen alt. – My sister’s cat is 9 weeks old.
It is also used after certain expressions of time.
eines Tages – one day
eines Abends – one evening
The genitive case is also used after certain prepositions such as:
wegen = because of
trotz= despite, in spite of
während = during
Example: Während des Fluges müssen Handys ausgeschaltet sein.
During the flight mobile phones have to be switched off.
Trotz des Regens ging er mit dem Hund spatzieren.
Despite the rain he went for a walk with his dog.
Other prepositions used with the genitive case which express place relationships.
ausserhalb = outside
innerhalb = inside
unterhalb = below
diesseits = on this side
jenseits = on the other side of
unweit = not far from
beid(er)seits = on either side of
Die Familie wohnte damals ausserhalb der Stadt. – Back then the family lived outside the city.
Innerhalb der Stadtgrenze war das Rauchen verboten. – Inside the city’s border smoking was prohibited.
Ich habe mich unterhalb des Knies verletzt. – I injured myself below the knee.
There are also loads of other prepositions which are used with the genitive – and these are mostly used in formal written German and what we call Amtsdeutsch – officialese. Just to name a few of these:
aufgrund = on the strength of
betreffs, bezüglich = with regard to
anlässlich = on the occasion of
einschliesslich = including
The use of the genitive case in formal German vs colloquial German.
In formal German we use the definite article or possessive pronoun to express the genitive case
Die Frau des Trainers. – The coach’s wife.
Die Tasche seiner Frau. – His wife’s handbag.
However in informal or colloquial German we often use the preposition von /vom.
Die Frau vom Trainer.
Die Tasche von seiner Frau.
Important: The use of von is often really dependent on the context – and where the genitive can’t be used you have to use von to paraphrase it.
For example when it’s not possible to decline the noun or the noun stands by itself.
der Bau von Kirchtürmen – der building of church spires
die Wirkung von drei Flaschen Schnaps – the effect of three bottles of Schnaps
Von is also used when you describe something in a phrase.
Er war ein Mann von adeliger Herkunft – He was a man of royal origin.
Von is also used with personal pronouns.
drei von euch – three of you
der Freund von ihr – a friend of hers
It is also used with constructions using viel (much), wenig (little), nichts (nothing), etwas (something) and indefinite pronouns.
Nichts/wenig von dem was er ihr gesagt hatte war wahr. – Nothing he told her was true.
Welches von diesen Bildern gefällt euch am besten? – Which of these paintings do you like the most?
How do you build the genitive with the nouns?
Masculine and neuter nouns:
Masculine and neuter nouns which end in –en,-el and –er have an –s added.
Example: der Kragen – des Kragens (collar) – die Farbe des Kragens war blau – The colour of the collar was blue
Der Esel – des Esels (donkey) – Der Sattel des Esels war viel zu schwer. – The saddle of the donkey was way too heavy.
Der Drucker – des Druckers – Die Patronen des Druckers waren leer. – The cartridges of the printer were empty.
Most masculine and neuter nouns with one syllable ending in a consonant have an –es added.
der Freund (friend)– des Freundes
der Arzt (doctor) – des Arztes
das Pferd (horse) – des Pferdes
As a general rule – die changes to der and eine to einer in the genitive case. The good news is that the feminine singular nouns don’t change in the genitive case – they stay the same as in the nominative case.
Example: die Freundin (the girlfriend) – der Freundin
Please don’t use an apostrophe!
While in English the apostrophe is used for the genitive case of nouns and names such as for example: Martin’s wife, in German there is no apostrophe. This is also true for plural forms and abbreviations – as for example Lkws. We simply add the -s to the name. For example: Muttis Tasche – Mum’s handbag
Ulrikes Ohrringe – Ulrike’s earrings
Bobbys Pfoten – Bobby’s paws.
We only add an apostrophe in instances where the pronunciation would get complicated – with names ending in s, ss, esszet (please note that word doesn’t seem to accept this special symbol – it turns it into a b for some reason) ,tz, z and x.
For example: Groucho Marx’ Schnurrbart – Groucho Marx’s moustache
Alex’ Fahrrad – Alex’s bike
The apostrophe is also used with the adjective ending –sch as in die Grimm’schen Märchen – The Grimm’s fairy tale. And occasionally the apostrophe is used before the genitive –s when it’s a case of distinguishing the gender of a name. For example: Andrea’s Mantel – Andrea’s coat.
But in the case of the male version it’s Andreas’ Hut
You will often find that German shop owners love the apostrophe and use it in their shop names. However it’s grammatically incorrect.
And that’s it about the Genitiv. In the next part I am talking about the dative case – or Dativ as we say in German.
I hope you found this post useful. 🙂
Thanks for reading.
- The 4 cases in German. Part 1 – The nominative case.
- The 4 cases in German. Part 3 -The dative case.