The German genitive case is very special and probably the most difficult of all the German noun cases to comprehend (for native English speakers at least).

What is the Genitive?

The most important point to understand about the genitive is that is used to show possession. Whenever you ask question with whose or Who does ... belong to the genitive case might be at play.

However, notice that it might be at play, but isn't necessarily at play. This is another aspect that makes the genitive a little more difficult. Modern German speakers don't use the genitive that often and often just use the dative instead. This used to be considered not very elegant, but it is so common these days that it would be wrong to say that this isn't "correct German" (as my high school German teacher used to say).

How to use the Genitive in English

How is possession expressed in English? Well, there are essentially two ways. First, you can add an 's and say "This is my girlfriend's dog". A second very common way is to say "This is the dog of my girlfriend". In both examples, you indicate possession, but there is no hint at something like a genitive in English.

With this in mind, let's now have a look at how the genitive works in German.

Use of the Genitive

Let's have a look at the German version of the English example sentence just discussed:

Das ist der Hund meiner Freundin.

This is the dog of my girlfriend.

This sentence indicates possession: My girlfriend owns that dog.

But the genitive case is not just about literally possessing or owning something. It is also used when I want to express relations, for example, if I wanted to say that a person is my mum's dad, I'd say:

Das ist der Vater meiner Mutter.

This is my mum's dad.

Lastly, there are special words & prepositions that require a genitive. Very common examples that require the genitive are trotz (despite), wegen (because of), während (during), and aufgrund (due to) & anstatt (instead of).

Wegen des Unfalls kann er nicht mehr laufen.

Er ist trotz des Regens zur Arbeit gekommen.

How to Form the Genitive



date: 2023-12-10

The German Genitive Case, often regarded as the case of possession or belonging, plays a crucial role in the German language. It's a bit like adding 's or "of" in English to show ownership, but with its own set of rules and nuances. Understanding the genitive can greatly enhance your ability to express complex relationships between nouns in German. Let's dive deep into this intriguing aspect of German grammar.

Understanding the Genitive Case

The genitive case is one of the four grammatical cases in German. It is used to indicate possession, belonging, or origin. It’s often seen as challenging by learners due to its unique endings and the fact that it's less common in spoken German. However, it's essential for formal writing and for expressing relationships between nouns.

When to Use the Genitive

  • To show possession: "Das Auto meines Bruders" (My brother's car)
  • To indicate origin: "Die Geschichte Berlins" (The history of Berlin)
  • With certain prepositions: "während des Tages" (during the day)
  • After certain verbs: "sich erinnern an" (to remember)
Die Katze des Nachbarn ist auf dem Dach.

The cat of the neighbor is on the roof.
Er ist ein Freund meines Bruders.

He is a friend of my brother.

Genitive Endings for Nouns

In the genitive case, masculine and neuter nouns typically add an "-s" or "-es" ending. Feminine and plural nouns do not change, but the definite and indefinite articles associated with them do.

Masculine and Neuter Nouns

  • Masculine nouns: "des Mannes" (of the man)
  • Neuter nouns: "des Kindes" (of the child)

Feminine and Plural Nouns

  • Feminine nouns: "der Frau" (of the woman)
  • Plural nouns: "der Kinder" (of the children)
CaseMasculineNeuterFemininePlural
Nominativeder Manndas Kinddie Fraudie Kinder
Genitivedes Mannesdes Kindesder Frauder Kinder

Genitive Pronouns

Genitive pronouns replace a noun in the genitive case. They are essential for fluency and are commonly used in both spoken and written German.

Personal Pronouns in Genitive

  • "mein" (my), "dein" (your), "sein" (his), etc.

Possessive Pronouns in Genitive

  • "meines" (mine), "deines" (yours), "seines" (his), etc.
PronounMasculine/NeuterFemininePlural
meinmeinesmeinermeiner
deindeinesdeinerdeiner
seinseinesseinerseiner

Genitive with Prepositions

Certain prepositions in German always require the genitive case. These prepositions often deal with time, location, and abstract concepts.

Common Genitive Prepositions

  • "während" (during)
  • "trotz" (despite)
  • "wegen" (because of)

Example Sentences with Genitive Prepositions

Während des Sommers reisen wir viel.

During the summer, we travel a lot.
Trotz des Regens gingen wir wandern.

Despite the rain, we went hiking.

Genitive in Verbal Phrases

Some German verbs are commonly used with genitive objects. These verbs typically involve thoughts, feelings, or spoken expressions.

Verbs Commonly Used with Genitive

  • "sich erinnern" (to remember)
  • "bedürfen" (to require)
  • "gedenken" (to commemorate)

Example Sentences with Genitive Verbs

Ich erinnere mich der guten Zeiten.

I remember the good times.
Wir gedenken der Helden.

We commemorate the heroes.

The Genitive in Everyday German

While the genitive is less common in spoken German, especially in certain dialects, it remains a vital part of the language. Its use in formal writing, literature, and legal texts underscores its importance.

Formal vs. Informal Usage

  • Formal: "Das ist das Auto meines Bruders."
  • Informal: "Das ist das Auto von meinem Bruder."

The genitive is frequently used in literary and legal contexts for precision and formality.

Tips for Mastering the Genitive

  1. Practice with written exercises and German reading.
  2. Listen to how it's used in intermediate German podcasts.
  3. Use mnemonic devices for remembering endings and prepositions.
  4. Engage in German lessons focused on the genitive case.

Conclusion

Mastering the German genitive case opens up a new level of sophistication in your language skills. It’s a window into a more formal and nuanced way of expressing relationships between things and ideas in German. Remember, practice makes perfect, and the more you use the genitive, the more natural it will become.

Stay curious, keep practicing, and embrace the intricacies of German grammar. Your efforts will pay off as you become more proficient and confident in your German language journey!



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