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Dartmouth German
    Studies Department

  [pun:] Geh nicht tief ins Wasser,
weil es da tief ist.
  The care of one tooth is simple.
But you have a couple more of them.

The Genitive Case in English:

When the relationship between two English nouns is defined by one's possession of the other, the possessing noun is typically placed before the other and marked as genitive with an ending of "-'s" (or in a plural that already ends in "-s", with just the apostrophe): "the horse's mouth"; "the books' covers."

In earlier times, a singular noun (usually a name) that ended in "-s" received only an apostrophe ("Bess' house"), but the ending was nevertheless pronounced as a separate syllable: "-es". Increasingly, writers' manuals call for an "-'s" in those cases as well ("Louis's book"), with the genitive ending still pronounced as "-es."

A frequent alternative to the genitive case is a prepositional phrase with "of": "the color of the car" (= "the car's color").

Note that in English the so-called "possessive pronouns" ("my", "his", "her", "whose" etc.) are not in the genitive case.

The Genitive in German:

See below for a discussion of when the genitive is used in German, but first we will examine how it is configured.

In German, the genitive case serves several functions beyond indicating possession, and, like the nominative, accusative, and dative cases, it is marked by pronouns, articles and adjective endings. Both masculine and neuter singular nouns also receive endings, but neither feminine singular nouns nor any plural nouns do.

As a rule, multi-syllabic masculine or neuter nouns take an ending of "-s": (des Computers), while one-syllable nouns take an "-es": (des Mannes) — although colloquial speech will sometime add just -s).

In the genitive, there is no distinction between a "der-word" and an "ein-word."1

Here are the the ways in which the three genders and their plurals are indicated as being in the genitive case:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
des roten Stuhles  der neuen Lampe  des alten Buches der roten Stühle 
roten Stuhles neuer Lampe  alten Buches  alter Bücher 

Note that the possessive adjectives (mein, dein, sein, ihr, etc.) are not genitive in and of themselves. Nor is the interrogative wessen (= "whose").

As in the accusative and dative cases, the so-called weak masculine nouns take an "-n" or "-en" in the genitive. For example:

 der Mensch
 den Menschen
 dem Menschen
 des Menschen
 der Nachbar
 den Nachbarn
 dem Nachbarn
 des Nachbarn
 der Herr
 den Herrn
 dem Herrn
 des Herrn
 [lord; gentleman] 
 der Held
 den Helden
 dem Helden
 des Helden
 der Bote
 den Boten
 dem Boten
 des Boten
 der Kunde
 den Kunden
 dem Kunden
 des Kunden
 der Junge
 den Jungen
 dem Jungen
 des Jungen
 der Experte
 den Experten
 dem Experten
 des Experten
 der Jude
 den Juden
 dem Juden
 des Juden
 der Russe
 den Russen
 dem Russen
 des Russen
 der Kollege
 den Kollegen
 dem Kollegen
 des Kollegen
 der Riese
 den Riesen
 dem Riesen
 des Riesen

Other endings of weak nouns are "-ant," "-arch," "-ege," "-ent," "-ist," "-oge," "-om," "-oph," and "-ot." Some examples:

 der Buddist
 der Katholik
 der Protestant
 der Pilot
 der Student
 der Komödiant
 der Astronom
 der Patriarch
 der Philosoph
 der Fotograf
 der Enthusiast
 der Anthropologe

Again: note that all of these nouns are masculine. Furthermore, their plural forms are the same as their accusative, dative, and genitive singular forms: e.g.,

Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
Singular: der Student  den Studenten  dem Studenten  des Studenten 
Plural:     die Studenten die Studenten  den Studenten  der Studenten 

("Herr" is an exception: den Herrn, dem Herrn, des Herrn; [plural:] die Herren, den Herren, der Herren).

Typically, dictionaries identify weak nouns by giving not only the plural but also the weak ending: "der Junge (-n, -n) — boy." The first ending that is cited is that of the genitive case. With weak nouns the accusative and the dative are usually identical with the genitive — but not always. A few weak nouns add "-ns," for example:

 der Glaube
 den Glauben
 dem Glauben
 des Glaubens
 der Wille
 den Willen
 dem Willen
 des Willens
 der Gedanke
 den Gedanken
 dem Gedanken
 des Gedankens
 der Name
 den Namen
 dem Namen
 des Namens

One neuter noun is also weak in the dative and takes an "-ens" in the genitive:

 das Herz
 das Herz
 dem Herzen
 des Herzens

While the Latin accusative and dative forms of Jesus Christus (Jesum Christum, Jeso Christo) are not used in modern German, the genitive is: Jesu Christi.

The genitive personal pronouns are rare nowadays, but they do exist (some further examples of their use can be found below) Note that, despite their appearance here, these are not the same as "possessive pronouns":

 meiner = (of) me   unser = (of) us
 deiner = (of) you  eurer = (of) y'all 
   Ihrer = (of) you 
 seiner = (of) him
 ihrer = (of) her
 seiner  = (of) it
 ihrer = (of) them 

The third-person demonstrative pronouns — which can be possessive pronouns — are commonly employed:

 (masculine) dessen = (of) him/it/whose
 (feminine)      derer = (of) her/it/whose
 (neuter)       dessen = (of) it/whose
  (plural)  derer = (of) them/those 

Wir danken im Namen derer, die in Nöte geraten sind.  We give thanks in the name of those who have come into hardship.
 Meine Brüder und deren Kinder sind schon angekommen. My brothers and their children have already arrived.

In ambiguous situations, the demonstrative possessive pronoun points to the nearest preceding (i.e. the latter) noun:

Pauls Sohn und dessen Freunde haben Hunger. Paul's son and (Paul's) son's friends are hungry.
  [not: Paul's son and his (Paul's) friends are hungry].

When such a pronoun depends on a preceding noun, desselben or derselben can be employed:

Das Mikroskop, Theorie und Anwendung desselben.  The Microscope: its Theory and Use [book title]
 Die meisten Glaubenslehrer verteidigen ihre Sätze nicht, weil sie von der Wahrheit derselben überzeugt sind, sondern weil sie diese Wahrheit einmal behauptet haben. Most doctrinal theologians defend their propositions, not because they are convinced of the truth of them, but because they have at one point asserted that truth. [aphorism by G. C. Lichtenberg]

Further pronoun examples can be found below.

  [There is room in this subway car for] 2 bicycles. No bringing [a bike] along when this car is traveling at the front of the train.

Using the Genitive Case in German:

Germans will often assert that the genitive is disappearing from the language. It is certainly used less than one or two centuries ago, but it still occupies an important position. Primarily, the genitive designates a relationship between two nouns in which one of them belongs to the other. The former can be in any case, but the latter is in the genitive:

Was ist die Telefonnummer deiner schönen Kusine? What is your beautiful cousin's phone number?

Sie hat den Brief ihres Vaters gar nicht gesehen.

She never saw her father's letter.

Das Bild deiner Frau ist besonders gut.

Your wife's picture is particularly good. 

Der Motor dieses Autos ist viel zu klein. 

This car's engine is much too small.

Die größte Liebe aller deutschen Männer ist Fußball. 

The greatest love of all German men is soccer.

Das Dach des Hauses war unbeschädigt. 
The roof of the house was undamaged.

  Success is the sum of correct decisions

Note that the genitive noun comes second. The placing it first, as in English, makes it sound either archaic or poetic:

"Das also war des Pudels Kern!" [quotation from Goethe's Faust So that was the poodle's core!

Proper names in the genitive do precede the noun, however. If the name already ends in "-s" or "-z," then an apostrophe is added:2

Was hast du mit Roberts altem Computer gemacht? What did you do with Robert's old computer?
Veronikas neuer Freund ist schön.  Veronika's new boyfriend is handsome.
Heinz' Hut ist wirklich hässlich.  Heinz's hat is really ugly.

In colloquial speech, Germans often use the preposition von (with the dative, of course) instead of the genitive:

Ist das der Freund von deinem Bruder? Is that your brother's friend?
Wir suchen das Haus von seiner Mutter. We're looking for his mother's house.

  The Dative is the Death of the Genitive. A Guide through the Labyrinth of the German Language [book by Bastian Sick]

This construction with "von" is always used if there is no article to mark the genitive:

Er ist ein Freund von mir. He's a friend of mine.
Das Abstellen von Farhrädern ist verboten. The parking of bicycles is forbidden.

Uneducated Germans sometimes use the dative and a possessive adjective to create a genitive effect: "Bist du dem Mann seine Frau?" Are you the man's wife?

The genitive is used to indicate an indefinite day or part of the day:

Eines Tages sollten wir das machen. Some day we ought do that.
Eines Morgens hat er vergessen, sich die Schuhe anzuziehen. One morning he forgot to put his shoes on.
Eines Sonntags gehen wir in die Kirche. Some Sunday we'll go to church.

Although Nacht is feminine, it here — and only here — assumes an analogous structure: "Sie ist eines Nachts weggelaufen." She ran away one night.

  "I go to Block House [a chain of steak houses] only because of the salad."
"That's what they all say."

Prepositions that take the genitive:

A number of prepositions take a genitive object. The most common are statt and anstatt [instead of], trotz [in spite of], wegen [because of] and während [during]. In normal speech, German often use the dative after trotz and wegen. The grammar-police find that appalling, but in fact the dative is actually the older form.

Statt eines Regenmantels trägt er einen Schirm.  Instead of a raincoat he carries an umbrella. 
Trotz der Kälte wollen wir schwimmen gehen.  Despite the cold we want to go swimming.
Wegen der Arbeit meines Vaters mussten wir oft umziehen.  Because of my father's work we often had to move.
Wir machen alles des Kindes wegen. We're doing everything on account of the child. 
Während des Sommers wohnt er bei seinen Großeltern. During the summer he lives with his grandparents. 

When just a masculine or neuter noun follows the preposition (i.e., when there is no article), there is no genitive "-s":

Anstatt Fleisch isst sie Tofu.  Instead of meat she eats tofu.  

Note also:

Er entschuldigte sich immer wieder wegen seines schlechten Deutsch.  He apologized repeatedly on account of his bad German. 
Trotz ihres guten Französisch konnte sie nichts verstehen.  In spite of her good French she couldn't understand a thing.

Less frequently used are außerhalb [outside of], innerhalb [inside of], oberhalb [above], unterhalb [beneath], diesseits [on this side of], and jenseits [on the other side of]:

Sie wohnen außerhalb der Stadt.  They live outside the city. 
Nur ein Spieler darf innerhalb dieses Kreises stehen.  Only one player is allowed to stand inside this circle.
Oberhalb dieser Linie gibt es ein paar Kratzer.  Above this line there are a couple of scratches.
Die Leber sitzt unterhalb der Lunge. The liver is beneath the lung. 
Diesseits der Grenze spricht man Deutsch, aber jenseits spricht man Holländisch.  On this side of the border German is spoken, but on the other side they speak Dutch. 

  The grand race of the lowest prices.

George O. Curme's Grammar of the German Language (New York: Macmillan, 1922) lists a total of 123 prepositions that take the genitive (p. 357), but most are very rare or confined to legal language. They include anlässlich [on the occasion of], angesichts [in the face of; in view of], infolge [as a result of; owing to], ungeachtet [despite; notwithstanding], etc.

Genitive prepositions do not form "da-" compounds. Instead we use genitive demonstrative pronouns, getting structures like während dessen [in the meantime], statt dessen [instead of that], and trotz dessen [despite that] — written as one or two words.
There is a special form of wegen:

Wir gehen seinetwegen zu Fuß.  We're going on foot on account of him (for his sake). 
Ich mache es ihretwegen.  I'm doing it on account of her (for her sake).
Kaufen Sie das nicht meinetwegen.  Don't buy that for my sake.
Meinetwegen könnt ihr es verkaufen.  As far as I'm concerned (for all I care), you can sell it. 

Verbs that take the genitive:

Quite a few verbs once took a genitive object, but over time they have switched to the accusative. One example is vergessen, although the name of the flower Vergissmeinnicht (forget-me-not) remains. Some verbs officially still take the genitive, although many native speakers will use the accusative instead. It is with such formal — some would say stilted — German that you might encounter genitive pronouns:

Die Angst bemächtigte sich seiner.  Fear seized him. 
Wir bedürfen Ihrer Hilfe.  We require your assistance.
Man muss unter 16 sein, um sich eines VCRs zu bedienen.  You have to be under 16 to operate a VCR.
Ich erfreue mich seiner Anwesenheit. I enjoy his presence. 
Wir harren deiner. We await you. 

Other genitive constructions:

Some predicate adjectives are also associated with the genitive:

Er ist seiner Beliebtheit sehr gewiss.  He's very certain of his popularity.
Ich bin mir dessen bewusst.  I'm aware of that.
Ach ich bin des Treibens müde! [aus Goethes "Wandrers Nachtlied"]  Oh, I'm weary of this restless activity 
Sie ist des Mordes schuldig. She is guilty of murder. 
Er ist ihrer nicht wert.  He's not worthy of her. 

Certain noun phrases in the genitive act like prepositional phrases:

Er fährt immer erster Klasse. He always travels first class. 
Sie ist meine Cousine ersten Grades. She's my first cousin. 
Wir sind heute guter Laune. We're in a good mood today 
Sie geht guten Mutes nach Hause. She goes home in good spirits. 
Er arbeitet festen Glaubens dafür.  He works for that with a firm faith.
Meines Erachtens ist das nicht nötig. In my opinion that's not necessary. 
Meines Wissens ist nichts übrig geblieben.   As far as I know, nothing was left over. 
Sie behauptet das allen Ernstes. She claims that in all seriousness 
Du bist heute guter Dinge. You're in a cheerful mood today. 
Wir sind unverrichteter Dinge zurückgekehrt.  We returned having accomplished nothing. 
  Junk disposal of all kinds
bulky refuse / plastic, synthetics and scrap metal /clearing out of cellars, attics, and apartments /
demolition work / moving service, mini-transport / free inspection / short notice possible
Painting jobs. Fast, clean, and reasonably priced.

1 The "ein-words" are ein, kein, and the possessive pronouns: mein, dein, sein, ihr, unser, euer, Ihr, ihr.
The so-called "der-words" are the articles der, die, das; dies-, jed-, jen-, manch-, solch-, welch-.

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2 Increasingly, Germans are putting apostrophes onto all names, especially in commercial enterprises. This option is unavailable to non-native speakers.
  Fränky's Flowers.

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