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The genitive case has two primary functions:

  • to link nouns to show possession and
  • to identify the object of genitive prepositions.

Let’s look at the genitive case of some example nouns with the definite article (der, die, das), the indefinite article (ein, eine), and kein.

masculine                    feminine                    neuter                        plural
des Mannes                der Frau                     des Kindes               der Lampen
eines Mannes             einer Frau                 eines Kindes            N/A
keines Mannes          keiner Frau               keines Kindes          keiner Lampen

Notice that masculine and neuter nouns require the addition of the ending -(e)s. You can also see that the plural genitive does not have an indefinite form.

Names show possession by adding -s to them. For example:

Martins Familie                                                Martin’s family
Deutschlands Grenzen                                   Germany’s borders

Pronouns do not have a genitive declension. Instead, they form possessive adjectives.

pronoun                       
possessive adjective                    meaning

ich                                 mein                                                  my
du                                 dein                                                   your (singular, informal)
er                                  sein                                                     his
sie s.                             ihr                                                       her
es                                  sein                                                     its
wir                               unser                                                  our
ihr                                euer                                                    your (plural, informal)
sie pl.                           ihr                                                       their
Sie                                Ihr                                                       your (formal)
wer                             wessen                                                whose

The possessive adjective euer requires a minor spelling change when an ending is added, for example: eure, eurer, euren, eurem, and eures.

Possession

English has two ways of showing possession. One way is to add an apostrophe and an s to a noun: the boy’s wagon, women’s rights, and so on. Another way is to use the preposition of: the color of her hair, the speed of light, and so on.

German uses the genitive case to indicate a possessive. The genitive can be translated into English as either apostrophe + s or of, depending on what sounds appropriate. For example:

der Vater der Braut                                     the bride’s father, or the father of the bride
die Gesundheit des Kindes                        the child’s health, or the health of the child

It is also possible to form a possessive in German with the dative preposition von. This is similar to using the preposition of to form the possessive in English. The use of von is more common in the everyday spoken language, and the genitive declension tends to be used in the written language.

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Compare the following phrases:

written language                               everyday spoken language                      meaning

die Kinder meiner Schwester   die Kinder von meiner Schwester        my sister’s children
viele der Studenten                     viele von den Studenten                         many of the students

The preposition von is required in both writing and speech if

  •  a noun stands alone without a definite or indefinite article or any other declined word;
  • the noun follows etwas, nichts, or viel; or
  • a pronoun is used in place of a noun.

For example:

noun with an article               der Geruch der frischen Luft               the smell of the fresh air
noun standing alone
                der Geruch von Essig                             the smell of vinegar
etwas, nichts, viel (use von) 
  etwas von dem Bier                               some of the beer
                                                       nichts von dem Schatz                          nothing of the treasure
                                                       viel von der Arbeit                                 much of the work
pronouns                                     
jeder von euch                                         each of you
                                                       eine Bekannte von ihm                          an acquaintance of his

Genitive prepositions

There are four primary genitive prepositions:

statt (anstatt)                                 instead of
trotz                                                 in spite of, despite
während                                         during
wegen                                             because of, on account of

The objects of these four prepositions will be in the genitive case. For example:

Statt meines Bruders kam meine Schwester zu Besuch.     Instead of my brother, my sister came for a visit.
Trotz des Gewitters gingen die
Wanderer weiter.        In spite of the storm, the hikers continued on.
Während des Sommers machten
wir viele Ausflüge.  During the summer, we took many excursions.
Wegen ihrer Krankheit hat die
Schülerin viel versäumt.    Because of her illness, the pupil missed a lot.

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