What’s Mein Is Yours: 5 Uses of the German Genitive Case You’ve Got to Know
It’s the battle cry of the playground.
Early on in any child’s language development, he or she learns how to express possession of an object.
But it’s highly possible that in the course of your German studies, you haven’t yet learned the possessive case, also known as der Genitiv.
“Oh great,” you’re probably thinking. “Another case!”
But don’t worry. Genitiv is fairly easy and a lot less common than Nominativ, Akkusativ and Dativ. Read through our guide to all things Genitiv, and you’ll be able to use this case in no time.
What do you need to know about the German genitive case?
This section will act as your guide to the Genitiv case. When you practice the five uses of the Genitiv case, refer back to this section to remember the proper grammatical points.
1. The genitive pronouns
Masculine: des (definite), eines (indefinite)
Feminine: der, einer
Neutral: des, eines
2. The genitive adjective endings
Good news! The genitive adjective endings are the same as the dative adjective endings. All adjectives in this case end in -en.
We told you this case was fairly easy!
3. The genitive noun endings
Okay, this news is slightly less good. In the genitive case, you have to change nouns as well as adjectives. But don’t panic! Only neutral and masculine nouns change their forms in genitive, and almost all of them simply take an -s or an -es for the ending.
A few neutral and masculine nouns have unusual genitive endings. A few common examples are:
Das Herz ⇒ Des Herzen (the heart)
Der Mensch ⇒ Des Menschen (the people)
Der Name ⇒ Des Namens (the name)
4. The fact that the genitive case may be disappearing from German
Remember when I said earlier that the genitive case isn’t as common as the other cases? Well, one of the reasons behind this rarity is that genitive is slowly but surely disappearing from the German language. It’s much less common to hear genitive now than it once was. When you do encounter genitive, you’re much more likely to read it instead of hear it.
However, this case isn’t obsolete by any means, and so knowing how to identify and use this case is an essential part of your German language education.
5 Uses of the German Genitive Case
Although genitive isn’t common anymore, it’s still used in several different, important contexts.
Read on to become adept at using the genitive case every way it can be used!
This is the most common and well-known use of the genitive, the equivalent to “this is the ____ of my aunt.”
How do you use German genitive case to show possession?
To show possession with the German genitive case, start with the object that’s being possessed. Say it’s a gift, das Geschenk.
Then figure out who’s doing the possessing. Say it’s your boyfriend you’re talking about, mein Freund (my boyfriend).
So you would want to say the equivalent of “The gift of my boyfriend,” which is:
Das Geschenk meines Freunds.
Das Haar der Frau. (The woman’s hair.)
Das Auto der Eltern meiner Freundin. (The car of the parents of my girlfriend.)
Die Tasche seiner Mutter. (The bag of his mother.)
Note: The possessive in German can also be expressed with an s the way it is in English, but beware: Don’t use an apostrophe the way you do in English. Some Germans have started using an apostrophe, but it’s considered poor form.
So you would say Marias Auto (Maria’s car), not Maria’s Auto.
2. With certain prepositions
If you’ve figured out how to express possession using genitive, congratulations. You’ve already cracked the main function of this elusive case.
However, don’t get too complacent. There are still a few more uses to learn. Next up, the prepositions that take genitive.
How do you use genitive case with certain prepositions?
There are a handful of prepositions that take this case. Here’s a list of the most common:
Während — During
Außerhalb — Outside of
Aufgrund — Because of
Trotz — In spite of
Wegen — Because of
Innerhalb — Within
So how do you use these prepositions along with the genitive? The article and object following each preposition takes the genitive. Take a look at the examples below and you’ll quickly have a good idea of how to form these.
Während des Konzertes, hat meine Mutter mich angerufen. (During the concert, my mother called me). In this example, des Konzertes is in the genitive form.
Aufgrund des Regens, bin ich nicht gegangen. (Because of the rain, I didn’t go).
Trotz meiner Krankheit, war ich froh. (Despite my sickness, I was happy).
3. With certain verbs
This is a fairly uncommon use of genitive. Once upon a time, plenty of German verbs used genitive, but over the years more and more verbs have switched over to Akkusativ. Genitive constructions with verbs tend to sound rather archaic and formal, but they’re still sometimes used, so you should at least be aware of them.
How do you use genitive case with certain verbs?
Remember, only a handful of verbs still take genitive. A few of the more common ones are:
Bedürfen — To be in need of
Gedenken — To think of
Harren — To await
Sich bedienen — To avail oneself of
To form constructions with these verbs, the object of the sentence takes the genitive.
Ich bedürfe eines offenen Ohres. (I need a sympathetic ear.)
Meine Mütter bedient sich ihrer einzigartigen Situation. (My mother makes use of her unique situation.)
Sie harren unserer Antwort. (They await our answer.)
4. Indefinite time
Ready for the last use of genitive? This case can also be used to show periods of indefinite time.
How do you use genitive case to show indefinite time?
First, it’s important to understand the English translations of these expressions of indefinite time. For example, the German equivalent of “someday” and “one day” both take the genitive case.
Be sure that you don’t use genitive with expressions of indefinite time governed by adverbs, such as manchmal (sometimes) or with expressions of indefinite time that follow a preposition.
Ich hoffe, dass ich dich sehe eines Tages. (I hope that I see you one day.)
5. Not at all
Have you gotten to know all the uses and examples in steps one through four? Are you a genitive expert now? Good. All right, now I have to remind you of something from the beginning of this post, which is that….
The genitive is disappearing from German.
Yes, genitive is slowly but surely disappearing into the realm of formal writing, while spoken German relies increasingly on English-inspired, informal forms. But before you throw all your genitive notes out the window, remember: This form is still used, and it’s important to know if you want to identify yourself as a serious German speaker. It’s just also important to learn the ways that Germans are replacing genitive with other forms.
In what circumstances are other forms replacing genitive?
Remember how Das Auto meines Vaters translates to “the car of my brother”? Increasingly, Germans are reforming this sentence to include the word “of” in German as well.
Nowadays, many Germans would express this sentence by saying Das Auto von meinem Vater (the auto of my father).
But, since von takes Dativ, that means the Genitiv in this sentence is no more.
Das Blatt des Baums (the leaf of the tree) becomes Das Blatt von dem Baum (the leaf of the tree).
Der Tisch der Küche (the table of the kitchen) becomes Der Tisch von der Küche (the table of the kitchen).
Genitiv may seem like a niche area of German grammar, and in some ways it is.
It’s still essential to learn if you want to ascend through the intermediate levels and emerge speaking confidently and fluently.
So, study our guide and you’ll become an expert at this case in no time.