Handout: Der Genitiv

The genitive case is used in German to express either:

• possession, ownership, belonging to or with:

     Hier ist das Auto meines Vaters.Here is my father’s car.     
     Hast du die Freunde meiner Schwester gesehen?Did you see my sister’s friends?     

• “of” in English, when referring to a part or component of something else:

     Am Anfang des Kurses haben wir viel gelernt.We learned a lot at the beginning of the course.     
     Manche Seiten des Buches fehlen.Some pages of the book are missing.     

• in addition, there are a handful of prepositions that require the genitive case:

     anstatt (statt) -- instead of:
          Anstatt eines Wagens haben sie ein Motorrad gekauft.Instead of a car they bought a motorcycle.     

     außerhalb -- outside of:
          Der Park liegt außerhalb der Stadt.The park is outside of the city.     

     innerhalb -- inside of, within:
          Sie sind innerhalb eines Tages angekommen.They arrived within a day.     

     trotz -- in spite of:
          Ich gehe zur Party trotz meiner Erkältung.I’m going to the party in spite of my cold.     

     während -- during, in the course of:
          Während der Party habe ich mich sehr schlecht gefühlt.During the party I felt very ill.     

     wegen -- because of:
          Wir sind wegen des Wetters zu Hause geblieben.We stayed at home because of the weather.     

You may occasionally see other genitive prepositions, such as diesseits (on this side of), jenseits (on that side of) or dank (thanks to, due to), but in general the most common genitive prepositions -- and the only ones you’re responsible for knowing -- are listed above.

The formation of the article in the genitive is fairly simple, as there are only two different endings (-es for masculine and neuter, -er for feminine and plural). However, the genitive case is unusual in German because it adds an ending not only to the articles, but to masculine and neuter nouns as well. This ending is -es for single-syllable masculine and neuter nouns. When the noun is more than one syllable long, the ending is usually just -s.

masc neut fem pl
des Mannes des Buches der Frau der Blumen
meines Mannes meines Buches meiner Frau meiner Blumen

Although you aren’t required to learn them, the adjective endings for the genitive case are extremely easy: masculine and neuter are always -en, feminine and plural are either -en (if there’s an article) or -er (with no article):

                with article                       without article (rare!)        
mascdie Frau des alten Mannesder Geschmack kalten Kaffees
femder Sohn meiner jungen Schwesteranstatt heißer Suppe
neutein Zimmer innerhalb des großen Gebäudestrotz schlechten Wetters
pldie Augen der schwarzen Katzenwegen langer Tage

In addition, you may see the question word wessen: this is merely the genitive form of wer, and means “whose”. It never has any other form or endings:

          Wessen Auto ist das?Whose car is that?     
          Wessen Bücher liegen hier?Whose books are lying here?     

Word of warning:
Your impulse may be to simply put an -s before a noun to indicate the possessive, as we do in English (my father’s car). However, saying “mein Vaters Wagen” is not only incorrect in German, it is incomprehensible and makes no sense at all. You must rephrase: “der Wagen meines Vaters”. If it helps to think of it as “the car of my father,” that’s fine, since the meaning is the same as English “my father’s car.”

Remember that with personal names, you can simply add an -s to indicate the possessive. But when referring to a common noun rather than a proper name, the genitive formation must be used:

          Marias Freund heißt Thomas.Der Freund meiner Schwester heißt Thomas.     
          Hans’ Mutter ist nett.Die Mutter meines Freundes ist nett.     
          Wisconsins Hauptstadt ist Madison.Die Hauptstadt dieses Bundeslands ist Madison.     

Alternate method:
The genitive case has been disappearing in German for some time now. It’s not ‘dead’ yet, but you won’t often hear it in informal situations -- it’s mostly reserved for formal writing or elevated styles of speech. Instead of the genitive to indicate possession, you will often hear the dative used with the preposition ‘von’:

das Haus meines Freundes   =   das Haus von meinem Freund
der Onkel meiner Mutter   =   der Onkel von meiner Mutter
die Namen der Kinder   =   die Namen von den Kindern