The genitive case


The genitive case refers to the idea of possession or belonging, corresponding to the English apostrophe s (’s) ending or the preposition of:

Das Auto meines Vaters steht dort drüben.
My father’s car is over there.

Wir beginnen mit dem schwierigsten Teil der Übersetzung.
We begin with the most difficult part of the translation.

A useful way of recognising the genitive in a sentence is to ask :
Whose . . . is it/are they? → My father’s.

The genitive with prepositions

The following prepositions require the genitive: statt ‘instead of’, außerhalb ‘outside of’, innerhalb ‘inside of’, trotz ‘in spite of’, während ‘during’ and wegen ‘due to’:

Während des Mittagessens sprachen sie über den nächsten Urlaub.
During lunch they talked about the next holiday.

Wegen eines Unfalls kamen wir zu spät.
We were late due to an accident.

Note that in contemporary German these prepositions with the exception of innerhalb and außerhalb can be used with the dative case:
Während dem Mittagessen sprachen sie über den nächsten Urlaub.

A few phrases such as eines Morgens ‘one morning’, eines Sonntags ‘one Sunday’, dieser Tage ‘in the next/last days’ are formed with the genitive:
Eines schönen Tages machten sie einen Ausflug in die Berge.
One fine day they went on a trip to the mountains.

Use of the apostrophe

In contrast to English usage, nouns in German with the genitive ending -s usually don’t take an apostrophe: Peters neue Freundin kommt aus Brasilien ‘Peter’s new girlfriend is from Brazil’

Genitive case endings

Here is an overview of the typical endings for common determiners and nouns in the genitive:

Definite articledes Mannesder Tochterdes Kindesder Leute
Demonstrativedieses Mannesdieser Tochterdieses Kindesdieser Leute
Indefinite articleeines Manneseiner Tochtereines Kindes– Leute
Possessivemeines Mannesmeiner Tochtermeines Kindesmeiner Leute

Note that in the genitive:

• masculine and neuter nouns of one syllable usually take the ending -es: des Mannes, des Kindes;
• nouns with two or more syllables normally only add an -s: meines Bruders, des Mittagessens;
• feminine and plural nouns don’t take any endings.

Although the genitive can still be found in modern German – especially in a more formal context – its use is decreasing. In spoken and sometimes also in written German, the genitive is often replaced with an alternative dative structure:

Das ist die Idee meines Bruders. →
Das ist die Idee von meinem Bruder.

That is my brother’s idea.
That is the idea of my brother.