Unlocking the Secrets of the German Genitive Case: A Comprehensive Introduction

Hallo, Deutschlerner! Today, we’re unraveling the complexities of the genitive case in German, a key component for showing possession. Join me in this enlightening journey through the nuances of the genitive case, and stay tuned for our next lesson on genitive prepositions.

Introduction to the Genitive Case in German

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

Exploring the Genitive Case: Real-Life Examples

Let’s understand the genitive case with everyday scenarios:

Wessen T-Shirt ist das? Das ist nicht mein T-Shirt. Vielleicht ist das das T-Shirt meines Sohnes. Ja, das ist Lukes T-Shirt. Das ist sein T-Shirt. 
Whose t-shirt is this? This is not my t-shirt. Maybe it is my son’s t-shirt. Yes, this is Luke’s t-shirt. This is his t-shirt.

Wessen Schuhe sind auf dem Boden? Das sind nicht meine Schuhe. Das sind wahrscheinlich die Schuhe meiner Tochter. Ja, das sind Sophias Schuhe. Das sind ihre Schuhe. 
Whose shoes are on the floor? These are not my shoes. These are probably my daughter’s shoes. Yes, these are Sophia’s shoes. These are her shoes. 

Wessen Räder sind das? Das sind meine Räder. Aber du bist kein Auto. Ja, eigentlich sind das die Räder meines Autos. Das sind seine Räder.
Whose tires are these? Those are my tires. But you aren’t a car. Yes, actually they are the tires of my car. These are its tires. 

Wessen Spielzeuge sind das? Das sind nicht meine Spielzeuge. Ich weiß, das sind die Spielzeuge meiner Söhne. Ja, das sind Lukes und Adams Spielzeuge. Das sind ihre Spielzeuge. 
Whose toys are these? These are not my toys. I know, these are the toys of my sons. Yes, these are Luke’s and Adam’s toys. These are their toys. 

These examples highlight the genitive case in action, used to indicate possession.

The Essence of the Genitive Case

The genitive case in German is primarily for indicating possession, akin to the English possessive form ending in -s. In German this takes the form of -s at the end of masculine and neuter articles and nouns and -r at the end of feminine and plural articles.

Possessive Forms with Proper Nouns

In German, proper nouns in possessive forms don’t require an apostrophe like in English:

Ich esse jeden Montag in Bobs Restaurant. –
I eat at Bob’s restaurant every Monday. 

Das ist Freds Schwester. –
That is Fred’s sister. 

Der Lehrer fragt Tims Freunde, ob sie mitkommen. –
The teacher asks Tim’s friends if they are coming along. 

Special Cases: Names Ending in S, ß, Z, or X

For names ending in s, ß, z, or x, Germans add an apostrophe without an -s:

Hans’ Mutter ist im Krankenhaus. –
Hans’s mother is in the hospital. 

Heinz’ Bruder ist der Bürgermeister. –
Heinz’s brother is the mayor. 

Das ist Max’ Hemd. –
This is Max’s shirt. 

Genitive Case with Masculine and Neuter Nouns

The genitive case involves some changes to masculine and neuter nouns:

  • Der Hund des Mannes hat mich gebissen. (The man’s dog bit me.)

Notice the use of ‘des’ and the addition of -es to ‘Mann’.

If this looks confusing to you, it might help to translate the sentences as “The dog of the man bit me.” This puts the words in the same order, but it also adds in “of”. You can think of the word “des” as “of the” instead of like the other der-words, which just mean “the”.

S or ES? That is the Question

You probably also noticed that I added -es to the end of the word “Mann”. This is another side effect of the genitive case. If the noun in this case is masculine or neuter, you add -s to the end of the noun in addition to using an article that has an -s at the end of it. If the noun is only one syllable, you add -es instead of just -s. For example:

Am Anfang des Tages hatte ich viel Energie. –
At the beginning of the day, I had a lot of energy. 

Am Ende des Monats habe ich kein Geld mehr. –
At the end of the month, I don’t have any more money. 

Die Punktzahl des Spiels ist null zu null. –
The score of the game is zero to zero. 

Yes, Spiel can take -es or just -s at the end in the genitive case. Langauges evolve over time and this is a relatively recent development.

Weak Nouns in Genitive Case

Certain nouns, known as weak nouns, require an -n or -en ending in genitive:

Der Hut des Jungen ist rot. –
The boy’s hat is red. 

Die Buchstaben des Namens sind H-A-N-S. –
The letters of the name are H-A-N-S. 

Feminine and Plural Nouns in Genitive

Feminine and plural nouns in genitive are simpler, using articles ending in -r and not requiring an additional ending on the noun:

Das Kleid der Frau ist blau. –
The woman’s dress is blue. 

Warum liegen die Spielzeuge der Kinder auf dem Boden? –
Why are the children’s toys on the floor? 

Indefinite Articles in Genitive

Indefinite articles follow similar patterns. Note the -s at the end of the masculine and neuter articles and nouns and the -r at the end of the plural and feminine articles.

Das ist das Hemd eines Mannes. –
That is a man’s shirt. 

Ich habe einen Knochen eines Dinosauriers hinter meinem Haus entdeckt. –
I discovered a dinosaur’s bone behind my house. 

Die Haare einer Frau sind meistens länger als die Haare eines Mannes. –
The hair of a woman is usually longer than the hair of a man. 

Der Bürgermeister einer Stadt leitet die Gemeinde. –
The mayor of a city leads the community. 

Die Hufe eines Pferdes sind von Hufeisen geschützt. –
The hooves of a horse are protected by horse shoes. 

Die beste Freundin eines Mädchens sollte ihre Mutter sein. –
A girl’s best friend should be her mother. 

Die Sohlen deiner Schuhe sind kaputt. –
The soles of your shoes are broken. 

Ich kaufe den Lehrern meiner Kinder etwas zur Wertschätzung. –
I buy my children’s teachers something for appreciation. 

Possessive Adjectives

As you may have noticed in the last two examples, possessive adjectives like “mein” and “dein” use the same endings and follow the same patterns as the indefinite articles do. This is sometimes confusing to German learners, because there is a possessive adjective that is also showing possession in a secondary way by using the genitive case. The possessive adjective shows to whom the noun that follows belongs. The genitive case shows that this noun also possesses something else, namely the object that preceded it. Just for good measure, here are a few more examples like that. 

Die Mutter seines Vaters ist seine Großmutter. –
The mother of his father is his grandmother. 

Der Vater ihrer Mutter ist ihr Großvater. –
Her mother’s father is her grandfather. 

Die Kleidung unseres Kindes sind immer auf dem Boden. –
Our child’s clothes are always on the floor. 

Habt ihr die Schlüssel eurer Eltern gesehen? –
Have you seen your parents’ keys? 

Genitive Chains

Possessive adjectives follow the patterns of indefinite articles. Genitive chains link multiple possessive relationships:

Die Autos der Mitarbeiter des Geschäfts dürfen in der östlichen Ecke des Parkplatzes der nördlichen Seite des Gebäudes geparkt werden. –
The cars of the employees of the company can be parked in the eastern corner of the parking lot of the north side of the building. 

This is obviously a stretch of how this can be used, but it is something that you should be aware of in case you come across it. 

The Genitive Question Word: “wessen”

‘wessen’ inquires about ownership, equivalent to “whose” in English. This is the last of a series of four question words that all ask about people.

In the nominative case, we use “wer”, which translates as “who”. 

Wer hat diese Schuhe? –
Who has these shoes? 

In the accusative case we use the question word “wen”, which is the first “whom” in German and is used for direct objects and objects of accusative prepositions. 

Für wen sind diese Schuhe? –
For whom are these shoes? 

In the dative case, we use the question word “wem”, which is the second “whom” in German and is used for indirect objects, objects of dative verbs and objects of dative prepositions. 

Wem gehören diese Schuhe? –
To whom do these shoes belong? 

In the genitive case, we use the question word “wessen”, which translates as “whose” and is used to inquire about the owner or possessor of the object that follows. 

Wessen Schuhe sind das? –
Whose shoes are these? 

More Genitive Case Lessons 

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

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