An Introduction to the German Genitive Case

Hallo, Deutschlerner! In this post I will cover the basics of the genitive case in German: why it exists, when to use it and how to form it. In the next lesson I’ll get into some prepositions that are used with the genitive case. If you want to take a deep dive into the genitive case and really learn everything you will ever need to know about the genitive case, you should check out my Genitive Case Master Class

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.

Travel to Germany with Herr Antrim!

Before we get started with the grammar lesson, I wanted to remind anyone who is interested in traveling to Germany with me to check out the post from last Friday announcing the trip. Click this RSVP link to join the informational meeting on Friday, February 18th at 6 pm Central USA time (UTC -6). It is going to be a trip of a lifetime and you don’t want to miss this opportunity! 

Introductory Examples of the German Genitive Case

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. 

What is the genitive case in German?

eines Mannes? der Frau? des Kindes? What is going on here? Well, this is the genitive case. The genitive case, at its core, is used to show possession. The German genitive case is the reason that the English possessive forms use -s.

German Possession with Names

When you use a proper noun in English in a possessive form, you add an apostrophe and an -s to the end. For example: Bob’s Diner. When you do this in German, you just don’t use an apostrophe. It is: Bobs Diner. Here are a few examples in context. 

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. 

Names that end with -s, -ß, -z or -x

When you use a person’s name and that name ends with an -s, you can either add just an apostrophe to the end or add both an apostrophe and an -s in English. In German, you add an apostrophe if the name ends with -s, -ß, -z or -x (although I can’t think of a person’s name that ends with an ß. You do not add an -s after names that end like that. For example: 

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. 

German Genitive Case with Masculine and Neuter Nouns

Great. Now we can use people’s names with possessives, but how do we do it if we don’t use a person’s name? Well, now we get into the real genitive stuff. Let’s say I want to say “The man’s dog bit me.” As you can see in the English sentence, the man is the one using the apostrophe and the -s. This will also be true in German, but we switch things around a bit. The man will show up after the thing that he owns, in this sentence, the dog. So this sentence looks like this in German. 

Der Hund des Mannes hat mich gebissen. –
The man’s dog bit me. 

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”. 

When to add -s or -es to a noun in the genitive case

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. 

Wait. I thought you just said that single syllable words get -es at the end instead of just -s. Why didn’t Spiel get an -e?

Well, this is a more recent grammatical trend. Lots of people will lose the -e in the genitive case in favor of just using an -s. Duden, the go-to guide for all grammar nerds, lists both “Spiels” and “Spieles” as possible options for the genitive case. It does list the -es version first, which usually means this is the version they prefer, but both are acceptable. 

Weak Nouns in the Genitive Case

Some nouns fall into a category that we label as “weak nouns”. These nouns require an -n or -en at the end of them when they are not used in the nominative case. That includes the genitive case, obviously. Most of the time these nouns will simply stick to having an -n or -en at the end of them in the genitive case and will ignore the rules about S’s. Sometimes, however, the noun will require both the -n and the -s. For example: 

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. 

Recap of Genitive Rules for Masculine and Neuter Nouns

So to recap so far: The genitive case is used to show possession between two nouns. des is the article used for masculine and neuter nouns in the genitive case. You also add S to the end of the noun. If the noun is only one syllable, you add -es instead of just -s. Certain nouns are in a category called “weak nouns”. Those nouns require -n or -en in cases that are not nominative. Occasionally they add an -s to the end of the noun after the -n, but most of the time, you just use the -n and not the -s. 

Feminine and Plural Nouns in the Genitive Case

Now for feminine and plural nouns. They are much easier. The articles used in front of feminine and plural nouns in the genitive case all end with -r. There are no letters added to the end of the noun, so all you have to do is make sure that the article has an -r at the end of it and you are done. For example: 

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 the Genitive Case

So far all of my examples have used definite articles, words meaning “the”. Obviously you can also use indefinite articles. The last letters are the same and the rules for adding S are the same. For example: 

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 in the Genitive Case

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? 

What are Genitive Chains?

In addition to using a possessive adjective with a genitive object, you can also make a genitive chain. A genitive chain is basically putting a genitive object behind another genitive object. This isn’t as common in spoken German, but you might come across it in something you read. For example: 

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 Question Word “wessen”

The last bit I want to talk about today is something I mentioned in the opening of this video. The word “wessen” is used as the genitive question word. In English we say “whose”. Not “who’s”, but “whose”. There is a huge difference and if you are struggling with the difference there, the one with an apostrophe means “who is”, while the one we are concerned with is asking about the owner of something. 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 Examples of the Genitive Case in German

Now to end this video I’d like to give some more examples like I did at the beginning of the video, which show a series of example sentences all connected to each other using the genitive case and other ways of showing possession next to each other. These examples, however, will have a bit more variety to them instead of the pattern that was followed in the initial examples. 

Wessen Bruder kaufst du ein Geschenk? Ich kaufe dem Bruder meiner Freundin ein Geschenk. Er hat morgen seinen Geburtstag. Das Geschenk ihres Bruders muss nicht teuer sein, aber es sollte cool sein. 
Whose brother are you buying a gift? I am buying my girlfriend’s brother a gift. He has his birthday tomorrow. Her brother’s gift doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be cool. 

Wessen Katze ist in diesem Bild? Das ist die Katze seines Nachbarn. Die Katze des Nachbarn ist schon längst tot. Das Fell dieser Katze war sehr weich. Ich vermisse seine Katze. 
Whose cat is in this picture? That is his neighbor’s cat. His neighbor’s cat has been dead for a long time. This cat’s fur was very soft. I miss his cat. 

Wessen Blumen sind das? Das sind die Blumen unserer Ärzte. Sie haben sie letztes Jahr gepflanzt. Ich finde die Blumen unserer Ärzte so schön, dass ich sie fotografieren musste. 
Whose flowers are these? These are our doctors’ flowers. They planted them last year. I think our doctors’ flowers are so beautiful that I had to photograph them. 

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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