The Genitive Case in German

The genitive case is the least frequently used case in German language. In this post I’m going to explain when we use it and how it is formed.

1. What is the genitive case?

The genitive case as part of a sentence (= genitive object) expresses that something/someone belongs to someone/something. For example:

Ich fahre das Auto meines Bruders. (I’m driving my brother’s car.)

But the genitive case is also used in German with certain prepositions, for example wegen, trotz, während, (an)statt (as well as many other prepositions used in the formal language like einschließlich). Examples:

Wegen des Regens kam er zu spät zur Arbeit. (Due to the rain he arrived late at work.)

Er kaufte die komplette Küche einschließlich der Dekoration. (He bought the entire kitchen including the decoration.)

2. Use of the genitive

In German, the genitive case is barely used in the daily spoken language. It is more frequently used in the written language and in formal contexts (in the news for example).

So what do people use instead when they want to express belonging or use a genitive preposition?

For the first case, if something belongs to someone, in nowadays German we use the preposition von followed by the dative case:

Ich fahre das Auto von meinem Bruder. (I’m driving the car of my brother.)

As regards the genitive prepositions, in informal situations such as daily communication, people usually replace it by the dative case (the genitive case would be grammatically preferable, though):

Wegen dem Regen kam er zu spät zur Arbeit. (Due to the rain he arrived late at work.)

 3. How is the genitive formed?

As you have seen above, the genitive is formed not only with the article but also in the noun (but only in masculine and neuter):

With definite articleWith indefinite articleWith negative article
Masculinedes Bach(e)seines Bach(e)skeines Bach(e)s
Feminineder Lampeeiner Lampekeiner Lampe
Neuterdes Buch(e)seines Buch(e)skeines Buch(e)s
Pluralder Dingekeiner Dinge

Actually, there are only 2 different forms because masculine and neuter are identical, and feminine and plural are identical.

The “e” in brackets is optional when the word is just one syllable. But it is obligatory when the word finishes in -s, -ß, -x, -z or a consonant cluster (like Text because Texts is quite difficult to pronounce for a German speaker).

There is one special declension group of masculine nouns, called the “n declension” (see this post) that does not add the -s (usually masculine nouns that finish in -e in singular).

4. About the position of the genitive object

Attention! The genitive object is always behind the element it belongs to, never before it where it is put in English:

Das Auto meiner Schwester ist rot. (My sister’s car is red.)

The only exception are personal names in genitive (written without an apostrophe in German):

Ist das Helgas Tasse? — Nein, das ist Peters Tasse. 

(Is this Helga’s cup? — No, it is Peter’s cup.)