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A Closer Look at the Genitive Case
What German-Learners Should Know

German Lesson: More About the Genitive Case

This lesson is a supplement to our previous charts and information about the Genitive Case and The Genitive With Prepositions. It examines some of the finer points concerning the use of this German case and assumes you already know the basics. If you know very little about the genitive case in German, it may be advisable to look at those two pages before studying this lesson.

It may offer you some comfort to know that even Germans have problems with the genitive. A common error made by native-speakers of German is to use an apostrophe — English-style — in possessive forms. For instance, they will often write “Karl’s Buch” instead of the correct form, “Karls Buch.” Some observers claim this is an influence of English, but it is an influence that is often seen on store signs and even on the sides of trucks in Austria and Germany.

For non-Germans, there are other genitive problems of more concern. While it is true that the genitive case is used less in spoken German, and its frequency even in formal, written German has declined over the last few decades, there are still many situations when mastery of the genitive is important.

When you look up a noun in a German dictionary, whether bilingual or German-only, you'll see two endings indicated. The first indicates the genitive ending, the second is the plural ending or form. Here are two examples for the noun Film:

Film, der; -(e)s, -e  /  Film m -(e)s, -e

The first entry is from a paperback all-German dictionary. The second is from a large German-English dictionary. Both tell you the same thing: The gender of Film is masculine (der), the genitive form is des Filmes or des Films (of the film) and the plural is die Filme (films, movies). Since feminine nouns in German don't have any genitive ending, a dash indicates no ending: Kapelle, die; -, -n.

Also see
Using a German Dictionary

The genitive form of most neuter and masculine nouns in German is fairly predictable, with an -s or -es ending. (Almost all nouns ending in s, ss, ß, sch, z or tz must end with -es in the genitive.) However, there are some nouns with unusual genitive forms. Most of these irregular forms are masculine nouns with a genitive -n ending, rather than -s or -es. Most (but not all) words in this group are "weak" masculine nouns that take an -n or -en ending in the accusative and dative cases, plus some neuter nouns. Here are a few examples:

der Architekt - des Architekten (architect)
der Bauer - des Bauern (farmer, peasant)
der Friede(n) - des Friedens (peace)
der Gedanke - des Gedankens (thought, idea)
der Herr - des Herrn (sir, gentleman)
das Herz - des Herzens (heart)
der Klerus - des Klerus (clergy)
der Mensch - des Menschen (person, human)
der Nachbar - des Nachbarn (neighbor)
der Name - des Namens (name)

See a full list of special masculine nouns that take unusual endings in the genitive and other cases in our German-English Glossary of Special Nouns.

There are more hints and information you need to know about the genitive. We discuss those on the next page

NEXT > More Exceptions to the Genitive Rules

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