The Genitive is the case that shows possession in German. As in English, there is an “S-Genitive,” which is formed by adding an ‘s’ after an apostrophe at the end of a person’s name or an object, except in the case where only an apostrophe is needed (i.e. words ending in ‘s,’ ‘x,’ or ‘z’).
Lucas has a cat. → That is Lucas’ cat.
John has a dog. → That is John’s dog.
In the first example, it is not necessary to add an ‘s’ after the apostrophe because it is a name that ends in an ‘s,’ or ‘z’; however, many do so, and it is equally correct in English grammar. In German, an ‘s’ is added unless the name ends in an ‘s,’ ‘ss,’ or ‘z,’ in which case it follows the English above by adding an apostrophe and no ‘s.’
Gabi hat eine Katze. → Sie ist Gabis Katze.
Klaus hat einen Hund. → Das ist Klaus’ Hund.
In addition, German has articles, case endings, and prepositions that belong to the genitive case. The articles and endings are in the following table.
Important to also note is the ‘(e)s’ ending on masculine and neuter nouns in the genitive. For such nouns that are monosyllabic, they add ‘es’ to the end (e.g. der Hund → des Hundes); polysyllabic ones just add an ‘s,’ but there is an exception — any masculine or neuter noun that ends in an ‘s,’ ‘ss,’ ‘z,’ or ‘x’ must add an ‘es’ (e.g. das Gesetz → des Gesetzes). As far as the monosyllabic nouns that add ‘es,’ there is some variation in spoken German, in which some speakers do not add the ‘e’ before the ‘s.’ Thus, some will say “des Buches,” and others will say “des Buchs.”
There are several prepositions that are found in the genitive case:
Here are some examples of these prepositions in use:
Anstatt zur Arbeit zu gehen, geht Karl nach Hause. / Instead of going to work, Karl is going home.
Ich bin während der Pause Kaffee holen gegangen. / I went to pick up coffee during the break.
Trotz der Hitze spielen wir Fussball. / Despite the heat, we play soccer.
Mein Haus liegt außerhalb von der Stadt*. / My house lies outside (of) the city.
Innerhalb von einem Monat* werde ich in die neue Wohnung einziehen. / Within a month, I will move into the new apartment.
Jenseits von Gut und Böse ist ein Buch von Friedrich Nietzsche. / Beyond Good and Evil is a book by Friedrich Nietzsche.
Wegen des Orkans sind wir von der Küste weggefahren. / Because of the hurricane, we drove away from the coast.
Wohnst du diesseits von der Grenze* zwischen Deutschland und Frankreich? / Do you live on this side of the border between Germany and France?
Bremen liegt unterhalb des Wesers. / Bremen lies downstream of the Weser River.
Ihre Ville ist oberhalb der Stadt. / Their villa is above the city.
*Note = these prepositions often are combined with ‘von’ (dative case).
Some genitive prepositions are often used with the dative case in colloquial German, including statt, wegen, and während.
There are a few other constructions using ‘wegen.’ When adding the possessive adjective + ‘et’ to the beginning of wegen (e.g. deinetwegen, ihretwegen), it translates to “because of” or “for (someone’s) sake,” and can even mean “for all (someone) care(s)” or “as far as (someone) is concerned.”
Meinetwegen könnt ihr ohne mich gehen. / As far as I am concerned, you can go without me.
Alternative to Genitive
When indicating possession in German, the genitive case is not always used. In fact, the preposition ‘von’ is often used instead, which is translated as “of” in such cases. For example, to say “my sister’s book” in German, instead of “das Buch meiner Schwester,” it could be phrased as “das Buch von meiner Schwester” using the dative preposition. Further, the use of ‘von’ is required when there is no article, for example:
Das Rauchen von Zigaretten ist strengst verboten. / Smoking cigarettes is strictly forbidden.