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12.8 Formation of the genitive case

Formation of the genitive case
The genitive is the fourth and final German case that we shall encounter. It is used primarily to denote possession and also after certain prepositions. The genitive endings of nouns in the singular and plural are listed below along with the genitive endings of the definite article:

  Singular Plural
Masculine des Mannes
(of the man)
der Männer
(of the men)
Feminine der Frau
(of the woman)
der Frauen
(of the women)
Neuter des Mädchens
(of the girl)
der Mädchen
(of the girls)

The basic rules for genitive endings
1. No endings are added to feminine singular nouns or to any plural nouns in the genitive case. The definite article in both of these cases is "der".

2. Masculine and neuter nouns in the singular add either "-s" or "-es". The definite article in both of these cases is "des".

Genitive singular endings: "-s" or "-es"?
How do you decide whether you should add "-s" or "-es" to the genitive singular of masculine and neuter singular nouns?

"-es" should be added:

  • with nouns ending in "-s", "-ss/-ß", "-x" or "-z"
  • (usually) with nouns ending in "-sch", "-st" or "-zt"
  • with neuter nouns ending in "-nis": the ending then becomes "-nisses"

  Nominative Genitive
"-s" das Haus
(the house)
des Hauses
(of the house)
"-ss/-ß" das Erdgeschoss
(the ground floor)
des Erdgeschosses
(of the ground floor)
  das Maß
(the measure)
des Maßes
(of the measure)
"-x" der Reflex
(the reflex)
des Reflexes
(of the reflex)
"-z" der Platz
(the square)
des Platzes
(of the square)
"-nis" das Ereignis
(the event)
des Ereignisses
(of the event)

N.B. Foreign nouns ending in "-s" or "-x" usually have no ending in the genitive - e.g. "des Organismus" (= of the organism), "des Rhythmus" (= of the rhythm), "des Index" (= of the index).

However some key foreign words such as "der Bus" and "der Kongress" are now deemed to have been assimilated into the German language and thus add "-es" in the genitive - "des Busses" (= of the bus), "des Kongresses" (= of the congress).

"-s" should be added:

  • with nouns ending in a vowel
    (but not adjectival nouns and weak masculine nouns)
  • with nouns ending in a vowel + "-h"
  • with proper names
  • with foreign names that do not end in "-s", "-x" or "-z"
  • with nouns of more than one syllable ("polysyllabic nouns") where the stress is not on the final syllable

  Nominative Genitive
Vowel der Schnee
(the snow)
des Schnees
(of the snow)
Vowel + -h der Schuh
(the shoe)
des Schuhs
(of the shoe)
Names Goethe
(of Goethe)
(of Klinsmann)
das Hotel
(the hotel)
des Hotels
(of the hotels)
  der Klub
(the club)
des Klubs
(of the club)
der Abend
(the evening)
des Abends
(of the evening)

Other nouns
There are no clearcut rules for the large number of nouns that do not fall into the groupings listed above. The choice between "-s" and "-es" is governed by such unclassifiable factors as style, rhythm and ease of pronunciation. It is thus highly likely that you will find both endings used for certain masculine and neuter nouns when they are in the genitive case.

As a very rough guideline, "-es" is more likely to be found:

  • in monosyllabic words
  • in words where the stress falls on the final syllable
  • in words ending with two consonants
  • in formal written German

Using the dictionary
As the choice of genitive endings for masculine and neuter nouns can prove difficult for beginners, try looking up the correct ending in a dictionary. A good English-German dictionary will normally list the genitive ending after the gender and before the nominative plural ending for a noun. For example:

  • der Biss m "-es" -e
    (m = masculine) (genitive = des Bisses) (plural = Bisse)
  • das Mädchen nt "-s" -
    (nt = neuter) (genitive = des Mädchens) (plural = Mädchen)
  • das Kind nt "-(e)s" -er
    (n = neuter) (genitive = des Kinds or des Kindes) (plural = Kinder)

Weiter!Chapter 12.9: The genitive case - possession

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