When Should You Use Dative and Genitive in German?

When Should You Use Dative and Genitive in German?

by Brita Corzilius
September 18, 2019

What is the genitive case? Which case should you use when speaking German? Brita is back to explain the differences between the genitive and dative cases. 

When to use dative or genitive?

In the last blog we talked about the three major cases: Nominative, Accusative and Dative. Today’s blog is all about the genitive case. It will be a discussion and maybe also pleading for my beloved Genitive. So sit back, relax and enjoy the show! 

German cases overview – short and sweet

German sentences require a subject and an object.

If you remember:

  • German consists of genders that help us to determine the different cases and give us freedom of sentence structure.
  • The nominative is the German default case. It is the case for the subject in the sentence. The articles are: der, die, das, die
  • The accusative is the case for a direct object. The articles are: den, die, das, die. Example: Ich esse die Schokolade.
  • The dative case marks the indirect object, the recipient of an action. The articles are: dem, der, dem, den. Example: Ich schenke dem Kind ein Buch.

Everything about ownership or simply the genitive-case

The genitive case shows a belonging. It gives information to whom something belongs or who owns something. 

This case answers to the question “Wessen?” or “whose?”

 

masculine

feminine

neutral

plural

the

des Mannes

der Frau

des Kindes

der Kinder

a

eines Mannes

einer Frau

eines Kindes

n-declination

des/eines Jungen

The genitive has a little exception in the declination as you can see. This exception concerns all masculine nouns with the endings -e and -et. These nouns have the suffix -n instead of -es. This declination is called n-declination.

For example:

Das Buch (S) des Mannes (G) ist interessant. – The man’s book is interesting.

Das Spielzeug (S) des Kindes (G) ist laut. – The Kids toy is loud.

Das Fahrrad (S) der Frau (G) hat eine schöne Farbe (A). – The woman’s bike has a nice colour.

Another exception, which is similar to English, are proper names. If you have a proper name, like the first name of a person, for example, that does not require an article, you simply add an “s” onto the name. Another peculiarity is that the article of the subject is removed. If you use the genitive with proper names, the proper name always comes first.

Peters (G) Auto (S) ist super schnell. – Peter’s car is super/very fast. 

Andreas’ Kinder sind lustig – Andreas’ kids are funny. (If a name ends with a s-sound, you only add apostrophe instead of an extra s)

Memorising-Tip ✔️ :

Whenever you think of the genitive case, remember it as the s-case, because you have to add -es to the article and the noun in masculine and neutral.

businesswoman-reading-from-her-laptop

Formal vs Informal German

There are different ways to construct German sentences. Let’s talk about Peter and his cool car again. We can express his ownership also with a dative case. In both ways, the object shows a belonging. The car belongs to Peter. 

Genitive: Peters Auto ist super schnell. – Peter’s car is super fast.

Dative: Das Auto von Peter ist super schnell. – Peter’s car is super fast.

If you replace the genitive with the dative, you have to use the preposition “von”.

Now generally speaking, this is great! We have the freedom of choice to use whatever declination we are comfortable with, right? Well, unfortunately it is not that easy. The dative replacement sounds good, if you use it with proper names. If you use it with nouns and their articles, the dative can often sound too informal.

Let’s have a look at it:

Genitive: Der Gameboy des Jungen ist kaputt. – The boy’s Gameboy is broken.

Dative: Der Gameboy von dem Jungen ist kaputt. 

In informal German the dative sentence is okay-ish. For native ears it sounds a little mundane. And because of this, you should always use the genitive in formal situations, such as at your workplace, etc. 

It sounds much better to say “Das Handy des Kollegen ist neu.” instead of “Das Handy von dem Kollegen ist neu.” (The colleagues phone is new vs. The phone of the colleague is new.)

The genitive allows you to talk about belongings.

Once you master this special case, it is actually easier to use, because the sentence structure is simpler. You do not need an extra preposition or juggle around with the word order. 

The bonus point is: The genitive gives your speech a sophisticated touch and definitely will impress the natives surrounding you! 

If you want to brush up on your German skills or finally want to start learning a new language, join us in our classes and master German in no time! You can also take advantage of our free week trial with our native speaking teachers.