Süßer Genitiv...Sweet Genitive.... A life without you is impossible to imagine... Oh wait! Just kidding! I know a guy who knows a guy who has a German cousin and he found a way to avoid your rules by using von + Dative instead.
So much for the poetic introduction.
The Genitive case is dying out. Okay, not quite, but you can see here and there that the official Genitive case is being put aside, replaced or bypassed altogether.
Genitive: Spoken vs. written German
German speakers, natives and non-natives tend to work around the Genitive case in the spoken language. Maybe it’s just easier to not use it for some people. Either way, people often avoid this beautiful case in normal conversation and use the preposition “von” (of) instead.
People often have a hard time using the Genitive case correctly. Maybe they feel intimidated by it. But there’s no need to be afraid of this case. All it takes is a bit of practice. Today, you'll mostly see it in the written language, such as in technical documents and literature.
Examples to show how people replace the Genitive
Written German with the Genitive:
- Das Auto des Mannes. (The man’s car.)
- Die Tasche der Frau. (The woman’s purse.)
Colloquial speech without the Genitive:
- Das Auto von dem Mann. (The man’s car. / The car of the man.)
- Die Tasche von der Frau. (The woman’s purse. / The purse of the woman.)
So, what happened here? Basically, instead of the Genitive we use the preposition “von” and the Dative case.
What, you really thought you wouldn’t have to use a case at all?
The use of the Genitive case with names
What stays the same in written and spoken German is the use of the Genitive with names. We still keep the ending “s” after the name.
Gogos Buch, Peters Fahrrad, etc. Remember, Germans don’t use the apostrophe for the Genitive in names like we do in English!
Our takeaway from this section:
- We normally use “von” and the Dative case when we're speaking.
- In written German you use the Genitive.
- There are situations or contexts where it’s not possible to use the Genitive.
- In those cases we use the preposition “von” and the Dative case.
In the next few sections you’ll learn where the preposition “von” can or even must be used instead of the Genitive in written German.
When do we use von + Dative rather than the Genitive?
This section here is mostly relevant for written German. As we already know, it’s very common for people to avoid the Genitive case in normal conversation.
Now, we’ll take a look at some situations where you can use the preposition “von” instead of the Genitive – even in writing.
A noun standing by itself
- Der Bau von Häusern (The building of houses)
- Der Preis von fünf Smartphones (The price of five smartphones)
- Ein Gefühl von Einsamkeit (A feeling of loneliness)
In a descriptive phrase
- Ein Gemälde von großem Wert (A painting of great value)
- Eine Dame von faszinierender Schönheit (A woman of fascinating beauty)
When using personal pronouns
- Einige von euch (Some of you)
- Ein Nachbar von ihm (A neighbor of his)
Pronouns that describe amounts or parts of a set, like wenig (little), viel (much/a lot) or indefinite pronouns
- Viel von dem, was sie weiß (A lot of what she knows)
- Welcher von diesen Filmen? (Which of those movies?)
- Etwas von ihrem Erfolg (Something of her success)
I’m sure you can think of some more examples where you can use “von” instead of the Genitive case.
Wanna know some tips for using the Genitive? Watch this video where Anja will tell you not so secret secrets!
Using the Genitive and von + Dative together or interchangeably
In some situations it’s totally okay to use both the Genitive case and the alternative with “von” and the Dative case in the same sentence. Of course, you can also use the Genitive twice, but it's up to you.
So, when is it ok to use both the Genitive and “von”?
If you want to avoid consecutive noun phrases with the Genitive
- Der Hund von dem Bruder des Nachbarn (The dog of the neighbor’s brother)
- Der Hund des Bruders des Nachbarn
It doesn’t really sound as good to use the Genitive back to back in German, so if we have to show possession twice, we usually use both methods. Sometimes you can still find structured sentences with two Genitive noun phrases, though, especially in technical or also legal contexts.
With nouns that come after an adjective without an article
- Der Bau von neuen Wohnanlagen (The building of new housing areas)
- Der Bau neuer Wohnanlagen
If your first noun has an indefinite article, it will sound better to use “von” instead of the Genitive, even though it’s still okay to use the Genitive if you like.
- Ein herrlicher Duft von süßen Keksen (A fantastic scent of sweet cookies)
Nouns that have indefinite pronouns
- Die Meinung von vielen Menschen (The opinion of many people)
- Die Meinung vieler Menschen
In many, or most partitive constructions
- Zwei von seinen besten Freunden (Two of his best friends)
- Zwei seiner besten Freunde
- Viele von ihren Mitschülern (Many of her classmates)
- Viele ihrer Mitschüler
When using geographical names that don’t have an article
- Die Eroberung von Konstantinopel (The conquest of Constantinople)
- Die Eroberung Konstantinopels
- Die Hauptstadt von Deutschland (The capital of Germany)
- Die Hauptstadt Deutschlands
And wouldn’t you know it, before you could finish your Coke and Pepsi blend, we're done!
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to use the preposition “von” with the Genitive, you know there is always a plan B to help you out in case you’ve got yourself in a pickle.