Prepositions Part 4: Don’t Fear the Genitive
One of the things I often have to reiterate in my German lessons is that students need to take German in small chunks. Learn the basics and learn them well and take a lot of the language as it’s given to them. Coming from English this is difficult for many as English is a fairly simple language in terms of declining adjectives, conjugating verbs, even articles. In this post, I’m going to ask you to trust me as well.
Now we’ve been looking at prepositions for the last four weeks. We’ve been busy learning our accusative, dative and two-way prepositions. Songs and mantras have been created and you’ve learned the most used prepositions. At the bottom of the accusative and dative posts I also wrote in other accusative and dative prepositions that are sometimes used, but usually have the same meaning as one of the major prepositions.
The funny thing about genitive prepositions is that they account for the most, but are the least used. Generally you’ll find genitive prepositions being used in legal contracts, so unless you’re a lawyer wanting to practice in German, don’t stress out about these. As this category is so large, we’ll just look at the most important ones in detail.
Before we get started, let’s just quickly review the prepositions that we’ve learned so far:
Alles klar? Gut! Gehen wir weiter. The first thing we need to understand is what the genitive even means, but again we’ll review accusative and dative.
Accusative: for direct objects (ex. Hans hat einen Ball.), repetitive time (ex. Hans fährt jeden Tag mit dem Zug nach Bern.), the thing that is being moved towards (ex. Hans geht ins Haus).
Dative: for indirect objects (ex. Hans gibt dem Lehrer ein Buch), temporal situations (Im November fliegen wir nach Kanada.), static locations (ex. Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch.)
In grammar, genitive (abbreviated GEN; also called the possessive case or second case) is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun. It often marks a noun as being the possessor of another noun but it can also indicate various relationships other than possession; certain verbs may take arguments in the genitive case; and it may have adverbial uses. (Wikipedia)
So what does all of that mean? Simply put its a possessive case most often marked in English with an apostrophe “s” or the preposition “of”. Interestingly enough even German speakers do not feel safe using the genitive and often exchange it for the dative case preferring to rewrite sentences with “von”. This is why when German speakers speak English they say things like: “The boss of Susan was very happy with her work.” instead of “Susan’s boss was very happy with her work.” In German: “Der Chef von Susan war mit ihrer Arbeit sehr zufrieden.” vs. “Susans Chef war mit ihrer Arbeit sehr zufrieden.” This phenominon has spawned a series of German grammar correction books entitles “Der Dative ist dem Genitiv sein Tod” (literally “the dative is [to] the genitive its death”) is a dialectal manner of saying Der Dativ ist der Tod des Genitivs (or Der Dativ ist des Genitivs Tod), which can be translated into English as “the dative is the genitive’s death” (or “the dative is the death of the genitive”).
We should also quickly look at what our definite and indefinite articles look like in the genitive:
*Note that there is no plural form of the indefinite article, however, kein changes in the same way that ein does.
**Note that these are possessive pronouns that require endings based on the word that comes afterwards.
Okay so let’s get to it: The most important and common genitive prepositions in German are: anstatt, ausserhalb, innerhalb, statt, trotz, während, and wegen. Note: The genitive part is underlined. many masculine and neutral words take an ‘s‘ in the genitive form — don’t think that its plural or another word.
anstatt / statt (instead of)
The nice thing with many genitive prepositions is that they have very clear usages. Anstatt or its other form statt are used to mean instead of. That is for situations where something that should occur does not or where something has been exchanged.
- Anstatt einer Haftstrafe erhielt der Angeklagte eine Geldstrafe.
- Instead of a prison sentence the defendant received a fine.
- Statt einer kostenintensiven Renovierung wird ein kompletter Neubau vorgezogen.
- Instead of an expensive renovation it has been decided to go ahead with a complete new building.
ausserhalb (outside of)
This preposition can be used spatially and temporally – so for location and for time. In both cases it means outside of. It’s opposite is innerhalb.
- Ausserhalb der Sprechstunden wenden Sie sich bitte an den Notdienst.(Beim Arzt)
- Please call the emergency services outside of consultation hours. (Doctor’s office)
- Der Schiedsrichter sah das Foulspiel ausserhalb des Strafraums und gab daher keinen Elfmeter.(Fussball)
- The referee saw the foul play outside of the penalty area and therefore did not award a penalty kick. (Football/Soccer)
innerhalb (inside of / within)
The opposite of ausserhalb, we can use this preposition both locally and temporally as well. In Switzerland you might often hear or read (innert) and in Austria (binnen) — they mean the same thing. When used temporally it is often used with von, which subsequently dictates the case of the next word (prepositional object).
- Bitte die Rechnung innerhalb von zwei Wochen begleichen.
- Please pay the bill within two weeks.
- Über die Kandidatur der Personen wird innerhalb der Partei erst nächste Woche entschieden.
- The candidature of the persons will be decided within the party next week.
trotz (despite / in spite of)
Another very simple preposition to use, it only has one meaning and is used in much the same way. The opposite of trotz is wegen.
- Sie gingen trotz des Regens spazieren.
- They went for a stroll despite the rain.
- Trotz aller Proteste will er im Amt bleiben.
- In spite of all the protests he wants to stay in his office.
während (during / in the course of)
Während is used temporally and often used as a conjunction, in which case it does not demand the genitive case. Here there are only examples of it being used as a preposition and not a conjunction. As a preposition we use it for when things are happening at the same time.
- Während des Festes haben wir uns gestritten.
- We faught with each other during the party.
- Die Kinder waren während der Sommerferien bei ihren Grosseltern auf dem Land.
- The kids were at their grandparents in the country during their summer holidays.
wegen (because of)
Sometimes you need to explain why something is occurring (causality). If you want to say because of me you add wegen to these: meinet-/deinet-/seinet-/unsret-/euret-/ihretwegen. In spoken German many will use wegen + Dative (ex. wegen mir)
- Wegen des defekten Wagens würde die Strasse blockiert.
- The street was blocked due to the broken down car.
- Wir mussten wegen des schlechten Wetters zu Hause bleiben.
- We had to stay at home because of the bad weather.
- Du brauchst dir meinetwegen keine Sogen zu machen.
- You don’t need to worry about me.
There we have it the most important genitive prepositions. If we look at these prepositions we see one secret of learning languages… Learning words and their opposites.
ausserhalb <–> innerhalb
trotz <–> wegen
Which genitive preposition fits? What does the sentence mean?
- __________ der vielen Fehler in Grammatik schrieb der Hannes eine gute Note.
- __________ der schweren Grippe ging der Franziska ins Büro.
- __________ des Schlosses sah man den Grafen kaum noch.
- __________ des Fussballspiels sahen die Leute einen Streit zwischen zwei Männern.
- __________ des Geldes nahm der Mann Lebensmittel.
- __________ des schlechten Wetters blieben die Mitarbeiter zu Hause.
- __________ des Skikurses gab es keinen Unfall.
- __________ des schönen Wetters blieben die Kinder im Haus.
- __________ der guten Zeitung las er ein schlechtes Magazin.
- __________ des Kommentars steht der Name des Autors.
- __________ meiner kranken Oma fahre ich heute ins Spital.
- Sie rauchten __________ der festgesetzten Arbeitszeit.