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German Genitive Prepositions

Like the genitive case as a whole, genitive prepositions are a sticky subject.

Some genitive prepositions are still used, but more and more are replaced by dative constructions. How does one know when to use what? (<-- we鈥檒l talk about that!)

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Written by Laura Bennett
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If you鈥檙e at a point in your German-learning adventure that you want to seriously up your level of sophistication, learning some genitive prepositions is perfect!

There are 12 common-ish genitive prepositions. Ready to roll? 馃

You鈥檒l learn the following:

  • how prepositions work in English vs. German
  • what the 10 German genitive prepositions are
  • how to use the genitive case with genitive prepositions
  • when to use the genitive vs. dative case
  • how to use genitive prepositions idiomatically

What are genitive prepositions?

Three are 3 main groups of genitive prepositions:

  1. more common
  2. less common
  3. very formal / specialized

These are the 4 more-common German genitive prepositions with their approximate English translations are (<– remember, prepositions do NOT necessarily have easy 1-to-1 equivalents!):

(an)statt — instead of
trotz — despite / in spite of
w盲hrend — during
wegen — because of, on account of

The 8 less-common German genitive prepositions are used to express space (or time) relationships:

au脽erhalb (outside of)
innerhalb (within)
oberhalb (above)
unterhalb (below, underneath)
diesseits (this side of)
jenseits (that side of)
beid(er)seits (both /either sides of)
unweit (not far from)

There are about 50 genitive prepositions used in formal / official registers, including academic writing, legalese, and commercial language. Read the list below in the Digging Deeper section (<– coming soon!).

Do Germans really use genitive prepositions?

Ask various Germans this and you鈥檒l surely get different answers!

In my experience, I鈥檇 say that in formal settings (or any other time someone is trying to look smart), YES, genitive prepositions are still used. 

On a day-to-day basis, this means you most likely to come across genitive prepositions in written German — whether in a high-lit. book, in an ad, or in a form you need to fill out at city hall.

More-and-more, though, genitive is replaced by the dative in spoken German. And prepositions are no exception. 

Except for the 50+ genitive prepositions that are only used formally anyway, ALL the genitive prepositions listed above (10 common-ish ones, total) can be used with the dative case, too.

And that is what you鈥檙e more likely to hear.

— Are there some Germans who use genitive prepositions in everyday speech (and yet 补谤别苍鈥檛 pompous 础谤蝉肠丑濒枚肠丑别谤)? Absolutely.

— Do I personally ever use genitive prepositions in everyday speech (and hopefully don鈥檛 sound full of myself)? Yep, I do.

— Do you need to learn genitive prepositions yourself? That is completely up to you!

Learning genitive prepositions is far from top-of-the-list when learning German. But if you鈥檙e here, that means you鈥檝e already tackled those essential items 鈥 so, why not? 

Let鈥檚 learn genitive prepositions, including when & how to use them. 馃榾

When & how to use genitive prepositions

In order to use a genitive preposition, you have to know how to 鈥榮ignal鈥 that your prepositional phrase is in the genitive case and that is a matter of knowing …

  • which declensions 鈥榮ignal鈥 the genitive case
  • which words in a prepositional phrase need declensions
  • declension types (strong or weak) & patterns (there are 4)
  • how to pick out the correct declensions for the right words every time

How genitive declensions work

Declensions signal the gender & case of the following noun — in this case, nouns within a genitive prepositional phrase.

Declensions are just single letters (-r, -e, -s, -n, -m) added to the ends just TWO types of words that [sometimes] are part of prepositional phrases and come in front of nouns: 

Determiners: a, the, some, few, this, etc. that tell us how many of the noun or which one.

Adjectives: describe some feature of the noun (e.g. big, small, round, flat, blue).

All determiners or adjectives in a genitive prepositional phrase will take either the strong or weak declension listed under the gender that lines up with the gender of the noun in the phrase:

NOTE: in the genitive, masculine & neuter nouns will also take an -(e)s strong declension! 

Knowing which word (i.e. determiner or adjective 鈥 or even noun!) needs which declension (i.e. strong or weak) is a matter of working with declensions patterns!

4 Declensions Patterns

This graphic shows you ALL the declension patterns that exist in German:

NOTES: 

  1. As per the graphic, a genitive prepositional phrase may NOT be used with pattern #2
  2. Additionally, in pattern #3 there is the added nuance: adjectives preceding masculine and neuter nouns take the weak declensions! (But adjectives in front of feminine and plural nouns take the strong declension as presented in the graphic)
  3. Read here for more info on pattern #4, which is ONLY for rulebreaker plural determiners.

Let鈥檚 spell this out by looking at some actual examples with genitive prepositions!

Genitive Prepositions Examples

Again, there are 12 common-ish prepositions that are technically genitive: (an)statt, au脽erhalb, innerhalb, oberhalb, unterhalb, trotz, w盲hrend, wegen, diesseits, jenseits, beid(er)seits, unweit

Remember: this means that every time you use one of these technically genitive prepositions, the noun that follows it is supposed to be in the genitive case (though it is colloquially more frequently put into the dative case). 

Check out the following examples and note:

  • the whole prepositional phrase has been italicized 
  • the genitive noun / pronoun has been bolded 

Declension Pattern #1 

  1. Oberhalb des gro脽en Bettes h盲ngt ein Selbstportr盲t
    (Above the big bed hangs a self-portrait).
  2. Unterhalb meines Bettes kann ich deinen Koffer verstauen
    (I can stow your suitcase under my bed).
  3. Au脽erhalb des Zimmers kann ich die Musik gar nicht h枚ren
    (Outside of the room, I can鈥檛 hear the music at all).
  4. Innerhalb des Zimmers gibt es nur pochenden Bass zu h枚ren
    (One can hear only thumping bass within the room)

    NOTE: of course, all of these could be (and typically would be) reworded to avoid the genitive. In these instances, a dative preposition would be used: 脺ber / Unter dem Bett and au脽erhalb / innerhalb von dem Zimmer

Declension Pattern #3

  1. Wegen schlechten Wetters verlassen wir heute das Haus gar nicht!
    (Because of terrible weather today, we鈥檙e not leaving the house at all!)

    NOTE: here you can see the weak declension on the adjective (no determiner is present in this declension pattern!) because it precedes a neuter noun. Of course, we could use the dative here instead: Wegen schlechtem Wetter..

  2. Unweit altmodischen 贬盲耻蝉别谤 gibt es ein sehr moderner Einkaufszentrum.
    (Not far from old-fashioned homes, there is a very modern shopping center..

    NOTE: this would be reworded to von + dative: Unweit von altmodischen 贬盲耻蝉别谤n…

Declension Pattern #4

  1. Trotz vieler langer Jahren der Trennung, liebe ich ihn noch
    (Despite many long years of separation, I love him still).

    NOTE: the determiner viel (many) is a rulebreaker determiner when used in the plural — it will not only take the strong declension itself BUT also require that any following adjective(s) take the strong declension, too (instead of the weak declension, which would be more typical).

    If we reworded this example to avoid the genitive, it would be Trotz vielen langen Jahren 鈥

    Notice the same pattern in the following examples. Can you reword them to the dative yourself, following the provided pattern with trotz?

  2. W盲hrend mancher langer Lekt眉re spiele ich auf meinem Handy
    (During some long lectures, I play games on my phone).
  3. Anstatt etlicher m枚glicher Ausreden anzubringen, sagt er blo脽 die unverbl眉mte Wahrheit.
    (Instead of offering each of the possible excuses, he spoke simply the unvarnished truth.)
  4. Jenseits mehrerer normal aussehender Haust眉ren gibt es h盲usliche Gewalt.
    (On the other side of many normal-looking house doors, there is domestic violence).
  5. Diesseits erkennt man aber nichts.
    (But on this side [of the house doors ^^] one notices nothing).
  6. Beiderseits verschiedener typischer M眉nzen finde ich h盲sslich.
    (Both sides of various typical coinage I find ugly).

    NOTE: All of the genitive prepositions formed with -seits would need to be paired with von + dative when being reworded: jenseits von mehreren normal aussehenden Haust眉ren…diesseits davon鈥 beiderseits von verschiedenen typischen M眉nzen…

Special Situations

1 Genitive Preposition + Pronoun Combo Worth Knowing

Genitive prepositions don鈥檛 usually combine with pronouns, but wegen does! 

meinetwegen — as far as I鈥檓 concerned / because of me / on my account
deinetwegen — as far as you鈥檙e concerned / because of you / on your account
seinetwegen — as far as he鈥檚 concerned / because of him / on his account

Of course, then, following the same pattern, we have ihretwegen, unsertwegen, eueretwegen.

Note that meinetwegen can idiomatically stand alone as a response, meaning 鈥榮ure鈥 / 鈥榞o ahead鈥 or even 鈥榝or all I care鈥, dependent on the tone used to say it. 馃檪

Summary

The 12 common-ish German genitive prepositions are rarely used in everyday German, but more frequently found (along with many more genitive prepositions) in formal writing.

When using a genitive preposition, you have to put the noun (<– that鈥檚 in the prepositional phrase) into the genitive case.

Doing that successfully is a matter of putting the correct declensions (strong or weak) onto the correct words (determiners or adjectives OR even sometimes nouns!) so as to reflect the gender [masc., fem., neut., or plur.] & case [genitive] of the noun!

Main Takeaways

  1. Prepositions introduce prepositional phrases, which always include a noun(s). 
  2. Genitive prepositions technically require nouns that are in the genitive case.
  3. HOWEVER, colloquially, it is common to pair genitive prepositions with the dative case.
  4. Two types of declensions (strong & weak) get put on the tailends of determiners & adjectives (<– words that come in front of nouns) according to different declension patterns. These declensions reflect the gender [masc., fem., neut., plural] & case [genitive] of the noun.
  5. In the genitive, even some nouns take declensions! 
  6. The 12 common-ish German prepositions that technically require that the noun in the phrase be in the genitive case are (an)statt, au脽erhalb, innerhalb, oberhalb, unterhalb, trotz, w盲hrend, wegen, diesseits, jenseits, beid(er)seits, unweit