Learning German you are being taught that there are 4 German cases for nouns, the Nominative, the Genitive, Dative and Accusative. The German Genitive is one of them. In a nutshell, this case is used when describing possession or ownership. However it is also used by a bunch of prepositions, some of them not so much known to language learners.
|Nom:||der Tisch||die Tische||Who? What? (subject) – Wer? Was?|
|Gen:||des Tisch(e)s||der Tische||Whose? (possessor) – Wessen?|
|Dat:||dem Tisch(e)||den Tischen||Who? Whom? (indirect object) – Wem?|
|Acc:||den Tisch||die Tische||Who? Whom? (direct object) – Wen?|
As mentioned previously, the German Genitive is also used to express possession and also used with the following prepositions, e.g. trotz, während, wegen, anstatt, laut, jenseits, angesichts, gemäß, entspechend, entgegen, nahe, …and many more. If you’d like to see the entire list, check out this German site.
wegen des Wetters due to the weather
laut des Gesetzes according to the law
angesichts der Lage in view of the situation
trotz des Schnees despite the snow
nahe des Flusses close to the river
But, do we Germans really speak the Genitive with these prepositions?
You might be surprised to hear that the German Genitive case is hardly being used in spoken, every day German. Instead we use the Dative.
wegen dem Wetter
laut dem Gesetz
angesichts der Lage
trotz dem Schnee
nahe dem Fluß
Now you may argue that this is only the case with those prepositions. But look at this:
This is my Dad’s hat.
Das ist der Hut meines Vaters. (Genitive)
I’d never say this in spoken language. Rather I’d say it like this:
Das ist der Hut von meinem Vater. OR Das ist meinem Vater sein Hut. (both Dative)
It amazes me that many German language courses haven’t picked this up yet because this development has been going on for many years already. I can think back to my childhood when this trend was already common even though in the written language we still had to use the Genitive.
Using the Dative instead of the Genitive in the German language has become widely accepted now, even in written German and on TV and radio. Already in 2003 an article in the Spiegel covered this topic http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/zwiebelfisch/0,1518,267725,00.html
Even a book has been written by Bastian Sick about this trend. “Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod“. Bastian Sick is a popular German translator, author and journalist who takes on the decay in German grammar and language in a educative, humorous way.
These days you will still find the German Genitive in poetry, legal and official writing and some industries. German linguists and supporters of the German language fight to keep the German Genitive alive. Using the Genitive in spoken language adds sophistication and an up-scaled touch to speech. It also is an intricate part of German language history.
So, should you still learn the German Genitive?
My answer is: It depends on what you want to focus on. If you learn German for travel and more personal use I’d suggest focusing on the other 3 cases. You should know about the German Genitive but not focus on it. Instead focus on learning how the German genitive is being expressed in spoken language. In the end, you will have less trouble understanding and speaking conversational German.