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In grammar, the genitive case (abbreviated gen; also called the possessive case or second case) is the 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 (see Adverbial genitive). Modern English does not typically mark nouns for a genitive case morphologically – rather, it uses the apostrophe ’s or a preposition (usually of) – but the personal pronouns do have distinct possessive forms.

Depending on the language, specific varieties of genitive-noun–main-noun relationships may include:

  • possession (see Possessive case):
    • inalienable possession ("Janet’s height", "Janet’s existence", "Janet’s long fingers")
    • alienable possession ("Janet’s jacket", "Janet’s drink")
    • relationship indicated by the noun being modified ("Janet’s husband")
  • composition (see Partitive case):
    • substance ("a wheel of cheese")
    • elements ("a group of men")
    • source ("a portion of the food")
  • participation in an action:
    • as an agent ("She benefitted from the love of her father") – this is called the subjective genitive (Compare "Her father loved her", where Her father is the subject.)
    • as a patient ("the love of music") – this is called the objective genitive (Compare "She loves music", where music is the object.)
  • origin ("men of Rome")
  • reference ("Of the Gaulish War")
  • description ("man of honour", "day of reckoning")
  • compounds (Scottish Gaelic "ball coise" = "football", where "coise" = gen. of "cas", "foot")

Depending on the language, some of the relationships mentioned above have their own distinct cases different from the genitive.

Possessive pronouns are distinct pronouns, found in Indo-European languages such as English, that function like pronouns inflected in the genitive. They are considered separate pronouns if contrasting to languages where pronouns are regularly inflected in the genitive. For example, English my is either a separate possessive adjective or an irregular genitive of I, while in Finnish, for example, minun is regularly agglutinated from minu- "I" and -n (genitive).

In some languages, nouns in the genitive case also agree in case with the nouns they modify (that is, it is marked for two cases). This phenomenon is called suffixaufnahme.

In some languages, nouns in the genitive case may be found in inclusio – that is, between the main noun’s article and the noun itself.

Many languages have a genitive case, including Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Basque, Czech, Estonian, Finnish, Georgian, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Latin, Latvian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Sanskrit, Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovene, Turkish and Ukrainian. English does not have a proper genitive case, but a possessive ending, -’s (see below), although pronouns do have a genitive case.


The English -’s ending

Non positive marker

Some uses of English genitive are enclitic, since the apostrophe s applies to a phrase rather than a single word. For example: "The king of Sparta’s wife was called Helen." The strictly genitive of the phrase would be: "Sparta's king's wife," but the correct idiom is not "Sparta's king" but the king of Sparta, so the strictness of the grammar is sacrificed for a more idiomatic expression. Thus the -’s attaches not to the word Sparta, but to the entire phrase the king of Sparta as if it were a single word.

Despite the above, the English possessive did originate in a genitive case. In Old English, a common singular genitive ending was -es. The apostrophe in the modern possessive marker is in fact an indicator of the e that is "missing" from the Old English morphology.

The use of an independently written particle for the possessive can be seen in the closely related Dutch language: de man z’n hand (the man’s hand, z’n, short for zijn, means his).

The 18th century explanation that the apostrophe might replace a genitive pronoun, as in "the king’s horse" being a shortened form of "the king, his horse", is doubtful. This his genitive appears in English only for a relatively brief time, and was never the most common form. The construction occurs in southern German dialects and has replaced the genitive there, together with the "of" construction that also exists in English. One might expect on the basis of "her" and "their" that plurals and feminine nouns would form possessives using -’r, such as "the queen’r children": "his" or "hys" could be used for nouns of any gender throughout most of the medieval and Renaissance period, but this does not clearly explain the total absence of such forms.

Remnants of the genitive case remain in Modern English in a few pronouns, such as whose (the genitive form of who), my/mine, his/her/hers/its, our/ours, their/theirs, etc. (See also declension in English.)

Uses of the marker in English

The English construction in -’s has various uses other than a possessive marker. Most of these uses overlap with a complement marked by "of" (the music of Beethoven or Beethoven’s music), but the two constructions are not equivalent. The use of -’s in a non-possessive sense is more prevalent, and less restricted, in formal than informal language.

Genitive of origin; subjective genitive

In these constructions, the marker indicates the origin or source of the head noun of the phrase, rather than possession per se. Most of these phrases, however, can still be paraphrased with of: the music of Beethoven, the teaching of my mother.

Objective genitive; classifying genitive

  • the Hundred Years’ War
  • a day's pay
  • two weeks’ notice
  • speech of an appropriate tone
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • a man’s world
  • runner’s high
  • the Teachers’ Lounge

In these constructions, the marker serves to specify, delimit, or describe the head noun. The paraphrase with of is often un-idiomatic or ambiguous with these genitives:

  • **the war of a Hundred Years
  • **the pay of a day
  • **notice of two weeks

They introduce the likelihood of misunderstanding.

Genitive of purpose

  • women’s shoes
  • children’s literature

Here, the marked noun identifies the purpose or intended recipient of the head noun. Of cannot paraphrase them; they can be idiomatically paraphrased with for: shoes for women.

Appositive genitive

This is not a common usage. The more usual expression is the fair city of Dublin.[1]

Double genitive

Some writers regard this as a questionable usage,[3] although it has a history in careful English. Some object to the name, as the "of" clause is not a genitive. Alternative names are "double possessive" and "oblique genitive"[4]. The Oxford English Dictionary says that this usage was "Originally partitive, but subseq. … simple possessive … or as equivalent to an appositive phrase …".[5]

Adverbial genitive

The ending "-s" without the apostrophe, used like an adverb of time, is considered to be a remnant of an Old English genitive, and there is a "literary" periphrastic form.[6]

  • closed Sundays
  • nowadays
  • of a summer day

The ending "-ce", forming genitives of number and place:

  • once, twice, thrice
  • whence, hence, thence

Baltic-Finnic genitives and accusatives

Baltic-Finnic languages (Finnish, Estonian) have genitive cases.

In Finnish, prototypically the genitive is marked with -n, e.g. maa – maan "country – of the country". The stem may change, however, with consonant gradation and other reasons. For example, in certain words ending in consonants, -e- is added, e.g. mies – miehen, and in some, but not all words ending in -i, the -i is changed to an -e-, to give -en, e.g. lumi – lumen "snow – of the snow". The genitive is used extensively, with animate and inanimate possessors. In addition to the genitive, there is also a partitive case (marked -ta or -a) used for expressing that something is a part of a larger mass, e.g. joukko miehiä "a group of men".

In Estonian, the genitive marker -n has elided with respect to Finnish. Thus, the genitive is often identical in form to a nominative.

A complication in Baltic-Finnic languages is that the accusative case -(e)n is homophonic to the genitive case. This case does not indicate possession, but is a syntactic marker for the object, additionally indicating that the action is telic (completed). In Estonian, it is often said that only a "genitive" exists. However, the cases have completely different functions, and the form of the accusative has developed from *-(e)m. (The same sound change has developed into a synchronic mutation of a final m into n in Finnish, e.g. genitive sydämen vs. nominative sydän.) This homophony has exceptions in Finnish, where a separate accusative -(e)t is found in pronouns, e.g. kenet "who (telic object)", vs. kenen "whose".

A difference is also observed in some of the related Sámi languages, where the pronouns and the plural of nouns in the genitive and accusative are easily distinguishable from each other, e.g., kuä'cǩǩmi "eagles' (genitive plural)" and kuä'cǩǩmid "eagles (accusative plural)" in Skolt Sami.

The genitive case in Slavic languages

In Slavic languages such as Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, etc., both nouns and adjectives reflect the genitive case using a variety of endings depending on whether the word is a noun or adjective, its gender, and number (singular or plural).


To indicate possession, the ending of the noun indicating the possessor changes to а, я, ы or и, depending on the word's ending in the nominative case. For example:

Nominative: "Вот Антон" ("Here is Anton").
Genitive: "Вот карандаш Антона" ("Here is Anton's pencil").

Possessives can also be formed by the construction "У [subject] есть [object]":

Nominative: "Вот Сергей" ("Here is Sergei").
Genitive: "У Сергея есть карандаш" ("Sergei has a pencil").

In sentences where the possessor includes an associated pronoun, the pronoun also changes:

Nominative: "Вот мой брат" ("Here is my brother").
Genitive: "У моего брата есть карандаш" ("My brother has a pencil").

And in sentences denoting negative possession, the ending of the object noun also changes:

Nominative: "Вот Ирина" ("Here is Irina").
Genitive: "У Ирины нет карандаша" ("Irina does not have a pencil").

To express negation

The genitive case is also used in sentences expressing negation, even when no possessives are involved. The subject noun's ending changes just as it does in possessive sentences:

Nominative: "Мария дома?" ("Is Maria at home?").
Genitive: "Марии нет дома" ("Maria is not at home," literally, "Of Maria there is none at home.").

In Czech, the negative genitive is perceived as archaic.

To express partial direct object

The genitive case is used with some verbs and mass nouns to indicate that the action covers only a part of the direct object, whereas similar constructions using the Accusative case denote full coverage. Compare the sentences:

Genitive: "Я выпил воды" ("I drank water," i.e. "I drank some water, part of the water available")
Accusative: "Я выпил воду ("I drank the water," i.e. "I drank all the water, all the water in question")

In prepositional constructions

The genitive case is also used in many prepositional constructions.

  • Czech prepositions using genitive case: od (from), z, ze (from), do (into), bez (without), kromě (excepting), místo (instead of), podle (after, according to), podél (along), okolo (around), u (near, by), vedle (beside), během (during), pomocí (using, by the help of), stran (as regards) etc.

Genitive case in German

The genitive case is used in the German language to show possession. For example:

  • das Heft der Schülerin (the book of the schoolgirl)

An s is simply added to the end of the name if the identity of the possessor is specified. For example:

  • Claudias Buch (Claudia's book)

There is also a genitive case with German pronouns such as 'dein' (your) and 'mein' (my).

The genitive case is also used for objects of some prepositions.

All of the articles change in the genitive case.

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Definite article des der des der
Indefinite article eines einer eines einer

Adjective endings in genitive case:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Definite article -en -en -en -en
Indefinite Article -en -en -en -en
No article -en -er -en -er

The following prepositions can take the genitive: außerhalb, innerhalb, statt, trotz, während, wegen, and dank.

Genitive case in Turkish

The Turkish possessive is constructed using two suffixes: a genitive case for the possessor and a possessive suffix for the possessed object. For example:

Nominative: Kadın ('woman'); ayakkabı ('shoe')
Genitive: Kadının ayakkabısı ('the woman's shoe')

Genitive case in Semitic languages

Genitive case marking existed in Proto-Semitic, Akkadian, and Ugaritic. It indicated possession, and it is preserved today only in literary Arabic.

Genitive in Akkadian

Nominative: šarrum (king)
Genitive: aššat šarrim (wife of king = king's wife)

Genitive in Arabic

Nominative: baytun (a house)
Genitive: bābu baytin (the door of a house) bābu l-bayti (the door of the house)

The Arabic genitive marking also appears after certain prepositions.

e.g. bābun li-baytin (a door for a house)

The Semitic genitive should not be confused with the pronominal possessive suffixes that exist in all the Semitic languages

e.g. Arabic bayt-ī (my house) kitābu-ka (your [masc.] book).

Genitive in scientific names

Names of astronomical constellations are Latin, and the genitives of their names are used in naming objects in those constellations, as in the Bayer designation of stars. For example, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo is called "Alpha Virginis", which is to say "Alpha of Virgo", as "Virginis" is the genitive of "Virgo".

Biological Latin names sometimes contain genitives, as for example in the plant name "buddleia davidii", which means "David's buddleia", with "davidii" being the genitive of "davidius".


  1. ^ Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (1985). "§ 5.116 note [b]". A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London and New York: Longman. p. 322. ISBN 05-8251-734-6. 
  2. ^ Fowler, Henry W.; Burchfield, R.W. (2000). "double possessive". The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (revised third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 227. ISBN 01-9860-263-4. 
  3. ^ Quinion, Michael. "Double Possessive". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  4. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). "5: Nouns and noun phrases § 16.3 Type III". The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 468–9. ISBN 05-2143-146-8. 
  5. ^ "of XIII.44". The Oxford English Dictionary. 10 (2 ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. p. 715. ISBN 01-9861-186-2. 
  6. ^ "adverbial genitive". Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. 1994. pp. 35–6. ISBN 978-0877791324. Retrieved 2009-05-16. "Also see entry of.3 page 680." 

See also

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also genitive


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  1. Plural form of Genitiv.

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