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Genitive case

In grammar, genitive (abbreviated ; 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 (see Adverbial genitive).

Placing the modifying noun in the genitive case is one way to indicate that two nouns are related in a genitive construction. Modern English typically does not morphologically mark nouns for a genitive case in order to indicate a genitive construction; instead, it uses either the s clitic or a preposition (usually of). However, the personal pronouns do have distinct possessive forms. There are various other ways to indicate a genitive construction, as well. For example, many Afroasiatic languages place the head noun (rather than the modifying noun) in the construct state.

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

  • possession (see possessive case, possessed 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 benefited from her father's love")  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 ("the capital of the Republic" or "the Republic's capital")
  • description ("man of honour", "day of reckoning")
  • compounds ("doomsday" ("doom's day"), 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, Belarusian, Czech, Slovak, Estonian, Finnish, Gaelic, Georgian, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, 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.


English - s ending

Non-positive marker

Some uses of English genitive are enclitic, since in these uses the -'s applies to a phrase rather than a single word. An example is "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 title is not "Sparta's king" but the King of Sparta, so the strictness of the grammar is sacrificed for a more idiomatic expression. Thus in "The King of Sparta s wife" the - s indicates possession not by Sparta, the word to which it is attached, but rather by 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 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 appeared 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.)

English uses

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 less prevalent, and more restricted, in formal than informal language.


In the genitive of origin, the marker indicates the origin or source of the head noun of the phrase, rather than possession per se. Here "of" can often be replaced with "from".

  • Men of Rome


When the noun is related to a verb, the genitive is subjective, because it represents the subject of the verb when the noun phrase is turned into a sentence.

  • Beethoven s music (Beethoven composes music)
  • Fred Astaire s dancing (Fred Astaire dances)
  • my mother s teaching (My mother teaches)

Most of these phrases, however, can still be paraphrased with of: the music of Beethoven, the teaching of my mother.


In the objective genitive, the marker modifies a noun that can be rephrased as a verb, and the marker represents the object of that verb.

  • love of my mother (I love my mother)


In the classifying genitive, the marker specifies or describes the head noun.

  • 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

The paraphrase with of is often un-idiomatic or ambiguous with these genitives, introducing the likelihood of misunderstanding.

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


In the genitive of purpose, the marker identifies the purpose or intended recipient of the head noun. In this case, the genitive must be paraphrased with for rather than of: shoes for women.

  • women s shoes
  • children s literature

Genitive of measure

Forms such as "a five mile journey" and "a ten foot pole" use what is actually a remnant of the Old English genitive plural form which, ending in /a/, had neither the final /s/ nor underwent the foot/feet vowel mutation of the nominative plural. In essence, the underlying forms are "a five of miles (O.E. gen. pl. m la) journey" and "a ten of feet (O.E. gen. pl. f ta) pole".[1]


In the appositive genitive, the marker represents something equal to the main noun.

  • Dublin s fair city

This is not a common usage. The more usual expression is the fair city of Dublin.[2]

Double genitive

  • that hard heart of thine ("Venus and Adonis" line 500)
  • this extreme exactness of his ("Tristram Shandy", chapter 1.IV)
  • Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby s is a Friend of Mine
  • a picture of the king s (that is, a picture owned by the king, as distinguished from a picture of the king, one in which the king is portrayed)[3]

Some writers regard this as a questionable usage,[4] although it has a history in careful English. "Moreover, in some sentences the double genitive offers the only way to express what is meant. There is no substitute for it in a sentence such as That s the only friend of yours that I ve ever met, since sentences such as That s your only friend that I ve ever met and That s your only friend, whom I ve ever met are not grammatical."[5] "[T]he construction is confined to human referents: compare a friend of the Gallery/ no fault of the Gallery."[6] Some object to the name, as the "of" clause is not a genitive. Alternative names are "double possessive" and "oblique genitive".[7] The Oxford English Dictionary says that this usage was "Originally partitive, but subseq. ... simple possessive ... or as equivalent to an appositive phrase ...".[8]


The ending "-s" without the apostrophe, used like an adverb of time, is considered to be a remnant of an Old English genitive. There is a "literary" periphrastic form using "of".[9]

  • closed Sundays
  • nowadays
  • of a summer day

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

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

Finnic genitives and accusatives

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 miehi "a group of men".

In Estonian, the genitive marker -n has elided with respect to Finnish. Thus, the genitive always ends with a vowel, and the singular genitive is sometimes (in a subset of words ending with a vocal in nominative) identical in form to nominative.

In Finnish, in addition to the uses mentioned above, there is a construct where the genitive is used to mark a surname. For example, Juhani Virtanen can be also expressed Virtasen Juhani ("Juhani of the Virtanens").

A complication in 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 syd men vs. nominative syd n.) 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 S mi languages, where the pronouns and the plural of nouns in the genitive and accusative are easily distinguishable from each other, e.g., ku 'c mi "eagles' (genitive plural)" and ku 'c mid "eagles (accusative plural)" in Skolt Sami.

Slavic languages

In Slavic languages such as Russian, Serbian, 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 , , or , depending on the word's ending in the nominative case. For example:

Nominative: " " ("Here is Anton").
Genitive: " " ("Here is Anton's pencil").

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

Nominative: " " ("Here is Sergei").
Genitive: " " ("Sergei has a pencil").

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

Nominative: " " ("Here is my brother").
Genitive: " " ("My brother has a pencil").

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

Nominative: " " ("Here is Irina").
Genitive: " " ("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: " ?" ("Is Maria at home?").
Genitive: " " ("Maria is not at home," literally, "Of Maria there is none at home.").

Use of genitive for negation is obligatory in Slovene, Polish and Old Church Slavonic. Russian, Belarussian, Ukrainian optionally employ genitive for negation. In Czech, the negative genitive is perceived as archaic, as is in Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian.[10]

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 (having a function of non-existing partitive case), whereas similar constructions using the Accusative case denote full coverage. Compare the sentences:

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

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), krom (excepting), m sto (instead of), podle (after, according to), pod l (along), okolo (around), u (near, by), vedle (beside), b hem (during), pomoc (using, by the help of), stran (as regards) etc.


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

  • das Buch der Sch lerin (the book of the schoolgirl) - Feminine
  • das Buch des Sch lers (the book of the schoolboy) - Masculine

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 (e.g. trotz [despite], wegen [because of], [an]statt [instead of], w hrend [during]), and is required as the case of the direct object for some verbs (e.g. gedenken, sich erfreuen, bed rfen, ermangeln; Usage: wir gedachten der Verstorbenen - We remembered the dead; wir erfreuen uns des sch nen Wetters - We're happy about the nice weather.).

All of the articles change in the genitive case.

! Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Definite article des der des der
Indefinite article eines einer eines (no article)

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: au erhalb, innerhalb, statt, trotz, w hrend, wegen, and dank.

Altaic languages

(Altaic is a proposal; on this point of grammar, the included languages behave similarly.)


The Japanese possessive is constructed by using the suffix -no to make the genitive case. For example:

Nominative: neko ('cat'); te ('hand, paw')
Genitive: neko-no te ('cat's paw')

It also uses the suffix -na for adjectival noun; in some analyses adjectival nouns are simply nouns that take -na in the genitive, forming a complementary distribution (-no and -na being allomorphs).


The possessive in Korean can be formed using the ending -ui ' '.

This is a car. igeoneun jadongchayeyo. .
This is the man's car. igeoneun namja-ui jadongchaeyeo. .


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: Kad n ('woman'); ayakkab ('shoe')
Genitive: Kad n n ayakkab s ('the woman's shoe')

Semitic languages

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


Nominative: arrum (king)
Genitive: a at arrim (wife of king = king's wife)


Called al-majr r (meaning "dragged") in Arabic, the Genitive case functions both as an indication of ownership (ex. the door of the house) and for nouns following a preposition.

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

The Arabic genitive marking also appears after prepositions.

e.g. b bun 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- (my house) kit bu-ka (your [masc.] book).


Names of stars

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 virg .

Scientific names of species

Scientific names of living things sometimes contain genitives, as in the plant name Buddleja davidii, meaning "David's buddleia". Here Davidii is the genitive of Davidius, a Latinized version of the English name, not capitalized because it is the second part of a scientific name.

See also

  • Genitive construction
  • Possessive case
  • Saxon genitive


External links

af:Genitief als:Genitiv ar: ( ) an:Chenitivo bg: bs:Genitiv br:Genitivel (Troad) ca:Cas genitiu cs:Genitiv da:Genitiv de:Genitiv dsb:Genitiw el: es:Caso genitivo eo:Genitivo eu:Genitibo fa: fr:G nitif gd:An tuiseal ginideach gl:Xenitivo hsb:Genitiw hr:Genitiv io:Genitivo is:Eignarfall it:Genitivo jv:Kasus g nitif la:Genetivus hu:Birtokos eset mk: mwl:Causo genitibo nl:Genitief ja: ce: no:Genitiv nn:Genitiv pl:Dope niacz (przypadek) pt:Caso genitivo ro:Cazul genitiv ru: sk:Genit v sr: sh:Genitiv fi:Genetiivi sv:Genitiv tr:Genitif uk: vec:Genitivo zh:

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