Genitive Case

What Is the Genitive Case?

The genitive case is predominantly used for showing possession. With nouns, it is usually created by adding 's to the word or by preceding it with "of."

Table of Contents

  • Examples of the Genitive Case
  • Possessive Case or Genitive Case?
  • Genitive Adjectives and Pronouns
  • Prepositions That Take the Genitive Case
  • Nouns in the Genitive Case
  • Why the Genitive Case Is Important
  • Test Time!
genitive case
Most people will encounter the term "genitive case" when studying a language other than English. In English, you will often hear the term "possessive case" in place of "genitive case," but be aware that the genitive case is not always about possession (more below).

Examples of the Genitive Case

Here are some examples of the genitive case:
  • Carl's haircut
  • The edge of the table
  • Dog's bone
  • The bone of the dog
There are several other ways of forming the genitive case using an apostrophe:
TypeExampleGenitive Case
singular noun dog dog's dinner
plural noun dogs dogs' dinner
singular noun ending s Chris Chris' hat or Chris's hat
plural nouns not ending s Men Men's room
Read more about using an apostrophe to show possession.

Possessive Case or Genitive Case?

The "genitive case" is also called the "possessive case." The two terms are interchangeable, but "possessive case" is more common in English study. However, as this case does not always show possession, some grammarians like to make a distinction between the genitive case and the possessive case. For example:
  • Dan's bike
  • (No one would argue this is the genitive case and the possessive case. It is the bike of Dan. It is about possession.)
  • Children's songs
  • (This is not about possession. It's about songs for children. For this reason, some argue this is the genitive case and not the possessive case.)
  • Constable's paintings
  • (This is not about possession. It's about paintings by Constable. Some would argue this is the genitive case and not the possessive case.)
It is worth reiterating that the two terms are interchangeable. However, you might also encounter writers who make a more marked distinction between the two. For example:
  • Childrens Minister wrong cross
  • (Sometimes, the title "Childrens Minister" is written without an apostrophe to make it clear it is a minister for children.)
  • Children's Minister correct tick
  • (We judge this to be the correct version. It's just the genitive case. It's not always about possession.)
This gives us a logic problem, however. Look at these examples (genitive case shaded):
  • The dog's dinner
  • The dinner of the dog
There are no issues with the two examples above. However, look at this pairing:
  • Picasso's painting
  • Painting by Picasso
  • (The phrase "by Picasso" is not the genitive case, even though it is an expansion of something which is. Oh well, never mind.)

Genitive Adjectives and Pronouns

Possessive determiners (called possessive adjectives in traditional grammar) and possessive personal pronouns are also forms of the genitive case. For example:
  • our carpet
  • ("Our" is a genitive form of "we.")
  • Can I use yours?
  • ("Yours" is a genitive form of "you.")

Prepositions That Take the Genitive Case

If you're looking up the genitive case here on Grammar Monster, then there's a fair chance you're learning a foreign language (probably either German or Russian). If that's you, then here's a list of prepositions that take the genitive case in German:
  • angesichts (in view of)
  • anstatt (instead of)
  • außerhalb (outside of)
  • beiderseits (on both sides of)
  • diesseits (this side of)
  • innerhalb (inside of)
  • jenseits (on the other side of)
  • laut (according to)
  • statt (instead of)
  • trotz (in spite of)
  • während (during, in the course of)
  • wegen (because of)
Those learning English are lucky. In English, the definite articles and the indefinite articles do not change in the oblique cases. In other languages, however, they do. Here is how they change in German in the genitive case:

The definite article

Case \ GenderMasculineFeminineNeutralPlural

The indefinite article

Case \ GenderMasculineFeminineNeutral

Nouns in the Genitive Case

In other languages (again, most obviously German and Russian), nouns in the genitive case change too (i.e., it's not just the adjectives and articles). In German, the genitive case is so important that most German dictionaries show the genitive form as well as the plural form of every entry for a noun. For example:
  • der Bruder, -s, -e (brother)
In German, masculine and neuter nouns take the ending "-s" or "-es." Feminine nouns have no ending. So, looking at the table above for the definite article and the dictionary entry for "der Bruder," "der Bruder" becomes "des Bruders" in the genitive case.

Here are the endings of German nouns in the genitive case.
GenderExamples (the word, the genitive, the plural)
feminine noundie Katze, - , -en
masculine nounder Freund, -es, -e
neutral noundas Kind, -es, -er
If you're learning a foreign language that features the genitive case, then you must get to grips with it quickly. The genitive case is so important, it is often called the "second case" (after the nominative case).

For those of you not learning a foreign language, here are some links to pages that will help you to combat some common errors that are associated with the genitive case:
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.