Definitions

objective genitive

Genitive case

In grammar, the genitive case or possessive case (also called the 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 clitic '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 ("my leaving") — this is called the subjective genitive
    • as a patient ("the archduke's murder") — this is called the objective genitive
  • origin ("men of Rome")
  • 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 Arabic, Armenian, Czech, Finnish, Georgian, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Latin, Latvian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Sanskrit, Serbo Croatian, Slovenian and Turkish. 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

Possessive marker

Some argue that it is a common misconception that English nouns have a genitive case, marked by the possessive -'s ending (known as the saxon genitive). Some linguists believe that English possessive is no longer a case at all, but has become a clitic, an independent particle that is always pronounced as part of the preceding word. This is claimed on the basis of the following sort of example: "The king of Sparta's wife was called Helen." If the English -'s were a genitive case mark, then the wife would belong to Sparta; but the -'s attaches not to the word Sparta, but to the entire phrase the king of Sparta.

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 debated. This his genitive appears in English only for a relatively brief time. The construction occurs in southern German dialects and has replaced the genitive there, together with the "of" construction that also exists in English. While modern English speakers might expect that plurals and feminine nouns would form possessives using '-r', such as "*The queen'r children", in fact "his" or "hys" could be used for speakers and writers of either gender throughout most of the mediaeval and Renaissance period.

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 Jesus.

Objective genitive; classifying genitive

  • the Hundred Years' War
  • a dollar's worth
  • 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.

Double genitive

Some writers regard this as a questionable usage, 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. The Oxford English Dictionary says that this usage was "Originally partitive, but subseq. ... simple possessive ... or as equivalent to an appositive phrase ...".

Adverbial genitive

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

  • closed Sundays
  • of a summer day

Baltic Finnic "genitives"

In Baltic-Finnic languages, the accusative case -(e)n is homophonic to the genitive case. 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", and some of the 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).

Possessives

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.").

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")

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).

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

Genitive case in Turkish

Unlike in Germanic languages, there are different modalities of genitive in Turkish, such as definite and indefinite. The definite genitive case in Turkish is constructed using two suffixes, one for the possessor and for the possessed object, for example:

Nominative: Kadın (woman) ayakkabı (shoe)
Genitive : Kadının ayakkabı (the shoe of the woman)

In the indefinite form, only the possessed word gets a suffix:

Nominative: Kadın (woman) kıyafet (clothing)
Genitive : Kadın kıyafeti (women's clothing)

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 (a/the king)
Genitive: aššat šarrim (the wife of a/the king = king's wife)

Genitive in Arabic

Nominative: baytun (a house)
Genitive: bābu baytin (the door of a house) bābu al-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 (thy [masc.] book).

Genitive in astronomy

In the case of constellations, it is useful to know the genitive of the constellation's Latin name, since this is used to make the Bayer designation of stars in that constellation. For instance, since the genitive of the Latin word virgo ("virgin") is virginis, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo is known as Alpha Virginis. Many references on constellations list the genitive for each constellation.

References

See also

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