Sign up ×
German Language Stack Exchange is a bilingual question and answer site for speakers of all levels who want to share and increase their knowledge of the German language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was a little surprised to not find more information about this kind of construction in German, e.g.

eine Tasse Kaffee

ein Glas Wasser

My intuition said that this could be a genitive (in the second noun, I mean) that goes unnoticed because of the absence of an article — seems like it's mistaken.

Another plausible explanation I found in some sites (like this one) is that it is a partitive (which in German would actually be a double-nominative construction), but I couldn't find any authoritative source — e.g. the Wikipedia article says that the partitive is 'unknown in German'.

So, what is it?

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Eine Tasse Kaffee

is a cup of coffee in English. Where most languaguages use a partitive genetive German has a special construction nominative + nominative. The first noun describes the quantity a cup, a bucket, a sack, the second noun describes of what: coffee, water, flour.

Today the construction for how much of what is nominative + nominative. But it used to be nominative + genitive:

ein Becher Weines (Schiller, around 1800)

As feminine nouns have no genitive ending, it was ein Glas Milch and it was clear from the meaning of the words that the first noun described how much and the second noun of what.

So one learned that the genitive ending of the second noun was not necessary and in the course of time, it was dropped.

If you can find nothing about this problem in your grammar book you should try to get a better one. You can check the quality of a grammar book just by checking what it says about a special problem such as this special construction with a double nominative.

P.S: Don't consider Wikipedia as an authority in languages. They compile a lot of things and often they don't get it right. As you see German had a partitive genitive (for nouns of masculine and neuter gender), but the genitive ending was dropped. But there are a lot of expressions where a partitive relation is expressed with von: tausende von Büchern/tausende Bücher. Or:

Vieles von dem, was in Wikipedia über Grammatikbegriffe gesagt wird, kann man nur als verunglückt bezeichnen.

share|improve this answer
Note that even today similar construct like "Ich hätte gerne einen Becher von dem Wein" are used, just similar to older (sometimes used in poetic contexts) "ein Becher des Weines". – PlasmaHH Apr 8 '14 at 12:53
Also, if a definite article is used on the secod word, you also use the genitive, not the nominative: "Ein Glas des besten Weines", not "Ein Glas der beste Wein". – celtschk Apr 11 '14 at 6:35
@PlasmaHH : The two German phrases in your comment do not express quite the same. As a native speaker I would understand the first one as "a cup of THIS/THAT wine" (a specific wine) but the second one, though archaic in expression, as "a cup of wine" (without specification). You are right though that it is still a good example of a partitive genitive and still is widely used. – Patric Hartmann Apr 15 at 18:33
@PatricHartmann: With archaic german you should probably always state in which town you talk it, as it is was working differently the next one (Also you would probably say des Weynes or so). In any case while this is indeed not specific, it is unlikely to be used if there was a choice, so for the case of wine, it might be possible that there are many bottles on the table, but it is very likely that it is clear that there is only one brand. – PlasmaHH Apr 15 at 18:50 That's for you. Du kannst hier die feste Regeln anschauen, von angeboten.

share|improve this answer

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. – Wrzlprmft Apr 13 at 20:11
@Manuel: Es ist durchaus möglich, dass der Link in deiner Antwort in einem Jahr auf eine nicht mehr existierende Seite zeigt. Und wenn du heute, ein Jahr, nachdem Eduardo die Frage gestellt hat, über diesen Beitrag gestolpert bist, dann wird sehr wahrscheinlich auch in einem Jahr wieder jemand diese Frage und auch deine Antwort lesen. Aber dann wird deine Antwort wertlos sein, falls der Link dann ins Leere zeigt. Vielleicht passiert das auch erst in fünf Jahren. Wichtig ist: Es kann jederzeit passieren. Und daher sind Nur-Link-Antworten hier unerwünscht. Und fülle bitte dein Profil aus. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 13 at 20:38

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.