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Does (did) German have something like what they call possessive apostrophe in English?
If not, what does the role of it in German language?

For example:

This is my father's hat.
My best friend's husband.

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Well, we do have the Deppenapostroph... – Jan Sep 19 '11 at 14:50
@Jan: Doh! I should had searched it in Wikipedia's German version. – user508 Sep 19 '11 at 14:52
@Jan: What about posting an answer? ;-) – user508 Sep 19 '11 at 15:23
The story is not exactly as it is depicted in the current answers, see, e.g., here. (I hereby renounce any priviledge to make an answer out of this and invite everybody to do so.) – Wrzlprmft Feb 22 '14 at 8:54
@Wrzlprmft, indeed, the “did” part of the question has so far remained unanswered. – Carsten S Apr 16 at 23:35
up vote 24 down vote accepted

German attaches the genitive suffix without an apostrophe.

Das ist meines Vaters Hut / Das ist der Hut meines Vaters

Der Mann meiner besten Freundin

Julias Mann. Martins Frau.

You will occasionally see " 's " as a genitive ending in German,

Toni's Imbiss

but that is - to put it mildly - inspired by English orthography, and incorrect in German.

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you might add, that if the name ends with an "s", like Hans, the possessive "s" isn't just added. The car of Hans is: Hansens Auto or Hans' Auto (apostrophe at the end). – Hinek Sep 20 '11 at 13:44
Not to mention "Toni's Imbis's - Alle's mus's rau's" – Hagen von Eitzen Feb 22 '14 at 15:12
The last statement could be misleading since the occasional use of the apostrophe in expressions such as Andrea’s Boutique or Carlo’s Taverne is in accordance with the official rules. – Loong Apr 18 at 11:03
Only rather recently, and because people have been doing it wrong for so long. The normative power of the factual and all that ... – Ingmar Apr 19 at 11:53
@Hinek That exception case is actually not because it is a "possessive apostrophe", but should rather be considered an "Auslassungszeichen". Hans' is "Hansens", as you rightly say, and that "ens" is omitted, thus the apostrophe. German does not have a possessive apostrophe. – tofro Apr 23 at 13:50

No, it doesn't. German has a possessive -s without the apostrophe.

Das ist der Hut meines Vaters.

Der Mann meines besten Freunds.

Using a possessive apostrophe anyway is a fairly common mistake, especially by people whose native language is English, but it's certainly not correct.

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Should read: especially by people who got the main part of their education from RTL and BILD. I doubt that most persons mentioned in advertisings like "Gabi's Nagelcenter", "Petra's Hairstudio" and so on do speak english. BTW, a Deppenapostrophsteuer could save either the Euro or the german language. – Ingo Sep 20 '11 at 17:12
"certainly not correct"... yet. A prevalent error will become correct. Okay, maybe not in Germany, but that's how languages usually work. ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Sep 20 '11 at 22:39
@Jürgen: Well, Willi's Würstchenbude is already recorded in the Duden, see rule 16.2.b). – Hendrik Vogt Sep 21 '11 at 10:04
@Hendrik: so... does that mean what I think it might? That it's actually... permitted? There's no explanation for "Willi's" like there is for "Andrea's"... – Jürgen A. Erhard Sep 21 '11 at 10:12
@HendrikVogt: Actually, the Duden is committed to recording actual usage of German. So, yes, if a mistake is made sufficiently often by a sufficient number of people, it is adopted by the Duden. That said, Thomas Mann uses the Apostrophe for names ending in a vowel (but not for those ending in a consonant) in Der Zauberberg (1924). – Ansgar Esztermann Apr 9 '12 at 8:47

Your question has already been answered very well. But to add some more information about the meaning of German apostrophe: In German, an apostrophe is always the hint that one letter is missing (in direct speech also more than one letters) even though many people use it in the wrong sense.


Wie geht es: Wie geht’s

Explanation: The letter ‘e’ of es is missing

Der Computer gehört Franz/Max/Hans/Maurice (last "spoken" letter is an s):
Es ist Franz’/Max’/Hans’/Maurice’ Computer.

Explanation: Genitive 's' at the end of the names Franz/Max/Hans/Maurice cannot be pronounced and is therefore replaced with an apostrophe. Which is indeed an apostrophe at the end of a genitive word. But it has nothing to do with the genitive. It’s just because one letter is missing.

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"an apostrophe is always the hint that one letter is missing (not two or more!)". I know it's a special case, but how would you write "M'gladbach" and "K'lautern"? – Raketenolli Apr 18 at 9:57
In written well formed German, an apostrophe is just for one missing letter. However, in direct speech (i.e. "spoken" German), an apostrophe can replace more than one letter. Read this: Duden explanation of apostrophes – Cachsten Apr 19 at 11:24
I did read, and found no indication that rules 13 or 15 do not apply to "written well formed German". Rule 13 explicitly gives the example of 's for das. – Raketenolli Apr 20 at 11:25
Well, at School I learned the one letter rule, it is simple to learn and remember. In 14 they say: "Man kann einen Apostroph setzen, wenn Wörter der gesprochenen Sprache mit Auslassungen schriftlich wiedergegeben werden und sonst schwer verständlich sind". But you are apparently right! Duden is explaining it differently than our teacher. – Cachsten Apr 21 at 8:20

There is no such thing as the genitive apostrophe known in English (*). In German, the genitive "s" is attached without an apostrophe:

Der Hut meines Vaters
Tonys Pommesbude
Andreas Friseursalon (it belongs to Andrea)

Only if the noun already ends with a spoken "s"-sound, an apostrophe is appended to avoid ambiguity:

Andreas' Friseursalon (it belongs to Andreas)
Franz' Hut

(*) The so called "Deppenapostroph" (idiots' apostrophe) exists, mostly to make fun of people who use the English form in German, or even worse things like the famous Weihnacht'smann or Kartoffel'n.

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No, in general the German language does not have an apostrophe in that case.

Im Gegensatz zum Englischen wird der deutsche Genitiv ohne Apostroph geschrieben. DeutscheGrammatik20

Englisch: Peter’s house
Deutsch: Peters Haus

There's one exception to the rule. If the name already ends in an -s, an apostrophe is used to indicate the genitive. It's better to reword it, not least because once you read it aloud you lose that indicator.

Einen Apostroph bekommt der Genitiv im Deutschen nur, wenn der Namen bereits auf –s endet. Hier sollte der Genitiv aber besser durch die Präposition von ersetzt werden.

Genitiv mit Apostroph: Klaus‘ Haus
besser: das Haus von Klaus

There are certain other webpages that summarize that topic. Another trustworthy site is Lingolía. They recognize a second exception:

Eine weitere Ausnahme besteht, wenn die Grundform von Namen besonders herausgestellt werden soll. Dann ist auch folgende Schreibung erlaubt. Lingolia

Beispiel: Andrea’s Armbrust

An apostrophe can make an important difference between male Andreas and female Andrea. Example:

Andreas' Bruder wohnt in Andrea's Haus.

In oral language, there's no distinction whatsoever; but in written language, the apostrophe makes the difference.

For a thorough discussion, I recommend reading Belles Lettres article about that topic, "Wann und wie verwendet man den Apostroph".

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I guess the answer is yes, the English apostrophe is sometimes adopted. I came to this conclusion after noticing that my favorite grocery store where I was staying in Königswinter is called “Kaiser's”.

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Kaiser's got its apostrophe before the orthographic conference of 1901 and has kept it. – Carsten S Apr 16 at 23:30

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