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.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

How many times one can use genitive to refer to an object? German sentences like:

Das Fenster des Hauses der Mutter meiner Freundin u.s.w.

are, in my opinion, strange and stylistically questionable.

I guess one could just replace the genitive term by von der/dem in some instances but I have the idea (prejudice?) that genitive is more elegant than the von construction for possessive. How many times can one use genitive, as in the previous dummy sentence, without incurring abuses?

share|improve this question
1  
Es ist die einfachste Form, den Sachverhalt auszudrücken. Ich wüßte nicht, in welcher Sprache es leichter wäre. – user unknown Oct 22 '12 at 2:04
1  
@userunknown: in Russisch. "Окно дома мамы моей подруги". Auch eine Genitivkette, aber viel eleganter. – RegDwight Oct 22 '12 at 9:05
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The name of this construction is Genitivkette (in English: genitive chain). Long chains are bad style, but a simple replacement of the genitiv by a von dem-dative construction is even worse style.

How do you do it better in English? The verbatim translation of your example is this sentence:

My friend’s mother’s house’s window …

First of all let’s make a whole sentence out of this fragment:

My friend’s mother’s house’s window is broken.

This is correct English, but bad style, and it is an ugly genitive chain.
One could try this:

The window of the house of the mother of my friend is broken.

That’s also correct English, but it is ugly and bad style too.

I guess in real life, you would say it more like this:

My friend’s mother has a house, and in this house a window is broken.

In German:

Die Mutter meiner Freundin hat ein Haus, und in diesem Haus ist ein Fenster kaputt.


Addendum:

It’s quite hard to tell the maximum length of a genitive chain. There isn’t any rule that limits the count. Even chains containing 20 limbs are grammatical, but a stylistic disaster.

I think, the limitation is similar to the English limitation. I consider two limbs as unsuitable but acceptable in some cases. For instance,

Das Auto der Schwester meines Freundes ist weiß. — My friend’s sister’s car is white.

Having three or more limbs, I’d suggest to consider rephrasing the sentence. For example,

Das Auto der Schwester des Freundes meines Bruders ist weiß. — My brother’s friend’s sister’s car is white.

share|improve this answer
    
Ich kann daran nichts hässliches finden. Wieso soll das schlechter Stil sein? Die Behauptung scheint mir vollkommen aus der Luft gegriffen und durch nichts gerechtfertigt. Richtig dagegen die Feststellung, dass man beliebig lange Ketten bilden kann. – user unknown Oct 22 '12 at 2:08
1  
Weil in User Unknowns Kommentar zu viel drinsteht: Joar, beliebig lang können die Ketten sein. – Jan Dec 23 '15 at 1:15

Your Answer

 
discard

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.