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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?

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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
@userunknown: in Russisch. "Окно дома мамы моей подруги". Auch eine Genitivkette, aber viel eleganter. – RegDwight Oct 22 '12 at 9:05

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 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"-dativ 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 hole 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 is a window broken.

In German:

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


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.

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Ich war mal so frei, und hab deinen Text ins Englische übersetzt. Überprüfe meine Übersetzung und korrigiere sie ggf. Ich würde es begrüßen, wenn wir die obsoleten KOmmentare löschen könnten. - Dies betrifft dann auch @JorgeCampos. – Em1 Oct 21 '12 at 16:31
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

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