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"Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod" is an interesting German phrase which originates this question. I'm interested in knowing how true is it/will it be.

  1. Has German always had four cases? Or were some cases deleted/added? When?
  2. I'm temporarily a DaF-student, and while learning the Genitiv-prepositions, there are some that are Dativ-prepositions as well (e.g. wegen, dank, ...). However, my teacher ‒ who is young enough ‒ told me that her grammar courses at school classified those prepositions as exclusively genitive. If this change took place so quickly, could people predict a year in which Genitiv will be obsolete?
  3. Could the "elegant" feature of the genitive, later on sound just "old-fashioned"? Am I using "old-fashioned" grammar when talking between Kumpel and using genitive?

In my mother tongue there is no genitive, so I find it utterly interesting (and sorry if off-topic, but I just love it! :))

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Young enough for which purpose? @3: Der korrekte Genitiv ist so geschmeidig, dass ihn niemand groß wahrnehmen wird, wenn Du ihn nicht absichtsvoll und gekünstelt betonst. –  user unknown Jul 13 '13 at 10:04
@userunknown In order to pinpoint that in less than 30 years a change in the use of prepositions took place. –  c.p. Jul 14 '13 at 10:47
+1 for loving it! :-) –  alk Aug 28 '13 at 13:52

4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

In addition to the other answers I'd like to add that in the Duden Grammatik (the real, fat one) they say that new prepositions develop mainly from adverbs or other prepositional phrases. When a new preposition evolves the case it rules is often Genitive which then later changes to Dative or maybe even Accusative. Also, the prepositions tend to get shortened.

One example for the case-change is the preposition ohne which used to rule Genitive. The proof they offer is the word zweifelsohne.

An example for the shortening is anstatt - statt.

Wegen is in the process of changing at the moment and will probably end up in Dative.

Examples for possible new prepositions are anstelle and aufgrund. Those are contracted 2 word combinations and as of now they clearly rule the Genitive.

So considering that new prepositions tend to start of with the Genitive and taking the other answers into account I would say that it is unlikely that German will entirely get rid of it. German is a hard to predict language, there are contradictory forces at work and you're always in for a surprise.

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Good point. When changing from verbal style to nominal style, adverbs and conjunctions will probably change to prepositions receiving Genitive. –  Toscho Jul 15 '13 at 19:13
  1. German is an indoeuropean language. The Proto-Indo-European language had 8 to 9 cases including the 4 cases still present in contemporary German. During the development of German out of Proto-Indo-European, the other 4 to 5 cases were dropped (cases merged, alternative constructions replaced case constructions, …)(Verweis). Old High German still had the "instrumentalis" case (Verweis).

  2. You can predict any future year. But that's of no value if not based on a scientific model and proper data. Then, the model might change due to changes in politics which might change the society (e.g. banning BILD and RTL2 and simultaneously making more good newspapers and tv broadcasts could postpone or even prevent the extinction of "Genitiv").

  3. This depends utterly on the situation. There are no rules. Friends might expect correct usage during small talk. During a job interview, your future boss might scorn you for using Genitiv as being snobbish, hyperintellectual, …. I personally try to always use Genitiv correctly but sometimes fail.

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On the other hand, your future boss might also scorn you for not using a genitive where one would be appropriate. Personally, I find this more likely than Toscho's job interview scenario. –  elena Jul 15 '13 at 12:15
@elena This is totally true. I just assumed your scenario to be the stereotype. Consequently, I wanted to give an example with the opposite reaction in order to emphasize the fact, that there is no rule. –  Toscho Jul 15 '13 at 19:10

Just a small addendum:

The phrase "Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod" has become very popular again within the last years. One of the more popular ambassador of this oppinion is a journalist called Bastian Sick, who writes his columns entitled "Zwiebelfisch", published on the german magazine Spiegel.

The phrase itself is kind of a wordplay as it substitutes the genitive with an adnominale dative phrase, thus refering to the assumed circumstance:

Der Dativ ist des Genitivs Tod -> Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod

From a scientific point of view this is nothing to worry about and it's neither a new development. There are different constructions that have been used with the dative more frequent than with the genitive in the spoken language ever since (well, not exactly, but you get the point).

On the other hand there are prepositions like trotz and dank where the use with dative has declined, while they are heavily used with genitive since the beginning of the 20th century. So there is no clear tendency and there are quite a lot of linguists, who don't share the opinion that the genitive is disappearing.

By the way, there is a great article on this topic on a popular linguistic blog, you can check it out here

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Regarding 2., the question when the genitive will be obsolete, or gone:

It already is practically absent.

A real-world test is to watch TV. Practically all popular TV shows (including the official news broadcasts) fail to use the genitive. Same thing in commercials. Check it out if you doubt this.

I consider this a big loss. It shows that most people did not learn certain grammar aspects, and so they even don´t know what they are doing wrong.

However, it still is discussable that if you (in all-day speech) don´t use a language rule you don´t know, you are doing utterly wrong, or not. You just can´t do better...and most people today just cannot. That´s the real problem.
German is slowly transitioning from a sharp sword towards a mundane, quick-and dirty simplified variation of itself, and this just reflects where the majority of the society is going to: Playstation button pushers, "Hip"-be´rs, financed car-posers, and bad-educated.

The book Generation Doof: Wie blöd sind wir eigentlich? demonstrates this, and finds some well-thought-out reasons behind this transition.

So regarding 3, the question of genitive sounding old-fashioned, or unnatural:
Yes. In a house full of maniacs, the sane is the patient. So already today, you will earn confused looks, or appear arrogant, if you use the genitive on occasions where the vast majority wouldn´t.

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Any information to go with this rant? –  Carsten Schultz Aug 23 '13 at 11:24
@TheBlastOne: Ob ein Wort aus den Nachrichten verschwindet oder nicht ist keine subjektive Frage sondern lässt sich messen. Eine Meinung dazu haben zu wollen ist überflüssig. Soeben drauf geachtet und gleich der erste Satz des Sportreporters war, sinngemäß: "Schalkes Mittelfeldspieler war ebenso rot gesperrt worden ..." mit dem Genitiv. Vielleicht zeichnest Du ja mal eine Sendung auf und zählst die Genitive und die stattdessen verwendeten von. Das sagt uns noch nichts über die Tendenz, außer es gäbe nur richtige Genitive. "über das Schicksal von Vermissten" - kannst es Dir sparen. –  user unknown Aug 28 '13 at 6:03
Praktisch ausgestorben ist der Genitiv aber wohl kaum, wenn man wiederholt in kürzester Zeit, also etwa 2 Minuten einen korrekten Genitiv findet. Zudem muss ich auch dem letzten Satz widersprechen. Die Fähigkeit korrektes Deutsch zu verstehen ist viel stärker ausgeprägt als auch welches zu sprechen oder zu schreiben. Es wird kaum wem auffallen wenn man den Genitiv korrekt verwendet, weil einige Leute ihn oft verwenden. Dass man allein wg. der Verwendung arrogant wirken kann halte ich für eine Legende. –  user unknown Aug 28 '13 at 6:10
Das ist hier keine Laberplattform, sondern wenn Du eine Antwort schreibst, dann sollte sie stimmen. Du sollst nicht Deine Meinung ausbreiten sondern Fakten oder begründete Vermutungen. Du darfst nicht davon ausgehen, dass Deine Leser es schon von alleine besser wissen, sondern musst damit rechnen dass sie deutlich weniger wissen als Du und nicht merken, wenn Sie von Dir in die Irre geschickt werden. Und wenn Deine Aussagen im wesentlichen haltloses Zeuch sind, dann ja, solltest Du den Beitrag lieber löschen, das nächste Mal aber vielleicht nicht erst schreiben. –  user unknown Aug 28 '13 at 18:55
Und Friedensangebot: meine Antwort enthält keine Nachweise, viel Meinung und persönlichen Eindruck, ja, absolut. Tja, dafür hatte sie auch 2 upvotes und 2 downvotes, macht Null, und ist nicht die akzeptierte. Was zeigt das? Nicht das, was Du behauptest, sondern einfach, dass sie inhaltlich und sonstwie die schlechtere (schlechteste?) gewesen sein dürfte. Ist doch ok! Wenn Du nicht damit leben kannst, ich kann´s. –  TheBlastOne Aug 28 '13 at 19:11

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