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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
Another +1 for "loving it". And for 3): If you don't use the Genitiv you might sound dumb. The kind of sentence used for the book title you cited is usually linked to the lower end of the educational spectrum. –  Dawnkeeper Feb 9 at 12:46

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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Take a newspaper and count the genitives or a novel. Then you will find that Bastian Sick chose a book title to catch buyers.

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