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The regular Genitive of die Nacht is der Nacht.

  • Why is it des Nachts?

  • Is this limited to the time domain or are there such Genitives to be found elsewhere?

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Where have you found des Nachts? Are you sure it's genitive? Actually, are you sure it's a form of nacht and not the adverb? Looking at canoo i find no des in genitive, but instead i found this –  Vogel612 Dec 8 '13 at 23:48
1  
the Adverb "nachts" is a frozen Genitive of "Nacht" just as "nichts" is a frozen Genitive of "nicht". I have no written prove that "des Nachts" is Genitive but it is inflected since nominative would be "die Nacht" and which case would it be if not Genitive :) –  Emanuel Dec 9 '13 at 0:03

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Congrats, you've stumbled upon an exception. To quote Duden:

Andere feminine Substantive wiederum weisen das sonst unübliche Genitiv-s deshalb auf, weil sie entgegen ihrem eigentlichen Deklinationsmuster in Analogie zu ähnlichen Fügungen mit einem starken Maskulinum/Neutrum gebildet werden: „an Zahlungs statt“ (analog zu: „an Kindes statt“), „von Obrigkeits wegen“ (analog zu: „von Amts/Rechts wegen“), „des Nachts“ (analog zu: „des Tags“).

Translation:

Other feminine nouns exhibit the otherwise unusual genitive-s, because they are formed in analogy to similar phrases that usually contain strong masculin/neutral words: "an Zahlungs statt" (instead of payment) (analogous to: "an Kindes statt" (instead of an own child - adopted)), "von Obrigkeits wegen" (by right of authority) (analogous to: "von Amts/Rechts wegen" (by right of office/law)), "des Nachts" (during the night) (analogous to: "des Tags" (during the day)).

I don't think most native speakers would know that. (Although they'd probably get it right instinctively, unfair as that may seem.)

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If I remember correctly, you will see that in German speaking Belgium, opening hours in the evening are written as "'s nachts" (short for "des Nachts"), so it seems to be common there. Most Germans probably will not use the construction and say "in der Nacht" –  Zane Jun 12 at 21:31

Hmmm, I just found this quote:

Der Genitiv des femininen Substantivs die Nacht heißt bekanntlich der Nacht, auf keinen Fall jedoch des Nachts. Dennoch hat sich des Nachts eingebürgert analog zu den semantisch ähnlichen Ausdrücke des Morgens, des Mittags und des Abends, die allesamt Maskulina sind.

from "Der sogenannte Sprachverfall" (Section 3.2) via this forum post.

And a quick translation to make it accessible for everyone:

The genitive of the feminine noun die Nacht is well-known to be der Nacht, but in no way des Nachts. Usage of des Nachts has nonetheless become a [colloquial] habit in analogy to the semantically similar expressions des Morgens [morning, gen.], des Mittags [noon, gen.] and des Abends [evening, gen.], which are all of masculine gender.

It would seem then that this is in fact grammatically wrong but has become general habit, especially in oral and colloquial use, as we have seen with other expressions ;)

To answer your question about the restriction to the time domain: this is even more limited to the specific case of Nacht and should not be generalized (and it should also not be used in non-colloquial contexts!) ;)

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See this ngram: books.google.com/ngrams/… It's common even in 19th century, so if it has "crept into German" this must have happened before 19th century. And it's most probably also used in non-colloquial contexts. –  Toscho Jan 18 at 18:52

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