When can a genitive be replaced with a "von" construction?

For instance:

ein Vater der sechs Töchter

ein Vater von sechs Töchtern

And can the English "of" in the context of belonging always be replaced with the German "von"?

  • 1
    "der Vater der sechs Töchter" is specific (the daugthers where mentioned before). "ein Vater von sechs Töchtern" is o.k., but unspecific (just one of any fathers with six daughthers)
    – hellcode
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 22:18
  • 6
    You can't really say ein Vater der sechs Töchter, because this implies that there is more than one. (You could say ein Freund der Tochter of course, meaning a friend of hers. Der Freund der Tochter, on the other hand, is her boyfriend.)
    – Ingmar
    Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 4:25
  • Du kannst eine Familie mit mehreren sozialen (im Ggs. zu genetischen) Vätern in Folge haben. Der erste Vater sechser Töchter soff sich tot, ein Vater der sechs Töchter starb im Krieg. Zugegeben ist es arg konstruiert, aber für den Satz hätte es statt eines Vaters ja auch ein Pferd getan, oder ein Mercedis. Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 4:01
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    – Takkat
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 5:49

1 Answer 1


People will understand you if you do so, but the result will not always be considered good German. In spoken German it is quite common, while many people are still preferring the genitive in written German and consider it "better" or "more correct". But (no rule without exception) there are also cases where the genitive would make the phrase so difficult to speak that its usage would sound rather strange. E.g. "He is the brother of Klaus" - nobody would say "Er ist Klaus' Bruder". Instead "Er ist der Bruder von Klaus" replaces it completely in spoken and very often in written German. But if the person is named Tom instead of Klaus, people choose between "Er ist Toms Bruder" and "Er ist der Bruder von Tom" as freely as English speakers would choose between "He is Tom's brother" and "He is the brother of Tom".

By using "von", you are actually replacing the genitive with the dative. There is a quite popular book "Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod" (which should read "Der Dativ ist der Tod des Genitivs") about this phenomenon and a lot of other mistakes that people (i.e. German native speakers) make in their daily use of the language.

And can the English "of" in the context of belonging always be replaced with the German "von"?

Rather not, and more or less you have a counter example in your question.

"There were 3 girls, and behind them stood a man. He was the father of the young ladies."

should be translated "... Er war der Vater der jungen Damen." The alternative "Er war der Vater von den jungen Damen" is not really wrong, but kind of poor style. (And as other commenters have already pointed out "Er war der Vater von jungen Damen" would mean "He was the father of [some not specifically mentioned] young ladies.)

Update: Browsing the older questions here I found "Deine Fotos" gegen "Fotos von dir". This one adds an important aspect: "von" can have other meanings than belonging or possession, so sometimes you risk to change the meaning of the expression if you replace the genitive with a "von" construction. "Toms Fotos" are the photos that Tom possesses. "Die Fotos von Tom" can have this meaning, too - but without a clear context it would rather be understood as "photos showing Tom".

  • 1
    However, the very example of OP MUST be translated using "von"... I don't think "Vater sechser Töchter" would be considered good style.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 17:56
  • @Emanuel Yes, "Vater von sechs Töchtern" could not be replaced by a genitive construction. So the OP's second example is a counter example for the other way round. I was referring to the first example and wanted to point out that "der Vater der sechs Töchter" could or at least should not be replaced by "der Vater von den sechs Töchtern" (and also not by "der Vater von sechs Töchtern", because this has a different meaning, as hellcode already pointed out in his/her comment).
    – Matthias
    Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 19:28
  • Thank You, what I understand from your answer is that ;Yes , sometimes I can use it but it is not good german. Actually I wanted to hear No I can not use it . Because I think if there is something like 'of' in german then why bother learning declension. Weird lang.
    – user9090
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 21:53
  • 1
    @AliHaider Glad I could help. Concerning the "weird lang": why bother learning difficult constructions like "a friend of yours" when I could always replace it by "one of your friends"? Is English weird, too? ;-)
    – Matthias
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 20:54
  • Is "Er ist Xs Bruder?" really usual or not depending on X's name?! Commented May 14, 2019 at 12:55

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