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The verb berauben is used with a genitive noun in the format

jemanden einer Sache berauben

Is there any reason why genitive? The related verb rauben is used with a dative, as is more common with other verbs.

(I'm actually happy enough to just memorize that it's used with a genitive, but it would be nice to know the background/reason behind that.)

9

I cannot provide an etymological reason for the cases the verb berauben rules. However, I have the feeling that the main cause lies in the prefix be-. Let's analyze the cases of berauben and rauben:

jemandem (Dat.) etwas (Akk.) rauben

jemanden (Akk.) einer Sache (Gen.) berauben

We can see that the prefix be- shifted the accusative case from the stolen goods to the person who is robbed. As we can read on canoo.net, this shift is one of the functions of the prefix be-. Canoo mentions another example:

jemandem (Dat.) etwas (Akk.) schenken

jemanden (Akk.) [mit etwas] beschenken.

As a rule of thumb, one can say that if a verb needs two nouns, the "thing"-y object (direct object) is in accusative case and the "person"-y object (indirect object) is in dative case, e.g.:

jemandem (Dat.) etwas (Akk.) geben/sagen/erzählen/schenken/rauben...

Now if the be- prefix shifts the "person"-y object to accusative case, the slot of the "thing"-y object has to be filled again with a different case.
I guess the dative case is not considered for this re-filling of the slot because that would result in a swap of cases (which somehow would be confusing).
The accusative case would result in a double accusative (which is not unheard of but maybe not preferred intuitively by the speakers).

So one has to find a different method to re-fill the "thing"-y slot. There aren't so many possibilities left: Preposition + noun or noun in genitive case:
In the case of beschenken the "thing"-y slot is refilled by a preposition (mit) + noun. In the case of berauben the "thing"-y slot is refilled by a genitive noun.

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The genitive is only used for the object that's robbed of somebody:

Der Räuber (nom.) hat den Mann (acc.) seiner Brieftasche (gen.) beraubt

Also note that this is high register and a very formal way of putting it. It's actually much more common to use the passive here:

Dem Mann (dat.) wurde die Brieftasche (nom.) geraubt

(Also, it's common not to differentiate between robbery and theft in everyday speech.)

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I assume that the verb construction jemand einer Sache berauben is influenced by Latin or modelled after Latin.

The Latin grammar has a chapter about ablative of separation where the construction of verbs such as orbare, privare, spoliare, exuere, all of them meaning berauben, plus ablative is explained.

Egere/ indigere could have ablative or genitive. As German has no ablative, I think, the genitive was adopted.

Another consideration: If you have a verb as berauben with an accusative (for the person who is robbed) and have to add a second object (for the thing that is robbed) there is only a genitive possible as a dative would make no sense.

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  • In German, the ablative has merged with the dative, which is why "aus", "von" etc. all take the dative. So I don't think this is the reason why "berauben" takes the genitive. – dirkt Sep 7 '19 at 14:59

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