In Wikipedia, it is written that von is not only legitimate but required in the following sentence:

Die Belange von Minderheiten sind zu schützen.

According to the article:

[…] "Belange der Minderheiten" would produce a definite article, which is not intended.

I am unable to understand the difference between Die Belange von Minderheiten and Belange der Minderheiten. Why can the latter not be used here?

  • 2
    I think the source of misunderstanding was that it wasn’t clear that the sentence about “producing a definite article” was also quoting the Wikipedia article. I edited the question to better reflect this and the Wikipedia article to be less confusing. I also cleaned up the comments, as they should be obsolete now. – Wrzlprmft Apr 13 '16 at 12:00

1. »Von« + dative case is a substitute for genitive case

Very often it is possible to replace genitive case with »von« + dative case without changing the meaning:

Der Griff des Messers ist schmutzig.
Der Griff von dem Messer ist schmutzig.

Der Sohn meines Bruders ist krank.
Der Sohn von meinem Bruder ist krank.

My observation is: People in the south of German Sprachraum more use the dative version, people in the north more use the genitive case. And if you ask people from different regions, which version is more common, or which has a better style, you will get different answers.

side note:

In some Dialekts (mainly in the south) you also have this dative substitute:

Dem Messer sein Griff ist schmutzig.
Meinem Bruder sein Sohn ist krank.

(Very famous quote and title of a series of books by Bastian Sick: »Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod«)
But this is not standard German. You might hear it, and if you hear it, you should know, that it is used as replacement for a genitive construction in a dialect that has no genitive case. But you better should not actively use it. (As long as you speak German with any accent nobody will believe that you are a dialect speaker, so better don't do it.)

2. There is no way to build genitive plural with an indefinite article

In German and in English you use definite articles if you are talking about a certain thing. If you talk about just any thing, you use an indefinite article:

Das Kind braucht Hilfe. Ein Kind braucht Hilfe.
The child needs help. A child needs help.

This is also possible in genitive case:

Der Hut des Mannes fliegt durch die Luft. Der Hut eines Mannes fliegt durch die Luft.
The man's hat is flying through the air. A man's hat is flying through the air.

Note that there is also a null article (which means you don't use an article), which often is used together with names, and (in singular) has the meaning of a definite article:

Michael braucht Hilfe.
Michael needs help.

Der Hut Walters fliegt durch die Luft.
Walters hat is flying through the air.

But when it comes to plural, there is a problem with genitive case.

Let's first try nominative case and dative case in plural:

Die Frauen schlafen. Frauen schlafen.
The women are sleeping. Women are sleeping.

Diese Autos gehören den Bauern. Diese Autos gehören Bauern.
This cars belong to the farmers. This cars belong to farmers.

As you can see, the indefinite plural article is a null article. (This is also true in accusative case, just didn't give an example here)

But you can't build a sentence in German, where you use genitive case in plural together with an indefinite article:

Das sind die Autos der Bauern. (singular genitive plural with definite article)

Das sind die Autos Bauern. (wrong! You need something between »Autos« and »Bauern«. The null article, which is the indefinite article for plural in all other cases, doesn't work in genitive case plural)

Das sind die Autos von Bauern. (correct, but no longer genitive case. This here is dative case, and Bauern goes with the null article, which is the indefinite article for plural)

Put 1 and 2 together

So, if you understand both facts, you will see, that, if you want to build a part of speech, that is indefinite, plural and genitive, you just can't do it. You have to use another construction.

One way is not to insist on an indefinite expression:

Das sind die Autos der Bauern.
Die Belange der Minderheiten sind zu schützen.

But if you are not talking about certain minorities, but about any minorities, this is not what you want to say. So you have the substitute genitive case by »von« + dative case, and then you can use the indefinite plural article for dative, which is the null article.

Das sind die Autos von Bauern.
Die Belange von Minderheiten sind zu schützen.

Just to show:
You can also use the dative substitute together with the definite article:

Das sind die Autos von den Bauern.
Die Belange von den Minderheiten sind zu schützen.

But, then you again talk about certain farmers and certain minorities, not about any of them.

  • 2
    +1, but one could add that the genitive works with the null article if there is an adjective that makes the genitive recognizable. – Carsten S Apr 13 '16 at 9:29
  • @CarstenS Any attribute will do, e.g. an indefinite pronoun like irgendwelcher which can often substitute an indefinite article. – Crissov Apr 13 '16 at 11:22
  • Meinem Bruder sein Sohn sounds like typical 'swiss-german-coloured ' Hochdeutsch. – Mala May 11 '16 at 23:08

The use of von makes the statement more general. This is not special to German, the same exists in English:

Die Belange von Minderheiten sind zu schützen.
The interests of minorities need to be protected.

These statements refer to all minorities in general, as a concept. With the definite article on the other hand, the statement refers to some (undefined) group of minorities that may or may not exclude someone.

Die Belange der Minderheiten sind zu schützen.
The interests of the minorities need to be protected.

  • so, the dative form focuses on the interests and the genitive form puts emphasis on the minorities. Am I correct? – MAKZ Apr 13 '16 at 5:34
  • 1
    No, the difference is in the "concreteness" of the group of minorities the statements are referring to. – Hulk Apr 13 '16 at 5:42
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    @Hulk The definite article is what makes it specific, von is used, because here the an indefinite article is not available or would be misleading (die Belange aller Minderheiten makes you wonder, which ones have been left out so far..) and going without an article is not possible as the genitive and nominative are the same form. As soon as there is an adjective available to specify the minorities (and carry the case information), the von-construction is worse than the genitive - die Belange einzelner/von einzelnen Minderheiten. – Chieron Apr 13 '16 at 7:36
  • @Chieron Yes. This is perhaps even more visible in English, where of needs to be used in both versions due to the lack of case information. – Hulk Apr 13 '16 at 8:43
  • Alternative: Minderheitenbelange sind zu schützen. – user unknown Apr 13 '16 at 15:09

As Hubert pointed out, there is no genitive plural indefinite article (since it would be a null article) but the genitive-replacement von-dative works.

Belange der Minderheiten means that you are talking about the interests of all minorities (globally all, unless you previously specified a list of what constitues ‘all’). Belange von Minderheiten takes an indefinite subset of that definite list.


  • Liste der Länder, die Mitglied der Vereinten Nationen sind — this is a list including all UN member countries.
  • Liste von Ländern, die Mitglied der Vereinten Nationen sind — this list of UN member countries does not claim completeness.

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