I understand that generally when constructing a genitive phrase without an article, it is recommended to instead to use von + dative. Questions on this topic can be seen here and here. The example in the first link is this:

Die Belange von Minderheiten sind zu schützen.

But then why is it acceptable to say "eine Tasse Tee" or "ein Glas Wasser"? Are those not genitive structures without an article nor "von" between the nouns? What makes these cases different?

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    Note you could say (uncommon, but correct) der Minderheiten Rechte using genitive case.
    – tofro
    Oct 22, 2017 at 7:37

3 Answers 3


Eine Tasse Tee

is a Nominativ, not a Genitiv! To make the cases more visible, let us write:

Eine Tasse schwarzer Tee.

The Tee agrees with Tasse in its case, nominative. In this grammatical structure Tee is called an partitive Apposition and has to follow the case of the noun (Tasse).

Indeed, I had mistakenly flipped the roles of noun and apposition in the previous version. But the rule is clear:

Nach einer Maßangabe oder einer Mengenangabe folgt das Gemessene meist als Apposition

An other grammatical structure, considered better taste in my youth, but uncommon now, uses the partitive genitive:

Eine Tasse schwarzen Tees.

The site I linked mentions the partitive genitive together with appositions. But I don't think they consider it an apposition, because it would violate the age old rule I stated, which is also also repeated here:

Die Apposition steht immer im gleichen Kasus wie das Bezugswort, zu dem sie gehört!

Of course, you can use a construction involving von, but it usually implies specification to a certain tea, sometimes specified before in the case of the definite pronoun:

Gib mir eine Tasse von dem Tee / give me more of the tea.
Gib mir ein Stück von Mamas Kuchen/ give me more of mom's cake.

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    So you are saying in the example of "eine Tasse Tee" that "Tee" is an apposition of "Tasse", hence they share the same case (nominative)? That mostly makes sense to me. I think my confusion is just that in English it's "a cup <i>of</i> tea" which appears to be genitive.
    – pattivacek
    Sep 9, 2016 at 15:14
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    @patrickvacek I think it's easier to get when you say 'Tasse' is a measurement of 'Tee', and those usually don't need any (genitive or dative) possessive constructions in German: ein Maß Bier, 500 Gramm Mehl, 10 Kubikmeter Holz, zwei Beutel Gummibärchen, 8 Stunden Arbeit, 30 Tage Urlaub, …
    – user22484
    Sep 10, 2016 at 18:56
  • @patrickvacek indeed you were right about which one was the apposition. Unfortunately I just found out now, when reading again about appositions!
    – Ludi
    Oct 2, 2018 at 7:36
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    "Eine Tasse schwarzen Tees" is not actually utterly uncommon. It is (and always has been) just a high register of speech, not everday parlance. In more refined text forms you will find it today too. Oct 2, 2018 at 7:37
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    @ChristianGeiselmann Das freut mich. Ich werde dafür jedenfalls immer schief angesehen. Und das obwohl ich auch sonst das selbe Sprachregister verwende. Vielleicht ordne ich es einfach nicht dem Register zu, dem es andere zuordnen. Für mich ist es nicht so gehoben wie „darf ich des Wassers teilhaftig werden“, aber durchaus ähnlich einzuordnen, wie der Konjunktiv I, der meines Erachtens ebenfalls ausstirbt.
    – Ludi
    Oct 2, 2018 at 7:40

In one example there is a possessive relation, in the other, there isn't. This becomes clear if you try whatever is left of the old English genetive: It is the minorities' rights/interests all right, but it is certainly not the tea's cup.

So what is the of in the cup of tea, then? Here, English follows romance languages, where words that denote quantity must be followed by of: 10 pounds of potatoes, a pint of beer, a ton of problems, a hoast of questions, a cup of tea.

But in German, among others, it would be wrong to use von after words of quantity.


In the case of "die Rechte von Minderheiten”, die Minderheiten possess die Rechte so it is indeed a "genitive" construction represented by "von" plus the dative.

In the case of "ein Glass Wasser" or "eine Tasse Tee," it is the Glass and Tasse that "possess" the other (the first possesses the second). This is still represented in English as "a glass of water." This uses the Glass or Tasse as a "quantity" in the Latin language style.

But German makes the first noun (Glass and Tasse) an "apposition" of the second, which keeps the latter in the nominative. So in these constructions, both nouns are in the nominative.

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