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My Duden says that both Geschlechts and Geschlechtes are the genitive singular of Geschlecht. Is there some reason for choosing between these two?

I ask because the mathematician Richard Dedekind wrote a letter to a friend in which he used the following quote stating it was from Acts 17:29.

Wir sind göttlichen Geschlechtes, …

But it is not exact. A more modern rendition of Martin Luther’s translation of Acts 17:29, such as Dedekind probably knew best in the 19th century, begins

Da wir nun göttlichen Geschlechts sind, …

Dedekind was familiar with Greek and may have retranslated it for himself. Or of course he may just have misquoted Luther.

But I wonder if the difference in declension makes a difference that I have missed. Do the two mean different things? In case it matters: Dedekind lived most of his life in Braunschweig.

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    Braunschweig would be in the area whose dialect Luther had chosen for his bible translation AFAIK. As the answer by @frlan states, they are identical in meaning. – Oliver Mason Sep 16 '16 at 14:08
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    @OliverMason His local dialect of mid-Thuringia is the dialect Luther had chosen for his bible translation. Braunschweig being far away from where Luther ever got to, he would have had no clue of what was spoken there. – Jan Sep 16 '16 at 14:29
  • @Jan It's not a million miles away: "Luther's translation used the variant of German spoken at the Saxon chancellery, intelligible to both northern and southern Germans." (Wikipedia entry on Luther) – Oliver Mason Sep 16 '16 at 14:34
  • @OliverMason Saxony is pretty far away from Lower Saxony and their local spoken German have been and still are pretty different. – Jan Sep 16 '16 at 14:37
  • @Jan I know. I have lived in Lower Saxony for a long time... Luther did travel, so I assume he was familiar with dialects. But I concede that my original comment was not 100% accurate, and will amend it accordingly. -- oops. Just noticed I can only delete it, not edit. So, I rephrase it here: Braunschweig is not all that far from the area of the dialect Luther chose for his translation, so the location does not matter in this case. – Oliver Mason Sep 16 '16 at 14:40
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There are a lot of German nouns whose genitive have two different forms, typically one ending on -es and one on -s. This has historic and etymologic reasons.

The older form of the genitive which was the only acceptable one a few centuries to a millenium ago is the -es form which adds another syllable to the word. The vowel in this final syllable got reduced to a shwa, and like many other shwas that were once present in German, eventually got reduced so far that it was dropped in standard spoken language. However, despite being dropped its existence is still known of and to especially emphasise the genitive or to sound rather dated, one might decide to use the three-syllable form Geschlechtes rather than today’s common two-syllable Geschlechts.

Also, the three-syllable form can be used in poetry for metric reasons.

So neither of the two is actually wrong, but Geschlechts is more common by a mile.


Note that your ‘correct Luther translation’ is not by Luther himself but the modernised version of his translation. The 1522 first version by Luther himself reads:

So wyr denn gottlicher artt sind, sollen wyr nicht meynen, die Gottheyt sey gleych dem golt odder dem sylber odder dem bildwerck der menschlichen kunst vnnd tichtung.

But Luther probably modified that multiple times. His final 1545 bible version reads (thanks to fdb for pointing me towards it):

So wir denn göttlichs Geschlechts sind / Sollen wir nicht meinen / die Gottheit sey gleich den gülden / silbern / steinern / Bilden / durch menschliche gedancken gemacht.

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The Genitiv of Geschlecht can be both: Geschlechtes as well as Geschlechts. There is no difference in meaning neither in your examples nor I know of.

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    The "-es" sometimes sounds antiquated or over-emphasizing compared to the "-s" variant. – user195692 Sep 16 '16 at 14:17
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German has a full case system with four cases, though a lot of forms are indistinguishable. English has a rudimentary case system only for pronouns. This is what is left of the original Germanic case with six cases. (In addition to the German cases, Proto-Germanic also had a vocative and an instrumental case.) This in turn is what was left from the eight or nine Indo-European cases.

The reason that there are sometimes two genitive forms (or two dative forms, or ...) for a German noun is simply that the case markings are getting shorter and shorter as part of the general process that already made English lose all case distinctions almost completely and will eventually do the same to German. It is conceivable that occasionally the selection between two variants can be used to (very subtly) express a nuance, but I am not currently aware of any example for this phenomenon. However, sometimes a proverb or set phrase is normally rendered using only one of the two possible forms, and of course in general the older, longer forms will be recognised as older, i.e. will feel more formal or even antiquated -- depending on how far the process of replacing the old form by the new shorter one has gone.

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