I do not understand how "wessen" works in this sentence:

Wessen ist sie schuldig?

Is the correct translation:

What is she guilty of?

And, if so, why is "wessen" translated as "whose" in my dictionary?
Can someone provide a more literal translation of this sentence that will help me understand how this works, because I don't think "What is she guilty of?" is a direct, word-for-word translation, is it?

  • 2
    And, if so, why is "wessen" translated as "whose" in my dictionary? Because it means both "whose" and "of which", simple as that.
    – Ingmar
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 14:43

3 Answers 3


"Schuldig" is an interesting word!
First "schuldig sein" can be translated both into "to be guilty" and into "to owe (something)". In this context it means "to be guilty".
Whith this meaning "schuldig sein" is oddly constructed with a genitive object, as are many other juridical words. If you are guilty of something, such as a crime , the object in the sentence, which expresses the crime is in genitive, thus "wessen", the genitive of "was".

If it had said

"Wem ist sie schuldig?", which of course is in dative,
it would have been expressing to whom she owed something.

Lastly "schuldig sein" can also have an accusative object,

"was ist sie schuldig?"
which then expresses what she would have owed


A somewhat aged way of saying that somebody is guilty of something is

Er/sie/es ist schuldig der/des (Genitive) ...

For example:

Er ist schuldig des Diebstahls.
Sie ist schuldig der Hexerei.

In reverse, the question of what a person is guilty also uses the genitive:

Wessen ist er/sie/es schuldig?

  • Your second examples aren’t proper German. It’s "Er ist des Diebstahls schuldigt." und "Sie ist der Hexerei schuldig.".
    – idmean
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 17:45
  • 3
    So why would my first example be correct then? No, both sentences are equally correct. The way they are put the emphasize what the people are guilty of. Your word order puts emphasis on the fact that they are guilty. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 18:47
  • Your first sentence is of course also concerned, you’re right. Duden’s example also uses the word order I suggested and you also wouldn’t say "Sie waren überdrüssig des Lärms", would you? I think that sounds incredibly strange. I can’t explain this grammatically right now, I’ll try to overthink your examples.
    – idmean
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 19:06
  • 2
    @idmean I agree with Thorsten. The sentences are emphasised, contain tension, but they are not wrong. Very few sentences in German are objectively wrong (those where the verb is misplaced).
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 22:43

Your dictionary is correct in stating that wessen is the genitive of wer. It is, however, also the genitive of was. Since schuldig sein can take the genitive (not surprising, seeing that in English it is guilty of sth), indeed

What is she guilty of?


Wessen ist sie schuldig?

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