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I just learnt that there are two ways of forming a possessive in german (in spoken informal german at least):

A) Des Schafes Wolle (With ‘s’)

B) Wolle des Schafes (With genitive)

Which of these constructions can mean that the wool is still part of the sheep’s body? Is it A), B), both, or neither?

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    Maybe the first should have been "die Schafswolle"? – Carsten S Jun 26 '18 at 12:56
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    In A, did you mean »Des Schafes Wolle« or »Die Schafwolle«? – Philipp Jun 26 '18 at 13:02
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    (A) and (B) are identical from a grammatical viewpoint, both are genitive, just the word order is different ((A) is quite uncommon, but valid) – tofro Jun 26 '18 at 15:52
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    @tofro It wasn’t clear whether A was supposed to be »Die Schafwolle« or »Des Schafes Wolle« because the question made a distinction between with ‘s’ and with genitive, and because until a couple of minutes ago it read »Das Schafes Wolle«, as if there had been two mistakes: the wrong article (das instead of die for Wolle and the two words Schaf and Wolle not being contracted into one. – Philipp Jun 26 '18 at 16:04
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I’m assuming that you were asking about these two examples:

A) Des Schafes Wolle
B) Wolle des Schafes

and I’ll add a third option

C) Wolle vom Schaf

A, B and C may mean that the wool is still attached to the sheep, and they may also mean that the wool is already sheared off. Actually, both A and B use the same grammatical structure (the genitive case), and particularly A sounds oldfashioned. C replaces the genitive case with the preposition von, which is very common.

Now, let’s assume that example A should actually have been

A) die Schaf(s)wolle

This implies that the wool has already been sheared off. This is also a generic term you might find for balls of wool (Wollknäuel) in the store, if they are not labelled more specifically (like e.g. Schurwolle).

In your example A, you mention *Schafes Wolle (with s), or better: Schafswolle, which is equivalent to Schafwolle. Here the s would be a fugenlaut (epenthesis). There are many epentheseses in German, and while it’s possible to write Schafswolle, using a nullfuge (no letter between Schaf and wolle) is more common.

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  • I think you missed that (A) is incorrectly das Schafes Wolle. – Carsten S Jun 26 '18 at 12:58
  • @CarstenS Oh, you’re right. But even now, it looks like a mistake. I hope the OP will shed some light on what she means. – Philipp Jun 26 '18 at 13:02
  • @CarstenS I made my answer more general to fit all circumstances ;) – Philipp Jun 26 '18 at 13:41
  • Sidenote: some dialects use also dem Schaf seine Wolle, as a popular replacement for des Schafes Wolle. Sentences may then look like: Dem Paul seine Schwester hat der Karin ihrem Freund einen Kuss gegeben. (The sister kissed the friend). This of course only in oral language, never in written. – Christian Geiselmann Jun 26 '18 at 14:36
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By definition Wolle, no matter in which word construction, is always the fabric that has been cut of the sheep's body. When it is still "part" of the body, in German language the word Vlies or, more common but less specific, also the word Schafspelz are used. If the Vlies as a whole is taken from a dead sheep's body (including the skin it grows on) the word Schafsfell is used.

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  • So what about the Golden Vlies? That’s definitely not on the sheep anymore. – Philipp Jun 26 '18 at 16:06
  • Das Goldene Vlies is the name of a distinct Fell. To cite german Wikipedia: "Das Goldene Vlies (griechisch Χρυσόμαλλον Δέρας Chrysómallon Déras) war nach der griechischen Mythologie das Fell des Chrysomeles, eines goldenen Widders, der fliegen und sprechen konnte. " – scienceponder Jun 26 '18 at 23:53
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A) Des Schafes Wolle
B) Wolle des Schafes

We need to assume it is "Des" under A). Otherwise the grammer ist faulty.

As opposed to your assumption the case is Gentitiv in both cases. The ability to change the order of sentence fragments like this is thanks to the larger varity of cases and case endings in comparision to english.
By changing the order we can put emphasis on one of the fragments of the sentence.
Both expressions have "Wolle" as the Subject of the sentence, the sheep being the object.
That said, the example A) is more likely to express the wool is still on the sheep, because the sheep is emphasized by putting it before the wool in the order of the sentence.

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