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I have encountered this sentence:

Ich hatte trotz vieler Jahre Englischunterricht in der Schule Probleme mit der Sprache.

I know this type of genitive, where the word doesn't have an article:

Das ist die schönste Stadt Deutschlands.

Now my question is, in the first sentence why isn't an "s" added to the end of the word "Englischunterricht". Is this word really in genitive form? I know that genitive is the following:

eines Unterrichts, des Unterrichts

But what I wrote just now has an article. What if the word is intended to be in the genitive case but doesn't have an article (regardless whether it is definite or indefinite)?

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    Very good question! You are really on the way to master the German language. ;) I think, there should be an s added to Englischunterricht. I just don't have enough time now to write a good answer. – Olafant Oct 7 '20 at 15:58
  • I don't mean to nitpick, but shouldn't there be a comma or two in the given sentence? To me it reads "I had, in spite of many years, English study in the school-problems, with the language." This doesn't make sense and It took a few more tries at parsing it to get a version that does. – RDBury Oct 7 '20 at 20:48
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    @RDBury Note that, opposed to English, placing commas in German into a sentence is not for improving readability or parsing, but rather follows very strict grammatical rules. "Trotz vieler Jahre..." is not a subordinate clause, an apposition, or a parenthesis (which would all call for a comma), but rather a prepositional expression which does not cause a comma to be set. – tofro Oct 7 '20 at 21:42
  • @tofro -- I see your point. I don't think those are the only allowable uses of a comma in German, but in this case it's apparently an adverbial phrase (?) which, although relatively long, doesn't get commas. I think just rearranging the sentence would improve readability though: Ich hatte Probleme mit der Sprache trotz vieler Jahre Englischunterricht in der Schule. Or am I missing some fine point of German word order here? – RDBury Oct 7 '20 at 22:53
  • @RDBury well, there's more reasons for a comma than fit into a comment, but these are the most obvious. Word order here puts emphasis on the "Trotz Unterricht..." part, while your rearranged sentence has a bias towards the "...hatte Probleme..." part and depends on the point the speaker wants to make. – tofro Oct 8 '20 at 7:29
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First, there's two possible places for genitive in your example sentence:

trotz is a preposition that rules the genitive, so vieler Jahre must be (and actually is) in genitive.

The second place that could possibly require genitive is "Jahre [des] Englischunterrichts" Well, you could add a genitive-s to "Englischunterricht" (you would assume a genitivus explicativus, meaning "Englischunterricht" illustrating "Jahre"), but you don't absolutely need to.

You can also assume "Jahre" is a sort of measure of the matter "Englischunterricht" (like "mittels mehrerer Tonnen Eisen") and use "Englischunterricht" as a partitive Apposition in nominative (or, following the case of the related noun, in genitive).

Both rules can be applied equally here and lead to different cases.

  • ... trotz vieler Jahre Englischunterricht

  • ... trotz vieler Jahre Englischunterrichts

are both equally correct - they use different grammatical devices to achieve the same meaning. (German is flexible: You can often do what you want as long as you can justify it properly ;) )

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  • One can use genitive, but not because vieler Jahre is genitive but because it would be a partitiver Genitiv. – RHa Oct 8 '20 at 6:44
  • @RHa Erm, that's what this answer is saying? – tofro Oct 8 '20 at 7:21
  • Thank you so much. Knowing this makes me more confident! – Mario Bedoun Oct 8 '20 at 7:47
  • @tofro The answer says "or, following the case of the related noun, in genitive" which can be understood as saying that Englischunterricht follows the case of Jahre when they only happen to be in the same case. – RHa Oct 8 '20 at 8:40
  • @RHa A partitive Apposition can either follow the case of its related noun (here really: "Jahre" in genitive) or not. When not, it must be nominative. I don't see your point. There's no "happen to be" here, but a choice. – tofro Oct 8 '20 at 9:01
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The preposition trotz combines with and governs the case of vieler Jahre (genitive plural). It does not stand in a relation to Unterricht. Rather, Unterricht combines with vieler Jahre in a construction known as apposition.

Appositions in German in general offer at least two possibilities: the second element can agree in case with the first, or stand in the nominative. For instance, with the first element in the dative:

Wir sprachen mit Frank Ulrich Montgomery, dem Vorsitzenden der Ärztegewerkschaft.

Wir sprachen mit Frank Ulrich Montgomery, Vorsitzender der Ärztegewerkschaft.

If the first element is in the genitive, case agreement – i.e. genitive case for the second element – is avoided if the second element consists of an unaccompanied noun.

Er war im Besitz einer Menge gestohlenen Geldes.

Er war im Besitz einer Menge Geld (preferably not: Geldes).

Peter Gallmann and the Duden grammar (Gallmann is the author of the relevant section) refer to the tendency that an unaccompanied noun cannot bear the masculine and neuter genitive singular ending -s as Genitivregel. See also the following answers and the references there: 1, 2, 3.

The original example, without -s, accords with that rule.

trotz vieler Jahre Englischunterricht

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  • Even just putting an article in front of Geld makes it genitive. Er war im Besitz einer Menge des Geldes. Is this part of a more general rule or is it just the genitive? – RDBury Oct 7 '20 at 21:53
  • So the takeaway message is when the word doesn't have an article it is better to be an apposition rather than to be in genitive. Thank you! – Mario Bedoun Oct 8 '20 at 7:48
  • @Mario Bedoun -- I'm not sure what the takeaway is, but gestohlenen Geldes is in the genitive as well, otherwise it would be gestohlenes Geld, and there's no article there either. Peter Gallmann has lecture notes (?) on the genitive [here](homepages.uni-jena.de/~x1gape/Wort/Wort_NP_Genitiv.pdf) – RDBury Oct 8 '20 at 11:07
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    Re Apposition: Widespread usage also has non-matched dative appositions. I hear this pemanently in news and tv documentaries (i.e., often enough in texts that were prepared i written). A la "Auf der Straße protestieren die Mitabeiter der Müller GmbH, einem wichtigen Textilunernehmen" – Hagen von Eitzen Oct 9 '20 at 1:10
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The "s" is not added because prepositions such as "trotz" and "wegen" ('because of'), which require genitive licensing from a prescriptive stance are increasingly being used with the dative case, which is not marked with "s" as a suffix.

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    Trotz regiert zwar den Kasus von vieler Jahre – was hier übrigens Genitiv ist –, aber nicht von Englischunterricht. Der Genitiv Englischunterrichts kommt dadurch zustande, dass Englischunterrichts Genitivattribut von vieler Jahre ist. Zum Prüfen tausche man trotz gegen mit: „mit vielen Jahren Englischunterrichts“. Die Dativ-Präposition mit hat keinen Einfluss auf das Genitivattribut Englischunterrichts. – Björn Friedrich Oct 7 '20 at 17:06

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