I have seen that in German, sometimes the definite masculine article "der" is used as the English word "of". For example in the film "Das Leben der Anderen". I understand this translates to "The lives of others". I would expect this to be, in German: "Das Leben von Anderen."

In what situations is "der" used in place of "von"?


2 Answers 2


There's a misconception here. The word der has various roles. In the film title

Das Leben der Anderen (genitive)

it is not the definite masculine article der, but the genitive inflection of the definite plural article die (die Anderen is plural). A proper translation would be

The life of the Others
(Caution: It differs from the English film title The Lives of Others, which would be Die Leben anderer in German!)

where the German article der is reflected directly by the English article the. Notice, that in English the preposition of is used, which actually corresponds to the dative preposition von in German. In fact, the film title could be reworded with a dative instead of a genitive:

Das Leben von den Anderen (dative)

But this sounds clumsy, which is why I think the author preferred the genitive version. I guess, this is different in English, where the genitive version "The Others’ life" would sound clumsy.

  • 1
    Maybe a remark about "of" roughly expressing what genitive case does to "die" would be helpful, as well. It is somewhat implied in the end, but in a rather roundabout way. Jan 18, 2021 at 10:42
  • 1
    @guidot, der can be a lot of things (alone four inflection forms of certain definite articles, pronoun etc.). But I wouldn't want to list everything that it could potentially be, because it is irrelevant for this example in which der is only one particular thing: genitive inflection of the plural article die. Jan 18, 2021 at 12:46

Of has many meanings, a frequent one being the a direct translation of a genitive construct in German as in

Der Reifen des Wagens (the tyre of the car)

Looking at the Wiktionary table connected to definite articles, we observe, that in the genitive line der occurs at female singular and any plural. (der in other lines are not relevant, since they don't translate to of.)

So in all of the cases:

  • das Hündchen der Nachbarin (fem. sing., the little dog of the [female] neighbour)
  • die Trachten der Männer (masc. pl), der Frauen (fem. pl.), der Kinder (neuter pl.) translating to traditional cosumes of the men/women/children

der would translate to of.

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