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I'm reading this article comparing the different connectors wegen and weil. Apparently, wegen's correct usage would be with the genitive case but these days Germans are starting to use it with the dative case. I have read elsewhere as well that the genitive is falling out of fashion.

My question: What motivated the reduction of gentive case usage in German?

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    Related question
    – guidot
    Feb 14 at 20:09
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    Note that prepositions which go with genitive have always been rare in German, which means that there is a tendency for genitive prepositions to change to dative or accusative prepositions. This does not necessarily mean that the genitive is disappearing, although it already disappeared in many German dialects which is not a new development though.
    – RHa
    Feb 15 at 7:50
  • Das Verschwinden des Genitivs ist eine Behauptung, der es an Belegen mangelt. Wessen Behauptung das ist, der müsste zumindest eine Methode nennen, mit der er die Häufigkeit des Genitivs misst und 2 Zeitpunkte nennen, für die er dessen Häufigkeit ermittelt hat. Es macht ja wohl einen Unterschied, ob man 2020 mit 1840 vergleicht oder mit 2010 und ob sein Rückgang 2% oder 20% betrug. Wird sein Gebrauch in der Literatur verglichen, in Zeitungen, privaten Briefen oder in Fußballreportagen? Gerade seine Verwendung in der mündlichen Sprache dürfte kaum repräsentativ messbar sein. Feb 15 at 20:49

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The genitive is not falling out of fashion. Its core function, the attributive genitive that expresses participation, possession, or similar relations, is well and alive in everyday use (e.g. Annas Auto or der Anfang des Kapitels).

The genitives that are becoming less common are the ones governed by verbs (genitive objects) and prepositions (as in your wegen example).

The question is why these genitives are falling out of fashion. Here are a couple of possible reasons:

  • The genitive prepositions are relatively seldom in the spoken language. Most prepositions, especially the short and common ones, govern the accusative or the dative. There are few prepositions that govern the genitive, and even fewer that are common in the spoken language, as man of them belong to a formal written style.
  • When the genitive lacks a distinct form, it is replaced by the dative anyway. While you can say wegen Hagels with a genitive, you can only say wegen Hagelschauern with a dative (example from Wikipedia – Genitiv § Genitiv bei Präpositionen), since the genitive plural Hagelschauer is not different from the nominative/accusative plural or from the nominative/accusative/dative singular. (This is the case even in highest registers of formal written language, so the claim that only wegen + genitive is correct is, by itself, not correct.)
  • Semantically, the accusative and dative used with prepositions have distinct meanings that contrast with each other in the case of prepositions like auf, an, in where both can be used (the accusative expresses the movement, the dative the state). The genitive used with prepositions lacks such a distinct meaning. That might be a reason why it tends to be replaced.
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Proto-Indo-European, the common ancestor of most European and some Asian languages, had at least 8 cases, but the trend seems to be for these to be lost over time. Latin has 6 (not counting locative which is rare), Russian has 6, Hindustani (Hindi & Urdu) has 5, German has 4, English essentially has three, but the inflections have mostly disappeared except in pronouns. This is also the case (more or less) with modern French and Spanish. (Thank you Wikipedia. Keep in mind that case distinctions can be fuzzy and these numbers are just approximations.) The grammatical information once carried by the different inflections is now conveyed by prepositions and by word order. So the loss of the Genitive case in German seems to be part of general trend, though I don't know if the reason for this trend is generally understood. There is an example in English as well where "whom" is gradually disappearing in favor of "who". These kind of changes in languages take place over centuries though, so while the Genitive case in German may be losing ground, I doubt you have to worry about it actually disappearing in your lifetime.

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To pin the disappearance of the genitive on the case with which the preposition »wegen« is used can lead to erroneous conclusions.

In former times (namely in the 14th century) there were two very similar, but nevertheless different German languages in the areas where German is spoken today: Up on the mountains (i.e. in Bavaria and Austria) High German (Hochdeutsch) was spoken, while in the lower lying lowlands (i.e. in the northern half of Germany) Low German (Niederdeutsch) was spoken.

(The history of High German, Middle German, Low German, Dutch, Frisian etc. is full of much more interesting details, but the history of German language is not topic of this answer. To keep it simple, let's assume there was only High and Low German.)

In the course of the following centuries, High German spread more and more to the north, displacing Low German all the way to the North Sea coast. Only there it is still preserved today and is now called Plattdeutsch (but is still considered an independent language, so it is not a dialect).


The noun »Weg« in both languages had the meaning under which we still use it today, i.e. way, road, walkable connection, etc.

In Low German, however, this word also had the meaning side which is »Seite« in High German. If you wanted to say »on both sides« in Low German at that time you had to say »an beyder wegene«. And »von des rads und der stede wegin« is in modern standard German »von Seiten des Rates und der Städte«.

For all the council and the cities cares, there are no objections to the project.
Von Seiten des Rates und der Städte bestehen keine Einwände gegen das Vorhaben.
Von des rads und der stede wegin ...

Especially in official documents, the phrase »von ... wegin« traveled into the south, into High German-speaking territory.

There, in Munich and Vienna, they did not know the meaning »Weg« = side. They understood, for example, the phrase mentioned above as: »Von des Rates und der Städte Weges« (of the council and the cities ways), and that made no sense to them. But this did not prevent them from using this phrase (»von ... wegin«) themselves. Only they used the word "wegin" not like a noun (which it actually was), but - in the first phase of adoption - like an adverb. But since this new adverb »wegin« was always used together with another noun, it quickly turned into a preposition.

However, already since the times of the proto-Indo-European language, which goes back several thousand years, it is true: No matter how prepositions are used, they can always be traced back in the grammar to a (often only imagined) spatial relation. And for spatial relations, Proto-Indo-European knew several different cases, of which only dative and accusative have remained in modern German. The two other still existing cases (nominative and genitive) are not suitable for spatial indications.

Therefore, since time immemorial, actually all prepositions come either with the dative or with the accusative case. They come with the dative, if it is about a place, and they come with the accusative, if the relation can be traced back to a direction or target. All prepositions that exist in modern German today that require the genitive case are special cases that have arisen through some misinterpretation.

This is also the case with "wegen":

  • 14th century Low German: »von des rads wegin«.
  • Modern standard German: »von Seiten des Rats«.
    Verbatim translation into English: »of sides of the council«, meaning: »for all the council cares«

As you can see, the genitive fits here very well, because it indicates an imagined ownership relationship (the sides belong to the council, the council is the owner of the sides).

In High German, however, "wegin" has become a preposition, and because the interpretation as a place is closer than as a direction, the dative should correctly be used: "wegen dem Rat".

In the course of time, Low German disappeared almost completely from the map, the meaning »Weg« = side disappeared with the language, and all that is left is the preposition "wegen", whose origin is largely forgotten.

According to common grammar, »wegen« would have to be used with the dative case: »wegen dem Kind« or in the plural: »wegen den Kindern«. There are reasonable assumptions that this case has been dominant in the spoken language for 500 years as well.

Due to the confusion described above, however, the genitive was preferred in written language all the time. This peculiarity has to be learned as an exception, and once you have learned it, you were proud to have mastered it, and then you write it that way yourself, even if you use the dative at home when talking to friends.

And so the artificially pushed genitive survived until today and is still considered the more educated variant, while the more natural dative has been given the label "colloquial".

But fact is still, that the preposition »wegen« has been used with two cases since it came to existence in High German:

  • genitive case
    If you are an high educated person and want to let everybody know know that you are aware of the fact, that »wegen« is one of the rare exceptions where a preposition needs genitive case.
  • dative case
    If you use »wegen« like any other normal preposition with either dative (which fits well for wegen) or accusative case (which is not an option for wegen)

So, the usage of wegen with dative is not a new phenomenon. People used it all the time with this case in colloquial speech. But when they write letters or even books, they remember the exception and switched to genitive case in the last 5 centuries. Therefore, one cannot argue the loss of the genitive by claiming that the preposition »wegen« loses the genitive.


And if you use »wegen« together with a pronoun, genitive case is wrong, even in high educated standard German:

Wrong: Wegen meiner müsst ihr das nicht tun.
Correct: Wegen mir müsst ihr das nicht tun.
You don't have to do that because of me.

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    Schöne Antwort. Der letzte Absatz ist aber fragwürdig (und nicht belegt). Duden nennt unter 3c wegen mir umgangssprachlich und wegen meiner veraltet/noch landschaftlich. Ich sehe nicht, aus welchem Grund wegen mir richtig und wegen meiner falsch sein sollte.
    – Olafant
    Feb 15 at 11:15
  • @Olafant: Echt jetzt? Es gibt Leute, die ernsthaft »wegen meiner ...« sagen? Das ist mir völlig neu, das wusste ich nicht. Dort wo ich lebe (Osten Österreichs) ist mir das noch nicht untergekommen. Feb 16 at 8:19
  • Ich habe das schon gehört, wenn auch sehr selten.
    – Olafant
    Feb 16 at 8:31
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First of all wegen + Gen. is correct.

However...
Language is not a static construct. It is alive and changing, all the time. Some dialects in German use wegen + Dat.. Thus this usage can not be considered incorrect, but rather regional/colloquial. Over time, this colloquial usage also reaches people that speak a different dialect (or high-German)

One small exception comes in plural forms, in which the genitive form is not evident.

Wegen Regenfällen wurde das Fest abgesagt

This uses the dative case, because the genitive version wegen Regenfälle is not distuingishable from the nominative case. This changes as soon as you add an adjective, such as

Wegen starker Regenfälle...

(German source)

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  • »First of all wegen + Gen. is correct.« I disagree: *»Wegen mir (Dat.) müsst ihr das nicht machen« vs. »Wegen meiner (Gen.) müsst ihr das nicht machen« Feb 15 at 9:16
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    Correct would be "meinetwegen", but wegen meiner is a correct form (although archaic, except for example in Bavaria). Wegen mir is now predominantly used, but that is not in conflict with my statement. Feb 15 at 9:37
  • »Meinetwegen« und »wegen mir« haben zwar überlappende Bedeutungen, sind aber nicht beliebig austauschbar: Choreograph zum bereits genervten Tänzer: »Kannst du jetzt auch noch den linken Arm heben?« - »Na gut, meinetwegen mach ich das halt auch noch.« vs. »Na gut, wegen mir mach ich das halt auch noch.«- Dass mir bis dato nicht bekannt war, das es Leute gibt, die ernsthaft »wegen meiner« sagen, habe ich schon in einem anderen Kommentar thematisiert. Feb 16 at 8:31
  • Wenn »meinetwegen« aus »wegen meiner« bzw. »meiner wegen« entstanden ist, wo kommen dann »meinethalben« und »meinetwillen« her? Feb 16 at 8:35
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After about 1,800 answers that I have given here on German Stackexchange, this here is the first time I've made use of the option to post two answers to one question, because there is so much to say about this question. (In my other answer, I note that the claim that the preposition »wegen« is increasingly rarely used with the genitive is incorrect).

This answer here is generally about the use of the genitive and its role in language change.

I grew up on the outskirts of Graz in southeastern Austria (there is no L in Austria, so its not Australia!). My parents are from eastern Styria (mind the T in Styria, it's not Syria! Styria is one of the 9 states of Austria and Graz is the capital of Styria), and until I was six years old, all the people I came into contact with spoke the local dialect Oststeirisch (East Styrian), which is the local expression of the Middle Bavarian or Danube Bavarian dialects, with influences from neighboring regions. My grandfather, Christian Schölnast, even wrote books in this dialect. The special thing about this dialect is that it does not contain a genitive. (Dative and accusative are also merged into one case, with the exception of pronouns, but that is another topic).

There are no verbs in this dialect that govern the genitive (»gedenken«), there are no prepositions that require the genitive (»wegen«), there are no adverbial determiners in the genitive (»schnellen Schrittes«), and there are no genitive attributes (»des Orkans«):

Standard German: Der Vater eilte wegen des herannahenden Sturmes schnellen Schrittes herbei und gedachte dabei der anderen Kinder, die bereits früher ein Opfer des Orkans geworden waren.
East Styrian: Da Foda is wegn an Sturm, der daherkumman is, ziemli schnöö hergrennt und hod dabei an die ounan Kinna denkt, die scho friara Opfa vu dem Orkan woan san.
The father hurried at a fast pace because of the approaching storm, remembering the other children who had already been a victim of the hurricane earlier.

As far as I know, Oststeirisch is representative of all Bavarian dialects, which all get along quite well without the genitive.

I first learned the genitive in school, and at that time it seemed just as unnecessary and foreign to me as the new language to which it belonged: standard German. Today, as an adult, I see things differently, but my point is that there are already variants of the German language that can do without the genitive, although I observe that the number of speakers of Bavarian dialects is currently declining sharply, and I expect this group of dialects (or is it a language?) to become extint in the next 100 to 200 years. And the consequence of this will then be that, at least in Austria and Bavaria, the genitive will be used more frequently in the future than it is today.

But even without having to refer to the dying of the dialects, there is no sign of a demise of the genitive.


Prepositions with Genitive

The number of prepositions governing the genitive has increased, not decreased, in recent centuries. The words aufgrund, anstatt, infolge, anstelle and zugunsten have already attached the genitive in the past. Others, such as trotz, dank and laut have only recently moved away from the dative and are now used with the genitive (colloquially still often with the dative). And with the word entsprechend you can just observe live the transition from the dative to the genitive:

Dativ: Die Weiterverwendung dieser Daten ist entsprechend dem Informationsweiterverwendungsgesetz nicht zulässig.
Genitiv: Unsere Sicherheitsmaßnahmen werden entsprechend des technischen Fortschritts fortlaufend verbessert.

Interestingly, this transition seems to happen mainly in those regions where genitive-less dialects are spoken. In my research, I found examples of "entsprechend" + genitive only on Austrian websites (but there in large numbers). Of course, this could also have something to do with the fact that Google shows me Austrian pages preferentially, but I think it is more likely that in these regions the genitive is mentally linked with "elevated language", because it hardly plays a role in the ordinary everyday language. And because especially the dialect speakers in these regions generally find the genitive somewhat strange, they are also prepared to tolerate this strangeness in the elevated written language.


Genitive Attributes

The genitive attribute is a suffixed attribute of a noun that can always be replaced by the also correct construction "von" + dative:

der Vater des Kindes, im Osten Österreichs
der Vater von dem Kind, im Osten von Österreich

But there are also cases where the genitive is not possible at all, namely when the attribute is plural and used without a determiner:

correct: Die Frage von Schülern, ob Masken getragen werden müssen, blieb unbeantwortet.
wrong: Die Frage Schüler, ob Masken getragen werden müssen, blieb unbeantwortet.

Apart from such exceptions, however, it is the case that in written German the genitive attribute is used almost exclusively, and a shift to the prepositional attribute is not recognizable.

In spoken everyday language - at least where I live - the construction "von" + dative has always been the preferred variant. However, as everyday language, especially in Germany and Austria, is becoming more and more like standard German due to the increased consumption of cross-national media (Internet, television), and as the number of dialect speakers is rapidly decreasing, it can be observed in spoken German that the construction "von" + dative is being pushed back more and more in favor of the genitive attribute.


Genitive Objects

When a verb rules the genitive, it is called a genitive object.

Dieser Vorfall hat ihn eines Besseren belehrt.
Karl befleißigt sich einer sorgsameren Sprache.
Der Täter wurde des Mordes beschuldigt.
Der Mann entledigte sich seiner Kleider.
Sandra unterzog sich freiwillig dieser Prozedur.
Walte deines Amtes!

About 150 to 200 years ago, there were many more verbs used with a genitive object. For many of them, the use of the genitive today is considered outdated or even wrong:

past: Egon trank und vergaß dabei des Auftrags. (Genitivobjekt)
present: Egon trank und vergaß dabei den Auftrag. (Akkusativobjekt)

past: Fürchtest du dich nicht der Sünde? (Genitivobjekt)
present: Fürchtest du dich nicht vor der Sünde? (Präpositionalobjekt)

past: Sie braucht des Geldes um Brot zu kaufen. (Genitivobjekt)
present: Sie braucht das Geld um Brot zu kaufen. (Akkusativobjekt)

Here we can clearly observe a decline of the genitive in the past. With the verb gedenken (»sie gedachten der Toten«) you can follow this change live right now. Still officially only the genitive is considered correct, but in some newspapers you can also find the dative:

Stuttgarter Zeitung: Der Niederösterreichische Landtag gedachte den Toten
Die Glocke (Nähe Münster, NRW): Die Bruderschaft gedachte den Toten aus Krieg, Terror und Gewalt
OVB Online (Rosenheim, Bayern): In einer Feierstunde gedachte die Pfarrgemeinde Oberbergkirchen den toten Soldaten der beiden Weltkriege sowie den Opfern von Terror und Gewalt am Kriegerdenkmal.

There is no verb that has taken a genitive adjective in recent centuries, but, as just shown, many that have lost it in the past. Whether "gedenken" will join this ranks is still uncertain.

In addition, however, there are a number of verbs which cannot be imagined without a genitive object, even at present. With these verbs the genitive seems to be very stably anchored, a change is not in sight here:

Der Zeuge beschuldigt August K. des Mordes an Liselotte R. Der Staatsanwalt klagt Herrn K. des Mordes an. Herr K entschlug sich der Aussage und sein Anwalt bediente sich einer List um seinen Mandanten zu entlasten, doch der Richter waltete seines Amtes und verurteilte Herrn K. des Mordes an Liselotte R. zu lebenslanger Haft. Liselottes Schwester erbarmte sich des hinterbliebenen Kindes und nahm sich seiner an. Später brüstete sich Herr K. sogar noch seiner Tat, doch entbehrte dies jeder Logik. Es zeigt aber, dass sich Herr K. seiner Tat nicht schämte.
The witness accuses August K. of the murder of Liselotte R. The prosecutor accuses Mr. K. of murder. Mr. K. refused to testify and his lawyer used a ruse to exonerate his client, but the judge used his authority and sentenced Mr. K. to life imprisonment for the murder of Liselotte. Liselotte's sister took pity on the bereaved child and took care of him. Later, Mr. K. even boasted of his deed, but this lacked any logic. It shows, however, that Mr. K. was not ashamed of his deed.

In conclusion, I would say that there has been a decline in verbs with genitive objects in the past, but that this decline has now bottomed out, and the proportion of genitive objects in written German will probably remain at about its present level for the foreseeable future. In spoken German, I expect more of an increase, for the same reasons I gave above.


Adverbial Genitive

Meines Wissens kam eines Abends Reinhard schnellen Schritts des Weges und erzählte Barbara frohen Mutes von seinen Plänen. Doch Barbara entgegnete ihm traurigen Herzens, dass ihnen eines Tages das Geld dafür ausgehen würde. Aber Reinhard entgegnete ruhigen Gewissens, dass ihre Reserven dafür ausreichen.
As far as I know, one evening Reinhard came walking quickly along the path and told Barbara about his plans in a cheerful mood. But Barbara replied with a sad heart that one day they would run out of money for it. But Reinhard replied with a calm conscience that their reserves were sufficient for it.

The adverbial genitive does not occur particularly frequently, but here too, neither an increase nor a decrease in frequency can be observed in written texts. For spoken German, the same applies as above.

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  • Both answers are, as always, excellent, but it might be better to combine them.
    – PiedPiper
    Feb 16 at 14:00

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