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My local newspaper in Bayern mentions an attack on a 63 year-old man and reports

Das Opfer wurde dabei verletzt, die Täter flüchteten mit dessen Geldbeutel.

I have never seen the preposition "mit" followed by the genitive before. I understand the phrase to mean "they fled with his wallet" but then wouldn't it have been better, to write:

....., die Täter flüchteten mit seinem Geldbeutel.?

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  • Did you transcribe the first word in mistake or does it really say "Der Opfer" rather than correctly neuter nominative "Das Opfer" for the subject?
    – vectory
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 18:52
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    Sorry, I have corrected both the gender and the repitition of dessen. To reiterate, my problem is understanding how a genitive (dessen) follows the preposition mit which is normally followed by a dative.
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 19:30
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    If you replace the Demonstrativpronomen "dessen" with what it actually demonstrates - "das Opfer" - then it becomes clearer: "...mit dem Geldbeutel des Opfers". "des Opfers" is Genitiv like in English it would be possessive "...with the victims purse".
    – bakunin
    Commented Mar 26, 2022 at 15:25

2 Answers 2

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Der Täter flüchtete mit seinem Geldbeutel

could mean the offender fled with their own purse (not making a lot of sense in this context, obviously - after all, a robbery was reported, but still ambiguous)

The paper wanted to make the facts completely clear and used the genitive

... der Täter flüchtete mit dessen Geldbeutel

("Geldbeutel" is still dative in this sentence! - its just attributed with "dessen" (thus genitive) to make the ownership clear) can only mean the offender fled with the victim's purse.

Take the English sentence

The offender fled with the victim's purse

Same construct: the purse is dative, victim's possessive.

Both is correct, unambiguous only the latter sentence.

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  • This seems to be an example of der as a demonstrative pronoun, with dessen being an inflected form. My understanding is that der can be used when the person/object referred to is clear from context, but er would not work because that would refer to the current subject. English does not use demonstrative pronouns that way; the closest parallel would be "the former/latter". So in English you actually have to spell out "the victim".
    – RDBury
    Commented Mar 26, 2022 at 7:41
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Dessen (like deren) is an invariable determiner working as a possessive article and, as tofro stated, used in ambiguous contexts for disambiguation. Generally speaking, the possessive perspective is similar to that of the genitive. The genitive look of dessen just reflects the pure idea of "possession" of a masculine (or neuter) "possessor" like the genitive article des. Unlike the possessive article sein it doesn't have marks of case or number:

  • Er sprach mit einem Kollegen. Dessen Frau war kürzlich gestorben. (nominative)
  • Er stellte mich seinem Cousin vor. Dessen Frau kannte ich bereits. (accusative)
  • Er lernte auch den Personalchef kennen. Mit dessen Frau hatte er schon einmal zu tun gehabt. (dative)
  • ?Obwohl er sich wochenlang im Nachbarhaus von Herrn Müller aufhielt, war es ihm nicht gelungen, dessen Frau ansichtig zu werden. (genitive)
  • Er sprach lange mit dem Juniorchef. Dessen Kinder waren gerade in einem Feriencamp. (nominative plural)

In all these cases, dessen does not refer to the subject er in the first sentence but to the respective second person mentioned there.

If the reference item is feminine or plural, the corresponding determiner is deren:

  • Sie sprach mit ihrer Mutter. Deren Mann war im Krankenhaus.
  • Sie saßen mit den Nachbarn im Garten. Deren Kinder waren an diesem Abend bei Freunden.

All given sentences can be transformed into relative clauses using dessen or deren as a relative pronoun:

  • Er kam mit einem Kollegen, dessen Frau kürzlich gestorben war.

As to invariability in case and number, you have the same grammatical characteristic with the interrogative article wessen:

  • Wessen Handschuh / Tasche / Buch ist das hier? Wessen Stifte sind das?

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