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I came across this sentence in a German course:

Ich habe nach dem Tode meines Vaters eine große Summe Geld bekommen.

I was wondering why it is not genitive or why it doesn't use the "von" like Summe des Geldes, Summe Geldes or maybe Summe von Geld.

Is it idiomatic and acceptable or should it be simply just Geldsumme?

Basically why is it "Summe Geld"?

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Ich habe Geld bekommen.
I got money.

Ich habe eine Summe Geld bekommen.
I got a sum of money.

Ich habe eine große Summe Geld bekommen.
I got a large sum of money.

Compare this to

Ich habe Tee getrunken.
I drank tea.

Ich habe eine Tasse Tee getrunken.
I drank a cup of tea.

Ich habe eine große Tasse Tee getrunken.
I drank a big cup of tea.

Here we have a particular thing and a unit of measurement that indicates how much of it there is.

ein Liter Milch = one liter of milk
fünf Meter Stoff = five meters of fabric
eine Prise Salz = a pinch of salt
ein Sack Kartoffeln = a bag of potatoes

This works different than in English. In English, the core of the nominal phrase is the unit, and then you add the information, of what:

What did you buy? I bought a bag. What kind of bag? I bought a bag of potatoes.

In German you think the other way round. The core of the nominal phrase is the thing itself, and then you add an attribute to it which indicates how much of it:

Was hast du gekauft? Ich habe Kartoffeln gekauft. Wieviel davon? Ich habe einen Sack Kartoffeln gekauft.
What did you buy? I bought potatoes. How much of them? I bought a bag of potatoes.

Sometimes you can use this way of thinking and the corresponding construction in English too:

ein Liter Milch = one liter milk
fünf Meter Stoff = five meters fabric

But this construction without of in English is an option in some cases in English, is used almost always in German.


But in German you can use a construction that is similar to the English one, but this is elevated language (gehobene Sprache), not to say pretentious language (überhebliche Sprache). (Heben = to lift; gehoben = lifted, überheben = to over-lift):

Der Graf trank ein Glas des Weines.
The count drank a glass of wine.

Here the phrase des Weines is a genitive attribute of Glas, so it's a construction comparable to the construction in the English sentence. But normally you would say it this way:

Der Graf trank ein Glas Wein.
The count drank a glass of wine.

This genitive-construction sounds less pretentious (but still advanced language) if you want to add some attributes to the wine:

Der Graf trank ein Glas des edlen Weines.
The count drank a glass of the noble wine.

But even in this case we prefer the "normal" construction:

Der Graf trank ein edles Glas Wein.
The prince drank a fine glass of wine.

Note, that grammatically the adjective edel is not an attribute of the noun Wein, but of the noun Glas. But still you don't mean that the count drinks wine from an exquisite glass. You mean that he drinks an exquisite wine, and the amount he drinks is one glass. (So here Glas/glass is not a vessel, but a unit.)

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    I don‘t think your last sentence is correct. To me „ein edles Glas Wein“ sounds awkward, as it indicates that it it a very fine or posh glas you drank out of but the quality of the wine is unspecified. It may be a regional thing, if I would emphasize the quality of the wine, „ein Glas edlen Wein“ makes much more sense.
    – jmk
    Jun 30, 2022 at 5:42
  • "Ein Glas des Weines" could also refer to a specific wine.
    – xyldke
    Jun 30, 2022 at 6:30
  • I would use "elevated" as a translation for "gehoben". There is a similar expression in English: "They drank of the wine and ate of the food." But I don't know where it would be used outside a story involving castles and princesses.
    – RDBury
    Jun 30, 2022 at 10:04
  • Actually, in the 19th century it was common to write eine Große Summe Geldes. This usage of the genitive is dated but it may be still considered correct.
    – RHa
    Jul 2, 2022 at 19:42

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