Why do we say:

Ihre Mutter Julia ist brasilianischer Herkunft.

I think we should say instead:

Ihre Mutter Julia ist brasilianische Herkunft.

Is that right? We say die Herkunft not der Herkunft. So, why was the ending -er instead of just -e used here?

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    Auf Deutsch: german.stackexchange.com/q/70364/35111
    – David Vogt
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 18:20
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    "brasilianischer Herkunft" translates to "of brazilian heritage". Now ask yourself what case in German should be used here. Hint: It is not nominative.
    – RHa
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 19:14
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    @RHa Please do not answer a question in a comment.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 19:25
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    @David Vogt I tried hard not to answer the question but only to point the questioner in the right direction. But if this is considered an answer.. weil, all I can say I think this is wrong.
    – RHa
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 19:52
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    Ah right, I think it is Genitiv. I don't know why at first I thought 'Brasilianisch' is an adjective for 'herkunft'. Wir könnten also sagen: ihre mutter ist brasilianisch der herkunft, Right? @RHa Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 20:12

3 Answers 3


The grammar is slightly subtle here. Normally a genitive noun attaches itself to another noun; it usually doesn't use a copulative verb like sein. But Herkunft and similar words, for example Ursprung, seem to be exceptions. So while sein almost always uses the nominative case, you have to be careful to take meaning into account. You don't want to say Julia is an origin, but that she has an origin of a certain kind. You could avoid the whole issue, though probably not very idiomatically, by saying what you actually mean: Ihrer Mutter, Julias, Herkunft ist brasilianisch. So yes, in the other examples you gave in the comments the noun is in the nominative case, and the adjective is declined accordingly. This example is an exception due to the change in meaning, and the noun is in the genitive case.

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    A more verbose version of "Sie ist brasilianischer Herkunft" would be "Sie ist von brasilianischer Herkunft". Here, the similarity to the English "She is of brazilian descent" becomes more visible. But this longer version feels even more outdated the shorter version, which is already a bit stuffy. You might say "Sie ist von edler Herkunft" about a pedigree cat, with the owner's nose quite high up in the air ;) Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 11:15
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    Bitte schau noch mal auf den Satz: "Ihre Mutter Julias Herkunft ist brasilianisch." Das kann man nun wirklich nicht sagen und sieht aus wie eine verunfallte Satzumstellung, nur halb durchgeführt oder vergessen ein Wort zu eliminieren. Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 18:57
  • @user unknown: I can't see the problem, but I'm not a native speaker so I'm probably missing something. I did mention that it's probably not idiomatic, but it's a direct translation of "Her mother Julia's background is Brazilian." That's now how you would say it in English either.
    – RDBury
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 1:42
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    @user unknown: It's difficult to be unambiguous in English without rephrasing. To simplify a bit, I interpret "This is my mother Julia," as "This is my mother, who's name is Julia." (There grammatical jargon for this is apposition.) You could add a comma: "This is my mother, Julia," but now it sounds like you're introducing your mother to Julia. Perhaps DeepL understood the sentence differently so did not translate what I meant to say. If apposition works differently in German. then that's where I'm getting confused.
    – RDBury
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 2:55
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    @user unknown: PS, apparently German does work differently. I found (link) Das ist das Auto meines Bruders, des Lehrers. = "That is the car of my brother, the teacher." You wouldn't say "This is my bother's, the teacher's car." I'm thinking the case matching rule is more logical, but it sounds wrong to an English speaker like me. I went ahead and changed the example in the answer.
    – RDBury
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 3:30

The copula sein usually combines with a nominative, either expressing an identity or a subsumption:

Markus Söder ist der (nom. sg. masc.) bayerische Ministerpräsident. (identity)

Joseph ist ein echter Bayer. (subsumption: Joseph belong to the group of real or genuine Bavarians)

When a genitive combines with sein, the meaning changes.

Seine Familie ist brasilianischen Ursprungs (gen sg. masc.).

This sentence does not express an identity or a subsumption. Rather, the genitive characterises the subject: the family has Brazilian origins or is of Brazilian origin or originates from Brazil.

These so-called predicative genitives are mostly limited to fixed expressions. Learners usually encounter them first in stock phrases expressing an opinion.

Ich bin der (gen. sg. fem.) Meinung/Ansicht/Auffassung, dass Karthago zerstört werden muss.

  • *Ich bin der Meinung ... * = "I'm of the opinion ..."; English and German are similar here except English requires a preposition, while in German you can use the genitive instead. These expressions are somewhat stuffy in English as well, more common would be "In my opinion ...", or even "If you ask me ...", which could even be too informal.
    – RDBury
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 22:58
  • I think ich bin der Meinung etc. are definitely less stuffy in German than in English; they get taught at the B1-B2 level (example). Also, German has other kinds of predicative genitives: possessive (Bist du des Wahnsinns?) or adverbial (war frohen Herzens as well as ging frohen Herzens).
    – David Vogt
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 8:51

A little declension changes everything.

Ihre Mutter Julia ist brasilianische Herkunft. This means: Her mother Julia is Brazilian origin. (A female person (Julia) IS an abstract thing (origin)). That obviously doesn't make any sense. You used 2 times the nominative declensions, that means you describe what the subject is (subject complement). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subject_complement

Ihre Mutter Julia ist brasilianischer Herkunft. Closest (maybe weird translation) Her mother is of Brazilian origin. The "r" (genitive) at the end, changes everything.

In grammar, the genitive case (abbreviated gen)[2] is the grammatical case that marks a word, usually a noun, as modifying another word, also usually a noun—thus indicating an attributive relationship of one noun to the other noun.[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genitive_case

Edit: I'm a German teacher, and I explain this at least once a day. You teacher probably told you: "Always use "sein" with the nominative case." This is only the case if you describe the person (subject complement) Ich bin Deutschlehrer. (NOM + NOM) Er ist ein guter Mensch. (NOM + NOM)

Be careful with structures like your example or: Das Buch ist mir. (informal German - the book is mine) "Mir ist schlecht." vs. "Ich bin schlecht." (I am badly off / I am bad) Sie sind des Todes. (obsolete - They have to/will die)

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