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It is often complained about that the genitive case is replaced more and more by the dative case (*wegen dem Wetter,*den Opfern gedacht, *wegen mir, trotz), both in speech and, more recently, in print.

This recline of the genitive case seems to be happening since quite a time. Still, expressions like the above are often frowned upon by people who consider themselves educated (Bildungsbürger). Also, it seems to be that higher register of the German language prefers to use verbs (and maybe also other words) that require the genitive case (jds. gedenken instead of an jdn. erinnern, um jds. Willen). On the other hand, in contexts where showing ones educatedness is inappropriate, people who ostentatiously use the genitive will cause irritation.

How and why did the genitive case acquire its connection to supposed educatedness?

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    My guess would be that it was the other way around, the Dative acquired the connection to "uneducatedness", which naturally makes the genitive more educated. Jan 30, 2023 at 12:06
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    SCNR: Genitiv ins Wasser, denn es ist Dativ? Jan 30, 2023 at 13:04
  • I'm curious of what cases of "show your education is inappropriate" you might think?
    – tofro
    Jan 30, 2023 at 14:23
  • @tofro I think you bring it up with your answer yourself: Imagine yourself coming home from where you study at the university to the village where you've been raised and meeting some old classmates. I'm sure the correct use of the genitive case will raise many eyebrows.
    – Bubaya
    Jan 30, 2023 at 14:47
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    Re "ostentatively": ostentative is missing or listed as obsolete. Perhaps ostentatiously? Jan 31, 2023 at 19:31

3 Answers 3

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There has, and continues to be, admittedly a move away from the genitive to the dative case in the German language.

One of the main reasons for this may be that many (most?) of the German dialects don't even know the genitive, it's simply non-existent to most kids during early language acquisition - As a fun fact, even in Saxonian dialect that acts as an eponym for the English possessive. They're doing away with mostly nominative, accusative and dative and replace the genitive with dative constructs.

So lots of native speakers (I'd dare to say the majority, at least in certain regions) don't even come in contact with that case until they enter and climb up the educational system. So it is pretty clear that familiarity with this case (and thus preparedness to use it regularly) is tightly coupled with "being educated".

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    As an example: Instead of "Das ist Peters Mutter" you'll often hear "Das ist Peter seine Mutter" or "Das ist dem Peter seine Mutter". Jan 31, 2023 at 7:16
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    And an actual annecdote of a Northgerman who moved to Hessia: A friend was pointing at a glass and asked "Ist das Verena?" to which I replied "Nein, das ist ein Glas." ("correct" German would have been "Ist das Verenas?") Jan 31, 2023 at 7:17
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    Wem sein Jlas is dat? – Ich! (Wem sein Glas ist das? – Ich!)
    – Bubaya
    Jan 31, 2023 at 10:43
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"Supposed educatedness" is often just the ability to use forms other people are not able to handle (any more). I don't want to discuss if this "supposed educatedness" is actually a sign of really being (more or better) educated. To use more and more complex forms of language is often perceived that way, perhaps because the more forms one commands the more nuances one can express. The Austrian stilist and language critic Karl Kraus once said (about journalists):

Sprechen und Denken sind eins, und die Schmöcke sprechen so korrupt, wie sie denken; und schreiben – so, haben sie gelernt, soll's sein –, wie sie sprechen.

The polemic aside, language and thinking are dialectically intertwined - the more language one commands the more nuances his thought processes perhaps have - and vice versa. Wittgenstein (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus):

Die Grenzen meiner Sprache sind die Grenzen meiner Welt.

Still, there is quite a difference between "jemandes gedenken" and "[sich] an jemanden erinnern": "jemandes gedenken" is an active and drawn out process of rememberance, "[sich] erinnern" means simply to get something into ones thought processes again.

I use both of these words, but - where they are due! i.e. I will meines Latein- und Altgriechischlehrers gedenken, because he managed to teach the languages like the thrilling and enriching experience they are. Um seiner Willen I started to appreciate language as a complex cultural and (inter-)personal phenomenon, much more than something one uses to order beer or talk stock prices. Whereas i will "mich an meinen Heimerzieher erinnern" from time to time, but I won't "seiner gedenken" - I'll rather dance on his grave for all the abuse I (and not I alone) had to suffer.

You see the fine difference?

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The GfDS is polemic and the given article offers not a single reliable datapoint. The book under review therein is published with Spiegel Online GmbH. Yawn.

If anything this does prove your question is opinion based. Which would be a neat writing prompt had you done the minimum of prior research. The mere assumption that case is marked exusively by suffixal inflection is by itself not warranted.

Can't say it is what it is because that's what's taught in school without begging the question. What you really want to know is how. Suddenly you are looking at a socio-historical question about "varieties", in which the answer has to take position as neutral as possible to offend nobody, all the while writing in English. So, the so-called Saxon in Saxon-Genitive is, ironically speaking, neither genetive nor Saxon for that matter. Let's talk about Sax baby:

  • Der Sachsen-Genitiv is perceived as genitive by no one. The *-n- is often considered Fugenlaut, an effect so strong that Sonn'schein caused backformation (IMHO), thus Sonne instead of the better preserved paradigm of sol, helios, etc. (see DWDS.de: Sonne). Des Sachsen Genitiv stands to reason. Although, what we actually find online is Sächsischer Genitiv!

That is, with -er as in Wetter(n).

Moreover, Wir gedenken der Opfer is etymologically difficult, so interesting and decidedly not the best case to make a trivial example.

Meinem Vater sein Hut (GfDS) is rare, or made up, and not a good example either.

  • PS: Reportedly, it is common in the Alps. The fact that I cannot remember hearing it ever is a point in case.

    "Das ist Hans seine Mutter" and "Wem sein Glas ist das?" are known further North and "Wem ist das Glas?" exists also. Chances are these are archaic implementatations of ablative, as we -s- in the right place, *wemes-, and therefore super archaic.

    Genitive "Hans seiner" may be equivalent to Norse patronymic Jonson "Johan's son", noting that Johannes becomes Jaan, Jon, Hans etc. by regular sound shift, possibly assimilating unrelated forms. Failing to acknowledge that this stemmed from changes that are regular to some degree is definitely polemic (or corrected for sound change and genitive: foolish).

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    "Meinem Vater sein Hut" (or, rather "Mein Vodan sei Huat") is a common way of avoiding the Genitiv in at least several Austrian (in the given example: Viennese) dialects, probably in most of Bavarian dialects too. This is neither "rare" nor "made up".
    – bakunin
    Jan 31, 2023 at 8:24
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    I disagree. That the GfDS is polemic does not disprove that the declining use of the genitive case is complained about, tendentially by people who are proud of their education. I don't think there is no opinion at all about these two observations. That you decided to answer in English is your decision, nothing to complain about. I don't see what the Fugenlaut has to with the topic. Lastly, Meinem Vater sein Hut is not made up, but perfectly fine in Ripuarian dialects (e.g., Kölsch) and certainly many others. Anyway, what's your point with the example?
    – Bubaya
    Jan 31, 2023 at 10:40
  • Right, it just means that your question is tendentious by extension and not worth a more thorough answer. Der Saxen Genitiv is genetive, you might have missed, because you don't understand what Fugenlaut has to do with anything. I'm sorry I forgot to point it out more clearly.
    – vectory
    Jan 31, 2023 at 13:29

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