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I wonder if this kind of phrase is common in German. For example, I want to say:

He changed the oil of my brother's son's car.

the oil of my brother's son's car

I translate that this way:

Er wechselte das Öl des Autos des Sohnes meines Bruders.

Does it make sense?

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2 Answers 2

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Yes, it makes sense, and it works in the same way as you quote it in English.

However, such chain can be hard to follow. That's why one would possibly try to phrase it another way. In this particular case: Sohn des Bruders -> Neffe (though that could also be your sister's son). Also easier to change "Er wechselte das Öl des Autos" -> "Er machte einen Ölwechsel beim Auto". Such these two versions are IMHO more likely being used, and slightly easier to understand:

Er machte beim Auto des Sohns meines Bruders einen Ölwechsel

Er machte beim Auto meines Neffen einen Ölwechsel.

or reorder the sentence constituents

Er machte einen Ölwechsel beim Auto meines Neffen.

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    Thanks for your answer. I think you changed the original meaning a little bit. You wrote: Er machte beim Auto des Sohns seines Bruders einen Ölwechsel. I didn't say his brother. I said my brother. In this particular case, you can substitute brother's son with nephew but it is not always the case. Imagine it was like this: Er wechselte das Öl des Autos des Freunds meines Bruders. There is no substitute for my brother's friend. Aug 24, 2023 at 9:23
  • @NarimanAsgharian yes, thanks, well-observed :) The change was not intended and a mistake on my part. Every instance of 'seines Bruders' had to be changed to 'meines Bruders' (or 'meines Neffen'). Edited & fixed. Aug 24, 2023 at 11:35
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Er wechselte das Öl des Autos des Sohnes meines Bruders.

Does it make sense?

In short: yes, that makes perfect sense. The "son of my brother" could also be called "my nephew" ("mein Neffe"), but grammatically it is OK.

If you are asking from an english POV: one of the differences between English and German is that German has a full-blown case system, which English lacks. Even the English Genitiv (e.g. "my fathers house) is not a real (full-blown) case any more, but a "Fallrest" - and one of the places where that shows is when building chains of objects. One can say:

my father's car

but

my father's car's tires

would be wrong (or, as @RDBury pointed out in a comment, at the very least unidiomatic). Instead, constructions with "of" are used for these occasions, i.e.

the tires of my father's car
the tires of the car of my father

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  • It is my father's car in English.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Aug 24, 2023 at 8:36
  • Why do you think my father's car's tires is incorrect? (And is that relevant to the question?)
    – David Vogt
    Aug 24, 2023 at 8:53
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    @DavidVogt: It is unidiomatic, and for the question if chains of genitive objects are possible it kinda is relevant, no?
    – bakunin
    Aug 24, 2023 at 9:02
  • @bakunin - To me "my father's car's tires" is correct. (But I'm a native speaker so I don't know the rules, just what "sounds" wrong') But these chains are so awkward that a rephrase is called for: "I changed the tires on my brother's car." Or: "I changed the tires on the car my brother owns."
    – RDBury
    Aug 24, 2023 at 13:51

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