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On Steam today, there is a sale for Batman games. The sale headline is:

Feiern Sie Bruce Waynes Geburtstag

What is the "s" on "Waynes"? My assumption is that it is "der Geburtstag des Bruce Waynes", however because the "des" is removed and Geburtstag comes after "Bruce Waynes", I'm unsure if this is correct.

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Proper names usually go without an article, so it is "Bruce Wayne" instead of "der Bruce Wayne", and in Genitiv "Bruce Waynes" instead of "des Bruce Wayne" (note the lack of 's' for the latter, only the article "des" marks the case here). And for proper names the Genitiv more commonly comes before instead of after. This is not different from "Peters Geburtstag". (Choosing a name which does not end in an s sound to avoid complications.) In short: this is indeed about Bruce Wayne's birthday.

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  • As a native English speaker, my mind certainly reads it as such. But after getting accustomed to how German typically handles the Genitive case, as I mentioned in my post, I figured this was some grammar rule I was missing. Commented Feb 22 at 22:06
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This sentence is in imperative mode (it is an invitation which is a sub-form of a command), so it should end with an exclamation mark:

Feiern Sie Bruce Waynes Geburtstag!

Since it is in imperative mode, the verb is not at position 2 where it would be in a statement (»Sie feiern Bruce Waynes Geburtstag.«) but at position 1. At position 2 is the subject which is a personal pronoun in nominative case. In an imperative sentence this subject is always in second person (it's neither »ich« nor »er/sie/es«) (exceptions exist, but are extremely rare), and here the honorable form is used (it's not »du/ihr« but »Sie«), but it is ambiguous if it's singular or plural.

The rest of the sentence (»Bruce Waynes Geburtstag«) is a noun phrase in accusative case naming the party that is celebrated. It is in accusative case, because the verb »feiern« needs the party to be celebrated in this case. The core of this noun phrase is the noun »Geburtstag« and this core is indeed really in accusative case, although the forms in nominative and dative case also look identically.

Anything else in this noun phrase is either a determiner or a possessive attribute of the core:

  • determiner

    Feiern Sie einen schönen Geburtstag!

  • possessive attribute

    Feiern Sie Bruce Waynes Geburtstag!

The possessive attribute indicates, who's birthday it is that shall be celebrated. In English you have these possibilities to mark possession:

  1. Celebrate the birthday of Bruce Wayne!
  2. Celebrate Bruce Wayne's birthday!

Both versions exist in German too, but also two additional forms:

  • in Du-Form
    Note, that the subject »du« is not included in a sentence in imperative mode, which is identical to the omission of the subject »you« in an English imperative sentence.

    1. Feiere den Geburtstag von Bruce Wayne!
    2. Feiere Bruce Waynes Geburtstag!
    3. Feiere den Geburtstag Bruce Waynes!
    4. Feiere den Geburtstag des Bruce Wayne!
  • in Sie-Form
    When the honorable form is used, the subject »Sie« must be included in the sentence.

    1. Feiern Sie den Geburtstag von Bruce Wayne!
    2. Feiern Sie Bruce Waynes Geburtstag!
    3. Feiern Sie den Geburtstag Bruce Waynes!
    4. Feiern Sie den Geburtstag des Bruce Wayne!
  • #1 den Geburtstag von Bruce Wayne
    This is a right prepositional attribute because this attribute is a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase starts with a preposition and the rest of it is an inner object in a grammatical case that depends on the preposition. Since this attribute still indicates a possession, the only preposition that is possible is »von«. The preposition von always needs its inner object to be in dative case. So, »Bruce Wayne« inside of »von Bruce Wayne« is in dative case, but the whole object of the verb, which is »den Geburtstag von Bruce Wayne« is in accusative case, as already mentioned above. (Think of parts of speech as nested boxes where each box has its own case or no case at all.)
    Btw: The grammatical case of »Bruce Wayne« inside of »of Bruce Wayne« in the English version #1 is called objective case, but it differs only at pronouns from other cases (not »of he« which would be subjective case, also not »of his« which would be possessive case but »of him« which is objective case).

  • #2 Bruce Waynes Geburtstag
    You can see that the German #2 follows exactly the same pattern, that is used for #2 in English. There are still two differences: If the honorable form is used, the subject »Sie« must be used, and there is no apostrophe between the name and the added s in the German version. But the construction itself is identical to the English construction.
    The case used for the name Bruce Wayne in construction 2 is called »possessive case« in English, but »genitive case« in German. Because the attribute Bruce Waynes is positioned left of the core who's attribute it is, it is called a »left attribute« or more precisely a »left genitive attribute«.

  • #3 den Geburtstag Bruce Waynes
    The genitive attribut can also be positioned right of the core. Nothing else changes compared to #2. It's just called a »right genitive attribute«.

  • #3 den Geburtstag des Bruce Wayne
    This is also a right genitive attribute, but with a determiner (here with an article, which is the most frequently used kind of a determiner).
    Usually, the noun still should have an s at the end:

    Wrong: Feiern Sie den Geburtstag des Vater!
    Correct: Feiern Sie den Geburtstag des Vaters!

    But in some cases, this »Gentiv-S« can (and should) be omitted. This is allowed (and recommended) if the determiner itself ends with an s, and if the noun is a proper name, which is both the case here. Under which other situations the Gentiv-S can (or should) be omitted is still a topic of actual research.

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There is no "possessive" in German, because the English possessive is exactly what the Genitiv in German is for.

First, let us peel apart the objects of the sentence. The whole sentence is in Imperativ (command form), therefore the Verb is not in second but first place, followed by the Subjekt:

Feiern Sie - what?

The answer to this question is an Objekt, which is in Akkusative case:

Feiern Sie den Geburtstag.

"den Geburtstag" is an Objekt, but it can itself take additional properties, which can either be Adjektive ("...den schönen/einmaligen/zwanzigsten/... Geburtstag.") or other Objekte. The latter can be either Nomina (nouns or proper names) or dependent sentences. One such possible property could be the information whose birthday it is. The birthday "belongs" to the person celebrating it and for this relation there is the Genitiv case in all indoeuropean languages. (If they have retained it. In fact there is a tendency in all indoeuropean languages to do away with cases and replace them with prepositions. German has done so with the Latin Ablativ, English has gone one step further dropping Genitiv, Dativ and Akkusativ too.)

English arguably hasn't retained the genitive case1) and instead invented the "possessive":

Celebrate Bruce Waynes birthday.
Celebrate the birthday of Bruce Wayne.

German does have a Genitiv and therefore:

Feiern Sie den - whose? - Geburtstag.

The answer to "whose?" (notice that for this question particle English has indeed retained what in German is called Genitiv) is an Objekt in Genitiv and since the case is marked as such the order of the parts of the Akkusativobjekt doesn't matter. The following two are both correct and mean the same, notice that the former drops the Artikel, while the latter doesn't:

Feiern Sie Bruce Waynes Geburtstag.
Feiern Sie den Geburtstag Bruce Waynes.

There are constructions which circumvent the Genitive, like:

Feiern Sie den Geburtstag von Bruce Wayne.

which would put the name in Dativ instead. This is grammatically correct and common in spoken and informal language and can - under certain circumstances - also be used in formal language, but is, by and large, considered lower register. The "more correct" form is to use Genitiv.


1) This shows when build chains. It is e.g. possible to say

the houses door
die Tür des Hauses

but

the masters houses door
die Tür des Hauses des Meisters

is wrong in English, albeit being OK and absolutely normal in German.

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Einem Namen oder Eigennamen geht zumeist kein bestimmter Artikel voran. nun ist allerdings nur an solchen Artikeln der Fall, in dem ein Wort steht, zu erkennen. "Der Geburtstag des Bruce Wayne" lässt keine Zweifel offen, das Bruce Wayne das Geburtstagskind ist. Der Genitiv ist ein so wichtiger Fall, dass bei einer oben beschriebenen Verkürzung ein "-s" angehängt wird. Dieses ist Wortbestandteil und darf nie (außer in folgenden Außnahmen) ersetzt werden: Endung auf x, y, z oder s. Diese sind s-Laute, ein weiteres s ist unnötig, deshalb ein Apostroph für den Genitiv: Hieße Bruce Wayne Bruce Waynex, feierte er seinen Geburtstag als Bruce Waynex' Geburtstag.

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