German Genitive Prepositions: Your Essential Guide

Like the genitive case as a whole, genitive prepositions are a sticky subject.

Some genitive prepositions are still used, but more and more are replaced by dative constructions. How does one know when to use what? (<– we’ll talk about that!)

Still, if you’re at a point in your German-learning adventure that you want to seriously up your level of sophistication, learning some genitive prepositions is perfect!

There are 12 common-ish genitive prepositions. Ready to roll? đŸ€ 

You’ll learn the following:

  • how prepositions work in English vs. German
  • what the 10 German genitive prepositions are
  • how to use the genitive case with genitive prepositions
  • when to use the genitive vs. dative case
  • how to use genitive prepositions idiomatically

Section 1: The Basics
What you need to know to start getting the hang of German genitive Prepositions

What are the genitive prepositions?

Three are 3 main groups of genitive prepositions:

  1. more common
  2. less common
  3. very formal / specialized

These are the 4 more-common German genitive prepositions with their approximate English translations are (<– remember, prepositions do NOT necessarily have easy 1-to-1 equivalents!):

(an)statt — instead of
trotz — despite / in spite of
wĂ€hrend — during
wegen — because of, on account of

The 8 less-common German genitive prepositions are used to express space (or time) relationships:

außerhalb (outside of)
innerhalb (within)
oberhalb (above)
unterhalb (below, underneath)
diesseits (this side of)
jenseits (that side of)
beid(er)seits (both /either sides of)
unweit (not far from)

There are about 50 genitive prepositions used in formal / official registers, including academic writing, legalese, and commercial language. Read the list below in the Digging Deeper section (<– coming soon!).

Do Germans really use genitive prepositions?

Ask various Germans this and you’ll surely get different answers!

In my experience, I’d say that in formal settings (or any other time someone is trying to look smart), YES, genitive prepositions are still used. 

On a day-to-day basis, this means you most likely to come across genitive prepositions in written German — whether in a high-lit. book, in an ad, or in a form you need to fill out at city hall.

More-and-more, though, genitive is replaced by the dative in spoken German. And prepositions are no exception. 

Except for the 50+ genitive prepositions that are only used formally anyway, ALL the genitive prepositions listed above (10 common-ish ones, total) can be used with the dative case, too.

And that is what you’re more likely to hear.

— Are there some Germans who use genitive prepositions in everyday speech (and yet aren’t pompous Arschlöcher)? Absolutely.

— Do I personally ever use genitive prepositions in everyday speech (and hopefully don’t sound full of myself)? Yep, I do.

— Do you need to learn genitive prepositions yourself? That is completely up to you!

Learning genitive prepositions is far from top-of-the-list when learning German. But if you’re here, that means you’ve already tackled those essential items … so, why not? 

Let’s learn genitive prepositions, including when & how to use them. 😀

Section 2: Putting it into practice
When & how to use genitive prepositions

In order to use a genitive preposition, you have to know how to ‘signal’ that your prepositional phrase is in the genitive case and that is a matter of knowing …

  • which declensions ‘signal’ the genitive case
  • which words in a prepositional phrase need declensions
  • declension types (strong or weak) & patterns (there are 4)
  • how to pick out the correct declensions for the right words every time

How genitive declensions work

Declensions signal the gender & case of the following noun — in this case, nouns within a genitive prepositional phrase.

Declensions are just single letters (-r, -e, -s, -n, -m) added to the ends just TWO types of words that [sometimes] are part of prepositional phrases and come in front of nouns:

Determiners: a, the, some, few, this, etc. that tell us how many of the noun or which one.

Adjectives: describe some feature of the noun (e.g. big, small, round, flat, blue).

All determiners or adjectives in a genitive prepositional phrase will take either the strong or weak declension listed under the gender that lines up with the gender of the noun in the phrase:

NOTE: in the genitive, masculine & neuter nouns will also take an -(e)s strong declension! 

Knowing which word (i.e. determiner or adjective 
 or even noun!) needs which declension (i.e. strong or weak) is a matter of working with declensions patterns!

4 Declensions Patterns

This graphic shows you ALL the declension patterns that exist in German:

NOTES:

  1. As per the graphic, a genitive prepositional phrase may NOT be used with pattern #2
  2. Additionally, in pattern #3 there is the added nuance: adjectives preceding masculine and neuter nouns take the weak declensions! (But adjectives in front of feminine and plural nouns take the strong declension as presented in the graphic)
  3. Read here for more info on pattern #4, which is ONLY for rulebreaker plural determiners.

Let’s spell this out by looking at some actual examples with genitive prepositions!

Genitive Prepositions Examples

Again, there are 12 common-ish prepositions that are technically genitive: (an)statt, außerhalb, innerhalb, oberhalb, unterhalb, trotz, wĂ€hrend, wegen, diesseits, jenseits, beid(er)seits, unweit

Remember: this means that every time you use one of these technically genitive prepositions, the noun that follows it is supposed to be in the genitive case (though it is colloquially more frequently put into the dative case).

Check out the following examples and note:

  • the whole prepositional phrase has been italicized
  • the genitive noun / pronoun has been bolded

Declension Pattern #1

  1. Oberhalb des großen Bettes hĂ€ngt ein SelbstportrĂ€t
    (Above the big bed hangs a self-portrait).
  2. Unterhalb meines Bettes kann ich deinen Koffer verstauen
    (I can stow your suitcase under my bed).
  3. Außerhalb des Zimmers kann ich die Musik gar nicht hören
    (Outside of the room, I can’t hear the music at all).
  4. Innerhalb des Zimmers gibt es nur pochenden Bass zu hören
    (One can hear only thumping bass within the room)

    NOTE: of course, all of these could be (and typically would be) reworded to avoid the genitive. In these instances, a dative preposition would be used: Über / Unter dem Bett and außerhalb / innerhalb von dem Zimmer

Declension Pattern #3

  1. Wegen schlechten Wetters verlassen wir heute das Haus gar nicht!
    (Because of terrible weather today, we’re not leaving the house at all!)

    NOTE: here you can see the weak declension on the adjective (no determiner is present in this declension pattern!) because it precedes a neuter noun. Of course, we could use the dative here instead: Wegen schlechtem Wetter..

  2. Unweit altmodischen HĂ€user gibt es ein sehr moderner Einkaufszentrum.
    (Not far from old-fashioned homes, there is a very modern shopping center..

    NOTE: this would be reworded to von + dative: Unweit von altmodischen HĂ€usern…

Declension Pattern #4

  1. Trotz vieler langer Jahren der Trennung, liebe ich ihn noch
    (Despite many long years of separation, I love him still).

    NOTE: the determiner viel (many) is a rulebreaker determiner when used in the plural — it will not only take the strong declension itself BUT also require that any following adjective(s) take the strong declension, too (instead of the weak declension, which would be more typical).

    If we reworded this example to avoid the genitive, it would be Trotz vielen langen Jahren 


    Notice the same pattern in the following examples. Can you reword them to the dative yourself, following the provided pattern with trotz?

  2. WĂ€hrend mancher langer LektĂŒre spiele ich auf meinem Handy
    (During some long lectures, I play games on my phone).
  3. Anstatt etlicher möglicher Ausreden anzubringen, sagt er bloß die unverblĂŒmte Wahrheit.
    (Instead of offering each of the possible excuses, he spoke simply the unvarnished truth.)
  4. Jenseits mehrerer normal aussehender HaustĂŒren gibt es hĂ€usliche Gewalt.
    (On the other side of many normal-looking house doors, there is domestic violence).
  5. Diesseits erkennt man aber nichts.
    (But on this side [of the house doors ^^] one notices nothing).
  6. Beiderseits verschiedener typischer MĂŒnzen finde ich hĂ€sslich.
    (Both sides of various typical coinage I find ugly).

    NOTE: All of the genitive prepositions formed with -seits would need to be paired with von + dative when being reworded: jenseits von mehreren normal aussehenden HaustĂŒren…diesseits davon
 beiderseits von verschiedenen typischen MĂŒnzen…

Special Situations

1 Genitive Preposition + Pronoun Combo Worth Knowing

Genitive prepositions don’t usually combine with pronouns, but wegen does! 

meinetwegen — as far as I’m concerned / because of me / on my account
deinetwegen — as far as you’re concerned / because of you / on your account
seinetwegen — as far as he’s concerned / because of him / on his account

Of course, then, following the same pattern, we have ihretwegen, unsertwegen, eueretwegen.

Note that meinetwegen can idiomatically stand alone as a response, meaning ‘sure’ / ‘go ahead’ or even ‘for all I care’, dependent on the tone used to say it. 🙂

Summary

The 12 common-ish German genitive prepositions are rarely used in everyday German, but more frequently found (along with many more genitive prepositions) in formal writing.

When using a genitive preposition, you have to put the noun (<– that’s in the prepositional phrase) into the genitive case.

Doing that successfully is a matter of putting the correct declensions (strong or weak) onto the correct words (determiners or adjectives OR even sometimes nouns!) so as to reflect the gender [masc., fem., neut., or plur.] & case [genitive] of the noun!

Main Takeaways

  1. Prepositions introduce prepositional phrases, which always include a noun(s). 
  2. Genitive prepositions technically require nouns that are in the genitive case.
  3. HOWEVER, colloquially, it is common to pair genitive prepositions with the dative case.
  4. Two types of declensions (strong & weak) get put on the tailends of determiners & adjectives (<– words that come in front of nouns) according to different declension patterns. These declensions reflect the gender [masc., fem., neut., plural] & case [genitive] of the noun.
  5. In the genitive, even some nouns take declensions! 
  6. The 12 common-ish German prepositions that technically require that the noun in the phrase be in the genitive case are (an)statt, außerhalb, innerhalb, oberhalb, unterhalb, trotz, während, wegen, diesseits, jenseits, beid(er)seits, unweit