What Is the Genitive Case?

Low Section of woman walking on street
He stood up and concentrated on the shoes of the girl in front of him.. Fabian Palencia / EyeEm / Getty Images

The genitive case (or function) of a noun or pronoun's inflected form shows ownership, measurement, association, or source. Adjective: genitival.

The suffix -'s on nouns (such as pronoun above) is a marker of the genitive case in English. The genitive case can also be indicated by an of phrase after a noun. The possessive determiners my, your, his, her(s), its, our, and their(s) are sometimes regarded as genitive pronouns. The genitive case in English is commonly referred to as the possessive case.

Etymology: From the Latin, "to beget"

Pronunciation: JEN-i-tiv

Examples of the Genitive Case

Chances are, you've encountered the genitive case hundreds of times. But just in case you want to see it again, here are several examples of the genitive case from literature.

  • "Mama Sim took off the girl's shoes, pulled the covers up to her shoulders, then smoothed her hair as it fanned across the pillow," (Letts 2008).
  • "[H]e stood up and concentrated on the shoes of the girl in front of him, a sleepy girl who kept leaning into the shoulder of a blond boy so that she could lift and twirl her foot whenever the crowd halted. The soles of her shoes were lime green, beautiful and astonishing," (Kane 2010).
  • "Some of the flakes land on the Chevrolet's hood and windshield, and when Ann reaches out the wing window to brush them away, the confetti clings to her hand," (Parker 1993).
  • "So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea," (Dahl 1988).

A Structural Relationship

Though often called the possessive or the possessive case, understand that nouns linked in the genitive case may not actually be related to each other through ownership. In some cases, nouns that "possess" other nouns in a sentence do not possess them in any way in reality.

"As with possessives generally, the term 'genitive' should not be identified too closely with ideas of ownership or actual possession or belonging. The genitive case signals a structural grammatical relationship between a noun and a noun phrase, and the actual relationship between the things referred to by the nouns may simply be some kind of loose association," (Hurford 1994).

Possession Marked by the Preposition Of

The preposition of makes the genitive case possible when talking about inanimate objects. Commonly placed before a noun to indicate possession of a following noun, this word improves the clarity of sentences in many cases. Howard Jackson demonstrates: "The preposition of often introduces a noun in a relationship of 'possession' to the preceding noun. This is the usual way of indicating possession for inanimates. [11] might be rephrased as [12]. [11] Kennan found the bullet's exit point [L03:96]. [12] Kennan found the exit point of the bullet ...

Two further examples to illustrate the use of of-phrases for possession are given in the sentence at [14]. Aristotle was excited at the time, but not by the prospect of the U.S. president's visit, but by a great storm in the photosphere of the sun [M02:104]
The first of-phrase could not be expressed in any other way, but the second could be rephrased using the 's construction: 'the sun's photosphere,'" (Jackson 1990).

Simplifying Long Genitive Phrases

Particularly to simplify phrases that would otherwise be long and confusing, as is the case for many group genitives or genitives in which possession is added to a whole phrase rather than a single noun, of is useful. "Potentially, the genitive may be quite a complicated phrase. But there is a tendency to prefer the of-construction where the genitive would cause too much complexity in front of the head noun.

Hence the night train to Edinburgh's departure is less likely to occur than the departure of the night train to Edinburgh. Notice in this example, however, that the placing of the 's at the end of Edinburgh is perfectly acceptable, even though the genitive indicates the departure of the train, rather than the departure of Edinburgh! This is an example of the so-called group genitive, where the genitive phrase contains postmodification," (Leech 2006).

The Genitive in Advertising

Though of is most often used when indicating possession for inanimate objects in the genitive, the advertising world does things a little differently. "The final noun phrase of the advertisement, the car's already aerodynamic lines, has the use of the genitive car's, which is uncommon for inanimate nouns in many other language domains, but common in advertising.

The premodifiers themselves, in this case, are subordinate phrases: ((the car's) (already aerodynamic) lines). This has the effect of conciseness and impact, as is clear if we compare an equivalent phrase with postmodification: the lines (of the car) (which are already aerodynamic)," (Leech et al. 2005).

Sources

  • Dahl, Roald. Matilda. Jonathan Cape, 1988.
  • Hurford, James R. Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Jackson, Howard. Grammar and Meaning: A Semantic Approach to English Grammar. 1st ed., Routledge, 1990.
  • Kane, Jessica Francis. The Report: A Novel. 1st ed., Graywolf Press, 2010.
  • Leech, Geoffrey. A Glossary of English Grammar. 1st ed., Edinburgh University Press, 2006.
  • Leech, Geoffrey, et al. English Grammar for Today: A New Introduction. 2nd ed., Palgrave, 2005.
  • Letts, Billie. Made in the U.S.A. 1st ed., Grand Central Publishing, 2008.
  • Parker, Thomas Trebitsch. Anna, Ann, Annie. 1st ed., Dutton Adult, 1993.