The genitive case is an English grammatical case that is used for a noun, pronoun, or adjective that modifies another noun. The genitive case is most commonly used to show possession, but it can also show a thing’s source or a characteristic/trait of something.
- Janet’s long fingers, Janet’s jacket, Janet’s drink (relationship indicating possession)
- a wheel of cheese (a relationship indicating composition)
- the love of music (participation in an action)
- men of Rome (origin)
- the capital of the Republic (reference)
- man of honor(description)
Form of genitive case
Genitive case can be indicated by
- adding 's after the noun (John's brother)
- adding of before the noun (the end of the movie)
Spelling of 's
Spelling of the genitive case depends on whether the noun is plural, singular or ending in 's':
Type Genitive Case Explanation singular noun the girl's room girl is singular: add 's plural nouns the girls' room girls is plural: add ' singular noun ending s Jonas' car or Jonas's car After nouns ending in s (like Jonas) either add ' or 's irregular plural children's toys for irregular plurals like (children) add 's
In case there are many nouns, add an 's only to the last noun.
- Leila and Nancy's friend.
Possessive Case or Genitive Case?
The genitive case is also called the possessive case. The two terms are interchangeable, but possessive caseis more common in English study. However, as this case does not always show possession, some grammarians like to make a distinction between the genitive case and the possessive case. For example:
- Dan's bike (No one would argue this is the genitive case and the possessive case. It is the bike of Dan. It is about possession.)
- Children's songs (This is not about possession. It's about songs for children. For this reason, some argue this is the genitive case and not the possessive case.)
- Constable's paintings (This is not about possession. It's about paintings by Constable. Some would argue this is the genitive case and not the possessive case.)
It is worth reiterating that the two terms are interchangeable. However, you might also encounter writers who make a more marked distinction between the two. For example:
- Childrens Minister
(Sometimes, the title Childrens Minister is written without an apostrophe to make it clear it is a minister for children.)
- Children's Minister
(We judge this to be the correct version. It's just the genitive case. It's not always about possession.)
This gives us a logic problem, however. Look at these examples (genitive case shaded):
- The dog's dinner
- The dinner of the dog
There are no issues with the two examples above. However, look at this pairing:
- Picasso's painting
- Painting by Picasso
(The phrase by Picasso is not the genitive case, even though it is an expansion of something which is. Oh well, never mind.)