A noun in the genitive case is used mainly to restrict the scope of another noun. In this way, its effect is often much like an adjective. A noun in the genitive case usually restricts the other noun to which it is associated (which can be in any case) to a particular person or thing or to a particular quality or material:

Other cases (nominative, accusative, dative) relate more clearly to the overall structure or skeleton of a sentence (see Cases). Genitives relate more directly to another noun than to the overall structure of the sentence. It is a "spot of colour," or qualifier of some sort, on another noun in the sentence rather than on the basic structure of the sentence itself.

Since nouns in the genitive case usually merely add a spot of colour to another noun in the sentence, in a difficult sentences it is best to set genitive case nouns aside until the basic skeleton of the sentence has been constructed (subject, predicate, direct object, indirect object).


  1. possession
  2. motion from
  3. agent
  4. kind of time

POSSESSION: This is the most common use of the genitive case. English shows possession in one of two ways: by a prepositional phrase ("of...") or by changing the form of a word by adding an apostrophe and "s" ('s). Greek simply changes the form of the word that identifies the possessor to the genitive case. That word may stand before or after the thing possessed.

MOTION FROM: The genitive case noun is often used with a preposition to indicate the object from which another object has moved: He went from the house They came out of the city. She walked through the village. In these sentences, 'house,' city,' and 'village' would be in the genitive case in Greek. (See Prepositions and Cases.)

AGENT: If the passive voice of a verb is used, the subject will not be the one doing the action (the subject is passive). To indicate the one who does the action, Greek puts the person or things doing the action in the genitive case within a prepositional phrase begun with "hypo". [These are the main uses. A variety of other uses are possible.]

Consider the game Clue. One might conclude: "The murder was done by Professor Plum in the ballroom with a knife." In Greek, a prepositional phrase is used also in this context. You could say "Professor Plum committed the murder in the ballroom with a knife." The scenario would be the same. In both cases, Professor Plum commits the crime. Whether Professor Plum is the subject of the sentence is merely the whim of the author.

KIND OF TIME: A noun expressing time, if in the genitive case, often expresses the kind of time, as in the expression "He went by night." In Greek, the expression "by night" would be indicated by simply the Greek word 'night' in the genitive case. (See TIME EXPRESSIONS.)