The Genitive Case
To put it very broadly indeed, the genitive modifies or limits a word
(usually a noun) by
associating it with something. For example, in the phrase
þæs cyninges sweord "the king's sword,"
the sense of sweord is modified by our saying that it belongs to
the king: we're not speaking of just any sword. In this respect,
a word in the genitive case is like an adjective, limiting the reference
of the word it is associated with.
Most genitives fall into one of three categories:
A few prepositions (andlang, innan, to, toforan, utan, wiþ)
sometimes have objects in the genitive case, and some verbs govern
genitive words. Genitive constructions may also be used adverbially,
especially in expressions of time.
- Possessive. This is the ancestor of the "possessive"
of Modern English. It does not always indicate actual possession, but
often some other kind of association, e.g. sanctes Eadmundes
mæssedæg "the feast of St Edmund" does not
mean that the day actually belongs to St Edmund, but rather that he is
venerated on that day.
- Partitive. The partitive genitive represents the whole
collection of things to which a particular thing belongs, e.g. ælc
þara manna "each of the men." As the translation
"each of the men." suggests, Modern English has a roughly
similar construction made with the preposition of; but Old
English used the partitive genitive much more extensively than we use
this partitive construction, e.g. manig manna "many men,"
twelf mila lang "twelve miles long," ealra cyninga
betst "best of all kings." Expect to find the partitive
genitive used with any word that expresses number, quantity or partition.
- Descriptive. This genitive attributes a quality to a thing,
e.g. þæt lamb sceal beon hwites hiwes "the lamb
must be of a white color." Here the translation with of
echoes the genitive construction and shows that similar constructions are
still possible in Modern English, but it is now more idiomatic to say
"white in color."