What the %$#! are genitive dates?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2004/12/25 03:15 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2004/12/25/332259.aspx


Now as those who know me personally will attest I am not a linguist. But I often cannot help but act as if I know something about it. Yet you can tell I am not a linguist (or someone who ever got better than a B+ in grammar!) as I am about to go out on a limb and describe something based on what I think is meant. The reader is therefore warned! :-)

So, the question is more politely "what are genitive dates?". Well, to answer that question, we'll first start with the dictionary definition of genitive. We'll go with the very first definition since it described the intended usage:

Adj - Of, relating to, or being the grammatical case expressing possession, measurement, or source

In this particular situation, its to do with the that 'possessive' usage.

When in English (in the US) you say 'December 25' aloud you usually say "December twenty-fifth" and this all really a shorter form of "the twenty-fifth of December". Its not the traditional way one thinks of a possessive (after all December does not "own" the twenty-fifth day in the same sense that one would talk about 'my dignity' or 'the dignity of me' (before this posting of course!). But there is a possessive usage going on here, and in some sense December does indeed own 31 days, the twenty-fifth being one of them (while poor February, the 90-pound weakling of the calendar, owns a mere 28.25!).

Anyway, this form of "December" is the genitive form.

In English, 'December' on its own and the genitive forms such as those above are the same words, which is why you may never have learned about most of this in grade school (well, I did not in my grade school -- we could just always blame Beachwood elementary schools if everyone else learned this stuff). But this is not true of all languages. In Czech, for example, the twelfth month on its own is 'prosinec' and the genitive form is 'prosince'. In Greek the difference is 'Δεκέμβριος' versus 'Δεκεμβρίου', in Polish it's 'grudzień' versus 'grudnia'. In Russian it's 'Декабрь' versus 'декабря'. And so on for Belarusian (aka Byelorussian), Ukranian, Slovak, Latvin, Lithuanian, and others.

Lest any of my English speaking colleagues find this too confusing, they should probably consider trying to explain the differences between the words 'I' and 'me' and their genitive forms 'my' and 'mine' and when each is used, plus the capitalization of 'I'. They will busy for a long time trying to summarize that. Japanese has numerous ways to do counting which vary with the thing being counted yet many other things that are simpler like gender neutral honorific. Honestly, I suspect that every language to a non-native speaker has some things that are easier and some other things that are harder, yet a native speaker just handles them without even thinking. So perhaps we can forgive those with a different word used in genitive dates since the languages have done nothing wrong? :-)

At this point, if one is looking at the LOCALE_SMONTHNAME* flags in the Locale Information used by GetLocaleInfo or the MonthName array in the .NET Framework's DateTimeFormatInfo and wondering why I am going on about genitive dates when it looks like Windows does not support them. But if any of my readers have used Czech or any of those other languages then they can attest that GetDateFormat and the various formatting and parsing functions in the .NET Framework support them quite well, there is simply no method to obtain the raw data. Its one of those cool stealth features which speakers in other languages do not have and thus do not understand and do not expect, while speakers in those languages do not really think about since everything seems to be working. This has been working properly in Microsoft products since NT 4.0 and Windows 95 and probably earlier and has been in every version of the .NET Framework  that has ever shipped.

In fact, the upcoming version of the .NET Framework (code name Whidbey) includes new properties to set and retrieve the genitive form of the month names, so it is no longer really a "hidden" feature anyway. And it was never really hidden to be difficult; it was more that it is very hard to describe to anyone who does not use different forms for months. And things that are hard to document make stuff more confusing for everyone.

If nothing else, it is yet another reason to use the built-in functions and methods for formatting and parsing rather than trying to write one's own!

This post brought to you by "ᠲ" (U+1832, a.k.a MONGOLIAN LETTER TA)


# Chris Pearce on 25 Dec 2004 7:38 PM:

Uh, since I'm drunk on xmas I'll take a shot.

"I" is a first person subject pronoun and "me" is a first person object pronoun. "My" is a possessive first person pronoun. "Mine" is a first person possessive object pronoun that is used when there is no phrase that describes what is being possessed.

"I" is capitalized because English is a terrible language. Maybe so it can stand out?

Anyway, as a student of the Japanese language, I just wanted to say that just becauase Japanese doesn't use things like gendered nouns, that doesn't make any part of Japanese simple! Ho ho ho.

# George on 25 Dec 2004 11:18 PM:

I understand your post about the month names. But what about day names? Do any locales have genitive forms for them?

# Michael Kaplan on 26 Dec 2004 1:30 AM:

Hi George,

There may be, but it would not aspply here since there is no analagous "owned" piece like "the 7th hour of Monday" or something like that. Thus there is not a case where a genitive form for the day name would be needed.

But perhaps somebody who speaks one of these languages could say for sure whether there is a genitive form for day names?

# Michael Kaplan on 26 Dec 2004 1:32 AM:

Hi Chris,

And you think this is something that a person who is learning English will be able to immediately understand?

But its as good explanation, in any case. :-)

# Igor Tandetnik on 26 Dec 2004 7:37 AM:

There is indeed a genitive form of day names in Russian. In fact, there is a genitive form of almost every noun, along with nominative, dative, accusative, instrumental and prepositional. Exceptions are certain nouns borrowed from other languages, that only have one form.

GetLocaleInfo(LOCALE_SDAYNAMEx) provides the nominative form for day names (this is the base form, the one listed in dictionaries and such). If you use a date by itself, as in "Monday, January 3", this is the form you need. But if the date is used as part of a sentence, you may need other forms. E.g. in "until Monday, January 3" one would use genitive, "on Monday, January 3" requires accusative, to say "between Monday, January 3 and Saturday, January 8" you need instrumental.

# Michael Kaplan on 26 Dec 2004 9:10 AM:

Ah, thanks for the info!

The only method that I know of to retrieve the genitive names for months (when they exist, of course) if calling GetDateFormat with a format that will get you the genitive.

# kurakuraninja on 16 Jul 2005 2:49 PM:

John Yunker posted an ironic little ditty a few days ago entitled Pardon My French. The post's scariest...

Egbert Zijlema on 22 Mar 2011 4:23 PM:

quote: "(...), it is yet another reason to use the built-in functions (...) rather than trying to write one's own!"

If everything were correct, but unfortunately it isn't. For at least 4 long date formats Windows returns incorrect strings. In a Catalonian long date the short date separator (slash) is used instead of the word "de"; in an English (UK) and a Welsh long date there is no day name and in the Swedish long date the medieval word "den" is used instead of the proper day name. Why does MS not correct this, despite the tons of complaints they must have received? I'm using XP, but as far as I know in Vista and 7 these errors are still alive. (Also see: http://zijlema.basicguru.eu)

Michael S. Kaplan on 22 Mar 2011 5:34 PM:

We actually have not been receiving lots of feedback in past versions, though we are (finally) receiving some now....


referenced by

2011/10/27 Improving genitive. Or not.... (part 3): The hazards of "off label" usage

2010/09/09 Latvian. Genitive. Oops.

2008/05/14 Windows is too busy being consistent with the user to be consistent with itself!

2007/08/04 A re-genitive post

2006/03/20 Practical Uses for Replacement Cultures/Locales

2005/11/12 One last post about genitive dates

2005/11/11 Any Sami speakers reading this blog? :-)

2005/11/10 Do genitive dates always work properly for Greek?

2005/11/10 Genitive dates, revisited

2005/08/10 Double compressions -- Hungarian goulash?

2005/07/16 Pardon my French, but...

2005/07/15 Don't roll your own GetDateFormat

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