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Cases

In English, just as in Latin, case is used to describe the function of a word or to show its syntactical relationship to other words in the sentence.

There are seven cases in Latin:

  • nominative, to indicate the subject of the verb;
  • genitive, to indicate possession;
  • dative, to indicate the indirect object;
  • accusative, to indicate the direct object;
  • ablative, to indicate the object of preposition or for adverbial uses;
  • vocative, to indicate the direct address;
  • locative.

1. The cases

Nominative

The nominative is the case of the subject. A noun in the nominative is the subject of the verb of the sentence or the one performing the action of the verb.

The boy gives.

The subject in this sentence is boy because the boy is the one doing the action of giving.

Genitive

The genitive is the case of possession. A noun in the genitive shows that another noun belongs to it. This is often shown in English by the preposition of or the ending ’s.

The boy of the mountain gives.

Of the mountain is possessive because the boy "belongs" to the mountain. This would be equivalent to "The mountain’s boy gives" (this expression is incorrect).

Dative

The dative is the case of the indirect object. The indirect object is the person or thing that benefits from the action of the verb. This is usually shown in English by the prepositions to or for.

The boy of the mountain gives to the girl.

To the girl is the indirect object because the girl is receiving what is being given.

Accusative

The accusative is the case of the direct object. The direct object receives the action of the verb.

The boy of the mountain gives a rose to the girl.

Rose is the direct object because it is what is being given.

Ablative

The ablative can be the case of the object of a preposition or the case that modifies the verb (because of this, it has an adverbial function).

The boy of the mountain gives a rose to the girl without emotion.

Without emotion is a prepositional phrase: without is a preposition and emotion is the object of the preposition. It has an adverbial function because it describes how the giving is done: without emotion.

Vocative

The vocative is the case of the direct address. The direct address is used when speaking to someone and calling them by name (John, I have your book), position (Boss, John has your book), or a descriptive adjective (Silly, I have your book).

Father, the boy of the mountain gives a rose to the girl without emotion.

Father is the direct address, because I am telling my father what the boy is doing.

2. Declension

Case can also be defined as a change in the form (declension or inflection) of a noun, pronoun or adjective, to show how it is used in a sentence.

Even though, the English language used to have a large declension system, this has been simplified, both in its terminology and its use.

First, the last three cases (ablative, vocative and locative) have disappeared, so only the nominative, genitive, dative and accusative cases remain. But, as the dative is considered to be identical to the accusative, they have been merged into one case, thereby leaving only three cases to deal with. In modern English, these remaining cases are known as the subjective, objective (which includes the direct object, indirect object, and the object of the preposition) and possessive cases.

Second, adjectives are not inflected. Nouns are inflected only when singular and to form the possessive (by adding ’s):

The boy is running. The boy’s dog is running.

So, the only words that continue to be modified are the pronouns:

Subjective

 

We are happy. She is sad.

Objective (direct objects, indirect objects and objects of prepositions)

 

He sent us to school. She gave it to me. I kissed her.

Possessive

 

My son carried their books. Our dogs are bigger than yours.

3. Notes

Interrogative

  Persons Things Persons or things
Nom. who (pr.) what (pr. & adj.) which (pr. & adj.)
Acc. whom, who (pr.) what (pr. & adj.) which (pr. & adj.)
Poss. whose (pr. & adj.)    

Who took my book? John took it.

Who are those girls? They’re John’s daughters.

What delayed you? (pr.) The storm delayed us. [NOM.]

What papers do you read? (adj.) I read "The Times". [ACC.]

Possessive

Adjectives Pronouns
my mine
your yours
his, her, its his, hers
our ours
your yours
their theirs

Adjectives refer to the owner, not to what is possesed.

Pronouns replace 'possessive adjective + noun':

This is my pen --> This is mine.

Personal

Nom. Acc. + Dat.
I me
you you
he, she, it him, her, it
we us
you you
they them

One uses "to" and "for" when the direct object is a pronoun:

I introduce her to them.

I gave it to him.

Other

Nominative

1. As the subject of the verb.

He knows.

I see it.

2. As complement of the verb "to be".

It is I (formal).

It is me (informal).

Accusative

1. Direct object of the verb.

I saw her.

2. After a preposition.

With him.

To her.

For us.

Dative

1. As indirect object. It replaces "to + noun/pronoun" or "for + noun/pronoun".

I gave him a gift.

Indirect object --- Direct object // Dative --- Accusative

I told him a story.

I bought them a ball.

But:

I told a story to her.

I bought a ball for them.