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Traditional Grammatical Terminology
by A. G. Rigg

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3. Cases

The word case refers to the grammatical function performed in a sentence by a noun or pronoun. In Old English, any article, demonstrative, or adjective "agreeing" (see Concord 1.8) with the noun or pronoun must be in the same case. The system of case-endings (inflexions) is known as a "declension". In PDE all case endings except the genitive ('s, s') have disappeared in nouns, adjectives, and demonstratives, but survive in the personal pronouns in reduced form.

3.1 Nominative (he, she, it, I, we, you, they, who)

The case of the grammatical subject of the sentence (1.15): "Brutus stabbed Caesar", "the girl I was with has disappeared", "Caesar was stabbed by Brutus". Grammatically, it does not matter where the main interest of the speaker is, nor where the emphasis falls. The complement of the verb be and verbs of seeming is also in the nominative: "Who was she?", "He seems very intelligent", "Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada".

3.2 Vocative

The case in which the addressee is expressed ("Romans, lend me your ears"). This is quite irrelevant to English. It is not quite the same as the exclamatory form in "Oh hell, where did I put that file ?" (in Latin, the exclamatory case is the accusative).

3.3 Accusative (him, her, it, me, us, you, them, whom)

The case of the direct object of the verb (1.15): "Brutus stabbed Caesar", "Give me the book", "whom did you see?" Care is needed with relative clauses (below): in "Where is the book which you bought?", book is nominative (after is), but which is accusative, as it is the object of bought.

In Old English, the accusative is also used to indicate duration or length ("the game lasted an hour", "we walked ten miles"), and is the case after many prepositions, particularly those of motion towards or against.

3.4 Genitive (his, her, its, my, our, your, their, whose)

This is the possessive case, preserved in PDE as the inflexions 's and s' ("John's book", "the women's movement", "Canadians' attitudes"). Its function is loosely adjectival ("Which book?" "The green book/John's book"), as is seen in Old English, where min ("mine") can be either the genitive of the pronoun or an adjective.

3.4.1 A distinction is made between the subjective and objective genitive. The subjective genitive implies that the noun in the genitive would have been the subject of an implicit verb (John's book -John owns the book); conversely, the objective genitive would have been the object of the implied verb (Caesar's murder - someone murdered Caesar). In PDE the objective genitive is usually rendered by the of periphrasis (3.4.2)

3.4.2 In PDE (and Middle English) all types of genitive are often expressed by the preposition of ("the book of John", "the attitudes of Canadians"). Many can only be expressed this way ("a work of great value", "one of three", "each of them", "which of you").

Note that the word after of is not itself in the genitive case: it is simply post-prepositional (in Old English it would have been in the dative). ("It is a book of John's" is different: this = "it is one book of John's books", and John's is genitive).

3.4.3 In Old English, some verbs take the genitive. Also, the genitive is used sometimes to indicate an adverb: "he works nights" is a descendent of this usage, though we perceive nights as a plural.

3.5 Dative (him, her, me, us, you, them, whom)

3.5.1 First, this is the case of the indirect object (1.15): "Tell me a story", "I showed her my house", "he gave his mother a present". In PDE (and Middle English) what formerly had a dative inflexion must precede the direct object: "they gave the President a horse" is quite different from "they gave a horse the President". Where the word-order is anything other than Verb-Indirect Object-Direct Object, the preposition to is used: "Give a horse to the President". The preposition to is also used in Old English.

3.5.2 In Old English, the dative (which had fallen together with earlier cases such as the instrumental and locative) was used for many more functions of nouns and pronouns - means by which, place at which, separation, accompaniment, etc. Usually these were made more specific by prepositions, and in PDE the functions are almost always performed by prepositions (by, at, on, from, of, with, for, in, etc.).

3.5.3 PDE has some remnants of the Instrumental (why, the more the merrier), the Locative (alive), and the Dative (archaic methinks and whilom).

3.6 In Middle English, the dative forms gradually ousted the accusative forms (see the forms of pronouns quoted under 3.3 and 3.5), and both are therefore often called the Oblique case. For similar reasons, after Old English, we use the term Postprepositional to refer to the case after prepositions.

3.7 Sample:

nominative genitive accusative dative
the king sent his messenger to the town

genitive nominative dative accusative
the council's representatives gave them presents

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