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Noun Cases

Cases Differences Between Latin and English


Subject, Object, and Possessive Cases

In English we have:
1. subjects: "I" is a subject pronoun,
2. objects: "Me" is an object pronoun, and
3. a possessive form: "My" is a pronoun in the possessive case.

Subject pronouns are in the "subject(ive) case," which is called Nominative in Latin and in English, even though you may never have heard of it before. Nouns that are subjects of sentences, like "the star fell" where "the star" is the subject of the verb "fell," are also in the "subject(ive) case."

Object pronouns are in the "objective case." Nouns that are "objects of prepositions," like "under wraps," where wraps is the object and under is the preposition, are also in the "objective case."

The three main cases recognized in English are those listed above, subject, object, and possessive. There is more.

Vocative Case

In English, we also have a very limited vocative case used for yelling at people:

Latin also has a limited vocative case used for addressing people.

Indirect Objects and Other Prepositional Cases

English allows certain transitive verbs to have both a direct and an indirect object in the same sentence. We know which is which because the direct object doesn't have a preposition before it, while the indirect object usually does. Our English indirect objects are objects of prepositions, as in "to him" where "him" is the object of the preposition "to". Sometimes we leave out the preposition "to" or "for," as when we say "give it me" or "give her the ball."

Let me stop a moment to mention that the dative case, which I encountered on my very first day in Latin, put me in tears. I didn't understand. I could get that a Latin noun incorporated its article, but I couldn't understand why there was no "to" or "for" in some Latin sentences, thanks to the confounded "dative," but there were such prepositions elsewhere. Because of this I am trying very hard to make it clear to you. If you're like my classmates, who grasped it immediately, this will appear unnecessary.

In Latin, the indirect object case, or dative, is separate from the case for objects of prepositions. The "to/for" for the dative (indirect object) is not expressed separately from the noun. The "to/for" can be thought of as in the ending on the noun -- typically an "i" or "o" in the singular.

The Latin preposition ad is also translated "to". If someone walked (ambulabat) to the Tiber, "to the Tiber" might be "ad Tiberim." The Tiber is not the indirect object, but the goal of the walk. The use of "to," there, is directional. The verb "walk" (ambulo) doesn't ordinarily take a direct object, let alone an indirect object. The exception is when the walk refers to something you do to your dog, but even then, although you have a direct object, you wouldn't have an indirect object.

Keep your eye out for other uses of the dative case.

In addition to the Dative, which is often the indirect object case in Latin, there are two prepositional cases, one of which tend to end in an "m" (like the Tiberim, above), in the singular.

There is also an infrequently used Latin case called the "locative" that is used only in the case of certain words to show place where. No preposition is used with it, although in English we would require one.

Since there are five main, as well as two partial or vestigial cases in Latin, whereas in English we barely distinguish four, it is important to understand what the cases are used for and to learn their names. In English we usually refer to the case by its use in the sentence rather than by the name of the case. Thus, we say something is the object of a preposition or the object of a verb instead of saying it's in the Objective Case. Likewise, we say something is "the subject of a sentence," while in Latin we would call it a noun (or pronoun) in the "Nominative Case." The words "noun," "name," and "nominative" are connected.

English vs. Latin

  1. Subject vs Nominative Case
    Mother vs mater
  2. Possessive vs Genitive Case
    Mother's vs matris
  3. Indirect Object (preposition) vs Dative Case
    To mother vs matri
  4. Objective vs Accusative Case
    Mother vs matrem
  5. Objective (preposition) vs Ablative Case (preposition)
    Mother vs matrem/matre
  6. e.g., "Mommy!" vs. Vocative Case
    Mother vs mater
  7. ---- vs. Locative Case (place)
    --- vs Romae
Please let me know if I've made an error.

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