Good day, all!

Read through....the question is at the end.

English cases, though no longer taught as such, are still somewhat present and remnants of the cases in Old English. During the time between say, 1300 and the present, we lost most of the inflections that were present before 1300, but some of the words -- particularly the possessive pronouns -- retained their inflections.

The four cases of Old English are:


The Nominative case gets its name from the idea that it is the 'naming' case. It identifies the subject of the sentence by name.

The Genative case gets its name by pointing out the 'genesis' of the noun. "Brother of mine", "Goblet of silver". Generally, anywhere 'of' is used, the object of the preposition will be in the Genative case.

Now Accusative and Dative leave me baffled. How did they get their names?

Accusative seems to bring to mind one accusing another. Even in Russian, Винительный (vi-NI-tyl-ni) is the name of the Accusative case and the root verb of that is Винить (vi-NIT), to blame, accuse. But how does that apply to the case of a noun in the general role of Direct Object? Or is the premise of Accusative case being equivalent to the Direct Object faulty altogether?

Dative conjures in me the idea of dates. In linguistics, the Dative case is generally used to indicate the Indirect Object. The question becomes, "how/where does the concept of date intersect with the idea of Indirect Object?

Now naturally there are prepositions that require a specific case. In English all prepositions require the Accusative case (the Dative case seems all but lost in Modern English). In German hilfen, to help, requires the Dative, whereas sehen, to see, requires an Accusative object. Whereas this makes perfect sense, there are other that make no sense. This is not the thread for that discussion.

My question, after all that, is this:

Where did the different grammatical cases get there names?

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Here are a few comments, drawn mostly from recollections of my Latin studies many years ago. My apologies if you know this stuff already.

To understand cases, you need to look not only at Old English but, further back, at Latin and then Greek.

Latin Cases are: Nominative, Vocative (used to address someone ... Hey, Claudius!), Accusative, Genitive (of ...), Dative (to..., for ...), Ablative (by.., with ..., from ....). They correspond, of course, to noun endings.

I believe these names were formalized into English by scholars of Latin in the 15th. century. I don't know what terms were used by Roman grammarians in Classical times. I think all these case names were drawn from Latin or Greek words. For example, 'vocative' comes from the Latin verb 'vocare', to speak. 'Dative' comes from 'dativus', which is a form of the Latin 'dare' - to give.' 'Accusative' is from a Greek word relating to 'cause', so thus the thought is that the object is the 'cause' of the action.

There are others on this Forum who can give you better and fuller explanations, I think. You should also google the Latin cases, as I believe there is lots of information there.

Best wishes, Clive

That gives me the foundation to look into it further, should the mood strike me.

I'm well acquainted with the Latin cases, but without the backstory you've supplied in part, the best I could ever do is guess at the geneses of the case names.

Interesting what you offered regarding 'dare' --> ... --> Dative. Referring back to Russian (again), Дательный (DA-tyel-nyi), Dative, is once again very close to Дата (DA-ta), date, but not that close to Давать (da-VAT'), to give. How likely might it be that the Dative case got its name from something other than dare?
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How likely might it be that the Dative case got its name from something other than dare? Well, 'give' for Dative seems a pretty plausible theory to me, since you 'give to' someone.

Now I've googled a bit, and there's lots of info availalbe for review. For example:

From http://www.hhhh.org/perseant/libellus/aides/allgre/allgre.338.html

The word casus, case, is a translation of tbe Greek ptwsis, a falling away (from the erect position). The term ptwsis was originally applied to the Oblique Cases (§35. g), to mark them as variations from the Nominative, which was called orjh, erect (cásus réctus) The later name Nominative (cásus nóminatívus) is from nomino, and means the naming case.

The other case-names (except Ablative) are of Greek origin.

The name Genitive (cásus genetívus) is a translation of genikh [ptwsis], from genos (class), and refers to the class to which a thing belongs.

Dative (casus dativus, from ) is translated from dotikh, and means the case of giving. (So this traces the origin back past the Latin into Greek - Clive)

Accusative (accusativus, from accuso) is a mistranslation of aitiatikh, (the case of causing), from aitia, cause, and meant to the Romans the case of accusing. The name Vocative (vocátívus, from voco) is translated from klhtikh (the case of calling). The name Ablative (ablátívus, from ablatus, aufero) means taking from. This case the Greek had lost.

Best wishes, Clive
Very nice, Clive.

That helps a lot.
None of these names for cases applies much to Modern English; we have neither an accusative nor a dative case and many linguists might argue we do not even have a true genitive (just a "clitic s").

Nouns have an all-purpose "base case" and a possessive form.

My dog is big/I see a dog. (base)

My dog's bed is in the corner. (possessive)

Some pronouns have a "subject case" (a true nominative) and an "object/instrumental case" which indicates the direct/indirect object or is required after prepositions.

He likes that dog. (subject)

The boy sees him. (object - direct object)

The boy gives him the book. (object - indirect object)


The boy gives the book to him. (instrumental - indirect object).
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Yeah, pronouns do seem to be the retaining pond for Gender and Case.

I once started reading a book that used hse as some sort of androgynous pronoun. It made reading virtually impossible. With a little time, English will eventually lose its case and gender altogether, but forcing it like that makes it no better that pig latin or signs made by the third base coach.

Is there no notion of a dative case in English?

I believe that there is, and if it were taught, perhaps we would not be at the end of the process of losing "whom"!
There are precious few relics of the Dative case remaining in Modern English. The word whom is currently in its death throes and has been for 100 years or so; and in serious (and possibly fatal) decline during the last fifty.

But it must be remembered that whom is not a resident purely of the Dative domain; rather it is (or has become over several hundred years) an indicator to a large extent of any of the non-nominative cases.

All that said, English now relies heavily on word order and prepositions to express the different cases. Along with common sense, of course: "The rose gives the boy a girl"a cannonical Latin example-makes no sense in English and causes us to abandon our automatic mechanisms of language comprehension in favor of more conscious, more forensic dissection of the phrase in an attempt to understand what is being said. Naturally, with no native dative case in English, and without the aid of prepositions, this sentence will languish in ambiguity and we will never be certain who is giving the rose to whom.

That is, until the Latin is given: Rosam pueri puella dat.

...well that clever little girl!
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