Although I'm a native English speaker, I've often struggled to understand English grammar, especially its morphosyntatical elements. I've done some reading on nominative-accusative as well as ergative-absolutive cases and I just don't get it.

Can someone who's better at linguistics explain this to me?

I understand that a sentence has a Subject, a Verb, and an Object. (John sees fish) I understand that a verb can be transitive, in that it demands both subject and object, or intransitive, in that it won't accept an object.

For example, 'to see' is transitive in that John (the subject) has to see something (the direct object), he can't 'just see.' On the other hand, 'to sleep' is intransitive in that John can 'just sleep' but he can't sleep a direct object.

1a: John sees fish.

1b: John sees.

2a: John sleeps fish

2b: John sleeps.

Therefore, 1a and 2b are right. 2a is never right and 1b is only right if you want to interpret it as actually saying, "John does see."

As I understand it, nominative-accusative case is when a language 'marks' the direct object of a transitive verb. So, if my mark was '-do' then I could say:

1. John sees fish.

2. John fish-do sees.

3. Fish-do sees John.

4. Sees fish-do John.

And all of them would mean the same thing. Word order doesn't matter now as no matter where I scatter the word fish the -do tells me what its function in the sentence is.

My problem (took me long enough, didn't it?) is that English is described as having a vestigial normative-accusative case in its use of pronouns and passive voice but I don't see it. Can someone explain how normative-accusative applies to the English language?
M. Caliban,

The nominative and the accusative cases are the cases of the noun that is checked by the verb. Nominative case means that the noun is in the nominal form (can occupy the position of a subject). Accusative case is the objective case.

1a. He helps the girl.

b.* Him helps the girl.

2a. The boy helps him.

b.* The boy helps he.

*: the sentence is ungrammatical.

As you see, 1a is grammatical because the subject of the verb "helps" is in the nominative case. However, 1b is ungrammatical because the subject is in the objective (accusative) case that can never occupy the position of a subject.

Also, 2a is grammatical because the direct object of the transitive verb "helps is in the accusative case. However, 2b is ungrammatical because the direct object is in the accusative (objective) case.

Is that helpful?Emotion: wink
>> My problem (took me long enough, didn't it?) is that English is described as having a vestigial normative-accusative case in its use of pronouns and passive voice but I don't see it. Can someone explain how normative-accusative applies to the English language? <<

I think they're just trying to say that although English doesn't inflect (change the form of) regular nouns in the nominative and accusative case, like for example, Greek or Latin, it still does with pronouns.

For example: in Latin the sentence "The boy loves the girl" would be: "Puer puellam amat"
Puer = boy. Nominative case (in the accusative case it would be "puerum")
Puellam = girl. Accusative case. (Direct object). (in the nominative case it would be "puella")

But to say, "The girl loves the boy" would be "Puerum puella amat".

Notice that it was not necessary to change the order of the words in Latin, because it was clear who was the subject and who was the object, based on the form of the word. The nominative form looks and sounds different from the accusative form (w/a few exceptions) in Latin.

The same was true for Old English. For example, the word for "name" in Old English (e.g. how English was spoken 1000 years ago) was "nama". In the accusative, it was "naman". So, English use to change the form of the word to show how it was used in a sentence.

Modern English generally doesn't have many cases any more. For regular nouns there are only two. One case that functions as the nominative, accusative, and dative, and the other case functions as the genitive.

Thus: the word thing:

Standard case: thing things
Genetive case: thing's things'

The appostrophe s comes from Middle English -es, thus the apostrophe means that the "e" was left out.

But...English still shows a clear distinction with pronouns in the nominative and the accusative/dative

Nominative: He
Accusative/Dative: Him
Genitive: His

the word "you" use to also have a distinction: the nominative case was "ye", and the accusative was "you". The genitive is still "your". The first person sg. pronoun still retains the distinction: I vs me vs my. So in essence, by saying "you are good" is the equivalent of saying "Me am good" because "ye" used to be used as the subject: thus "ye are good."

That's why we have a "vestige" of a nominative-accusative/dative distinction left over.
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Also, Old English used to distinguish between Accusative and Dative as well. Now the sense of the Dative case uses the preposition "to". Thus "I gave it to her" (In Old English it would be: I=nominative; it=accusative; her=dative). Notice in Modern English "it" is the same in the nominative, accusative and dative; and "her" is the same in the accusative and dative, but "she" in the nominative.
M. CalibanCan someone explain how normative-accusative applies to the English language?
Hello MC

"Normative-accusative" looks like a typo for "nominative-accusative" – as here, for instance:

Thank you!! You helped me ALOT!!Emotion: phew
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Just to say that I too have found the explanations very helpful!
And to add to that: "a lot" is not one word "alot", at least, as far as I know! I think this may be a common misunderstanding. My (grown up) daughter certainly has often asked me if it is one or two words!!
The reason I'm interested in languages is that I teach children to read, write and spell and English is often not their first language. It is therefore very helpful for me to understand how English grammar works. (We certainly weren't taught it at school!)
from a linguistic point of view, english is a nominative accusative system because the subject of a transitive sentence (NPa) and the subject of an intransitive sentence (NPs) are treated the same while the object of a transitive sentence (NPp) is treated differently. this is in contrast to an ergative absolutive system where the NPs and NPp are treated the same and the NPa is treated differently.
for example, in the sentence "the man hit the ball and then fell", we know that it was the man who did both the hitting and the falling because english is nominative accusative. on the other hand, dyribal is ergative absolutive so that same sentence for them would mean that the man did the hitting and the ball did the falling because the object of a transitive sentence is treated the same as a subject of an intransitive sentence.

the kind of grammatical relations system a language has can be evident in word order (if the language's word order is SVO or OSV), agreement, or case marking. English does not have case markings so we don't look at that. but as you can see with these sentences, you can see how they are treated the same with word order and agreement in english.

in the sentences "john sees you" versus "john sleeps" you can see that in terns of word order, the NPa and NPs are the same, both being before the verb. and the NPp os treated differently, being put after the verb. so, this shows a nominative accusative system.it is also true that in terms of agreement, the verb agrees with the NPa in person and number in "john sees you" and not the object (it's not "john see you"). the verb also agrees with the NPs in the intransitive sentence john sleeps". so, again, the NPs and the NPa are grouped together while the NPp is treated differently.

this is not the case in all languages. some languages, like Dyribal mentioned above, have the NPp and the NPs grouped together. additionally, some languages like Georgian are split, so they are nominative accusative in the present tense but ergative absolutive in the past tense. hope that helps.