Case (grammar)

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In grammar, case shows the role of a noun, adjective or pronoun in a sentence. It is a set of forms which depend on the syntax (how the words go together). Case is an example of inflection, which is an affix (a part of a word that is added to other words) that signals a grammatical relationship. Once it was part of Old English, but modern English does not use it much.[1]p197

History of case[change | edit source]

In the Romance languages (Spanish, French, etc.), which are all derived from Latin, nouns pack several ideas into one word. These ideas are:

  • Gender: nouns must be masculine (Latin: end in -us), feminine (end in -a) or neutral (end in -um). Then adjectives must 'agree' with the nouns, that is, have the same endings. English is one of the few European languages which does not have gender in nouns (usually).
  • Case: nominative (subject), accusative (object), genitive (of the noun), dative (to, for or with the noun); each has a singular and plural form.

So, in many languages like Latin (especially), German, Russian, Spanish and Japanese, a noun's case is shown by the end of the word (the nouns change depending on their role in the sentence). Nouns change their endings to show if they are doing an action, if they are having an action done to them, if they just happen to be there during the action and whether they own something. Therefore the word order is less important in these languages, whereas in English it is vital.

Modern English[change | edit source]

In English we have only the remnants of this complicated system. We use word order and add auxiliary (helping) words as needed.

"The most important grammatical development [in English] was the establishment of a fixed pattern of word-order to express the relationship between clause elements".[2]p44

English does have these cases for nouns and pronouns: common case and genitive (possessive).[2]p202 Each may take a plural. Examples:

  • Nouns: Girl; girls; girl's; girls'. The last three cannot be distinguished in speech (except by context).
  • Pronouns: This is your hat; this hat is yours. A few pronouns have three cases and four forms: I (subject), me (object), my (genitive before noun), mine (independent genitive).

In English adjectives are unchanged: red hat, red hats.

References[change | edit source]

  1. McArthur, Tom (ed) 1992. The Oxford companion to the English language. Oxford University Press.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Crystal, David 1995. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language. Cambridge University Press.