Case (grammar)

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In grammar, case changes what a noun, adjective or pronoun does 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 often an affix, a part of a word that is added to other words, that signals a grammatical relationship. Long ago, Old English used several cases, but Modern English uses only two cases for nouns.[1]p197

History of case[change | change source]

In the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.), which originally came from Latin, nouns pack several ideas into one word:

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

In many languages like Latin, German, Russian, Spanish, Korean and Japanese, a noun's case changes the end of a word depending on the noun's role in the sentence. Nouns change their endings to show that they are doing something, that something is done to them, that they just happen to be there during the action or that they own something. Therefore, the order that the words are put together in a sentence is less important than in English, whose word order changes the meaning of a sentence.

Modern English[change | change source]

In English, case is not used much. Instead, word order and auxiliary verbs (helpers) are more important.

"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 has these cases for nouns and pronouns: common case and genitive (possessive).[2]p202 Each may take a plural:

  • Nouns: Girl; girls; girl's; girls'. The last three cannot be distinguished in speech (except by the 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).

English adjectives unchanged: red hat, red hats.

References[change | change 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.