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Latin 112/113: The Cases

For further discussion see the relevant entries in the "Glossary of English-Latin Grammar" on pp. xvii-xxiii of the Reading Latin grammar.

In Latin, word order is not nearly so central to meaning as it is in English: the grammatical function of an individual noun or pronoun in Latin is indicated by its form rather than by its position within the sentence. (Contrast English, where "The man bit the dog" is quite a different thing from "The dog bit the man." On the other hand, modern English still retains some elements of such a system: that is why one must say, "I go to the store" rather than "Me go to the store.")

Each of the various functions performed by nouns or pronouns in a Latin sentence is associated with one of six cases (the nominative case, the accusative case, the genitive case, the dative case, the ablative case, and the vocative case) and, according to the nature of the particular noun or pronoun, each case takes a particular form (as in the difference between English "I" and "me"). The case of the noun or pronoun, as indicated by its particular form, will tell you whether the noun is the subject of the sentence (the person or thing performing the action or, in more general terms, the subject under discussion: e.g., in the example above, whether the dog or the man is doing the biting), the direct object (the person or thing receiving the action: in the example above, just who is being bitten), the indirect object, etc.

Below is a brief outline of the basic grammatical functions associated with each case. Over the course of the year, you will need to develop a more nuanced sense of how each of the cases functions, but this outline should provide you with an initial general guide to how they tend to be used and the contexts in which they tend to appear. [FN 1]

  1. The Nominative Case (Nom.)

  2. The Accusative Case (Acc.)

  3. The Genitive Case (Gen.)

  4. The Dative Case (Dat.)

  5. The Ablative Case (Abl.)

  6. The Vocative Case (Voc.)

  7. Note on Prepositions


[FN 1] The word case comes from the Latin word for a falling (casus), since each of the cases after the nominative tended to be written in an indented column underneath the nominative case and so seemed to be "falling" or cascading down from it. By the same logic, the non-nominative cases (accusative, genitive, dative, ablative) are often referred to as the oblique cases. [Return to text]

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