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What is the author trying to convey with the word 'O' in the following:

He has told you, O man, what is good;

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closed as general reference by Kit Z. Fox, MrHen, RegDwigнt Jul 25 '11 at 13:29

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.


2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This is the vocative case:

A vocative expression is an expression of direct address, wherein the identity of the party being spoken to is set forth expressly within a sentence...
Historically, or in poetic or rhetorical speech, the vocative role in English may also be shown by prefacing the noun or noun phrase with the English word "O".

Modern English does not have a formal vocative case, and may use the nominative to fill that role.

The cases are more apparent when looking at some other languages like Latin. A well-known passage from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland where Alice speaks to a mouse reviews them, ending in the vocative:

'O Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool? I am very tired of swimming about here, O Mouse!' (Alice thought this must be the right way of speaking to a mouse: she had never done such a thing before, but she remembered having seen in her brother's Latin Grammar, 'A mouse—of a mouse—to a mouse—a mouse—O mouse!')

Note that the "O" itself can be considered an interjection, much like "Oh" (thanks, @Kit and @Cerberus!); it might be more clear to say it is an interjection accompanying a noun that is in the (unmarked) vocative, "man" in your example.

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Unless it's the story of - in which case 'O' has rather different connotations – mgb Jul 25 '11 at 4:59

'O' is an archaic word used to emphasize the subject being addressed. In your example (Malachi chapter 2 IIRC) the speaker wishes to address "man," so he says "O man," not to be confused with the modern idiom "oh man."

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