Is it correct to say that, nowadays, English has the dative case, or was it only present in Old English?
It actually depends on what kind of theoretical framework you are operating under.
If your question is whether English has some sort of overt affix that attaches to words that marks dative case unambiguously, then the answer is no. (If ambiguity between accusative and dative case is fine, then many of the pronouns, as well as whom, could be considered to be marking dative).
However, case marking does not have to necessarily be done with an affix, it can be done with a preposition. In English, the preposition to is used to mark dative case. For example:
- To me, this is an easy problem.
- I gave ten dollars to them.
- She's like a sister to him.
You could say that this "replaced" case marking, but, in fact, this is case marking! The word to has essentially no meaning except to mark the specific function in the sentence of the noun it modifies.
To compare, in German (a language with a clear dative case), the equivalent sentences would all have a dative pronoun in place of the entire "to X" phrase.
(Note: Sometimes for is used as well, although I think one could argue that for might also contribute some additional meaning — to is the "purest" dative marker. Also, keep in mind that not all instances of the to preposition are simply dative case markers. For example, as part of the infinitive, or as a locative preposition: "I went to the park".)
There are clearly a number of views on this matter. Firstly, it's worth mentioning that some frameworks have the notion that every noun phrase must be assigned some case or other. But Case can then be an underlying phenomenon rather than an overt one.
If you accept such principles, then the question effectively becomes one of deciding if in English "I gave him the book", him is in the same case as in German "Ich gab ihm das Buch" (assuming again that you accept the notion that German ihm is "dative case"), and possibly whether English "for him" and/or German "für ihn", "an ihn" etc can also be examples of dative case.
There's really no consensus on this, but some things to consider:
- in languages with overt case marking, coordinated nouns pretty much always share the same case: so to my knowledge, a German would always say "mit David und ihm" ("with David and him", with "ihm" being in the case governed by the preposition "mit"), and would never say the equivalent of e.g. "with David and I", as does readily occur in English; so we have grounds not to try and shoehorn English into a "canonical" case system;
- English "dative" objects can become subject pronouns in the passive, as though they were "direct" objects; if English behaved like German with its overt case marking, then that overt case would be maintained in the passive (contrast English "He was given the book" with German "Ihm/*Er wurde das Buch gegeben", where only "Ihm", dative, and not "Er", nominative, is possible)
- in various languages, there is some alternation between an overt dative and a prepositional phrase, similar to English "I made him a cake"~"I made a cake for him"; "I sent him a package"~"I sent a package to him" e.g. German dative can often be replaced with "an/für..."; in as much as "lui", "le" are overtly dative, French often allows "lui/pour lui" to alternative, Spanish "le/para él" etc,
- On the other hand, "dative" objects in English do have some special properties meaning they don't behave like "normal" direct objects: e.g. they don't tend to relativise as readily ("I saw the guy you mentioned" vs "??I saw the guy you gave a headache")
So on the one hand, English "him" etc can have some properties of what we might see as "canonically dative", but on the other hand, it has some properties that aren't, and it's clear that English isn't a language with canonical overt case marking.
It's hardly right to say that English still has a separate dative case. The case exist in the theoretical sense (in “he gave me flowers”, the grammatical case of me is the dative case), but it is not expressed by specific pronouns. Indeed, uses prepositions such as to or for.
The only remnants of the dative case in modern English are pronouns such as “whom”, “him”, “her”, etc., which have absorbed both the accusative and dative case.
The Wikipedia entry on the topic has decent, if basic, information on the topic.
English cases are most obvious in pronouns, which have subjective, objective, possessive and reflexive cases. The objective case corresponds to what other languages often use as the accusative and dative cases as with me in She hugged me and He gave me the book.
So the dative case is not distinct in English, but saying that English does or does not have a dative case is (for me) a matter of personal preference. Better not to say either.
English does not have a dative case, but it can express what would have been expressed using a dative case, nonetheless.
When you write "in Athens", this is essentially a dative case, otherwise you cannot justify the use of the preposition "in" and you would be forced to interpret it using one of its other meanings (i.e. temporal range, locality range, inward direction, interior of an enclosed space, etc.) or use "to", so that it would match a verb of direction or motion.
The adverbials invariably express an accusative cause (not "case") in the accusative case, in this example, a dative cause. When you say "in doing so" it is essentially expressing a dative case. When you say "he has been at sea for years", (i.e. sailing), you are essentially expressing a dative case, using an accusative as a substitute for the dative (which is why dropping the definite article "the" becomes necessary).