Just as "number" describes whether a noun is singular or plural, is there a noun that describes whether a pronoun is subject or object? For example:

The number of the first-person pronoun "I" is singular.

The __ of the first-person pronoun "I" is subject.

  • Notice that you're not talking about nouns here; you're talking about pronouns. Pronouns are different from nouns. Do you want the answer that applies to all nouns and almost all pronouns, or would you prefer the answer that applies to six personal pronouns only? – John Lawler Nov 30 '13 at 22:07
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    @JohnLawler - Fair point and well made Yes, I'm asking about pronouns - I've edited the OP accordingly. If there is a term that applies to all nouns and the majority of pronouns, I would like to know about that too :). – Lou Nov 30 '13 at 22:10
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    What you're looking for is a grammatical category, like person, number, or tense; singular is short for singular number and past is short for past tense. English used to have case as one grammatical category; German still does. But whereas every single German noun and pronoun has several different case forms, there are only 5 morphemes that have case forms in English: I/me, he/him, she/her, we/us, they/them, and sometimes who/whom, though that's pretty dead now. For these words, the form difference is called a "case". Other NPs don't have case in English. – John Lawler Nov 30 '13 at 22:18
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    The term that applies to all NPs is "grammatical relation" (GR). We say that "subject", "direct object", and "indirect object" are grammatical relations, between the NPs involved and the predicate of the sentence. So in Bill gave the book to her, Bill bears the GR "subject" to give, the book bears the GR "direct object" to give, and he bears the GR "indirect object" to give. In short form, we say they are the subject, direct object, and indirect object of give. – John Lawler Nov 30 '13 at 22:22
  • @ Lawler, thanks for the clarification. Where can I lean more about the terminology you are using? – Michael Owen Sartin Nov 30 '13 at 22:28

Thanks to Prof. John Lawler for the very useful comments.

When I look at it as a question of a hypernym for subject and object in English grammar, the closest that I can find is the concept of case, as currently defined, if not taught.

ODO (accessed UTC 07:01 today) explains (with English examples):

Nouns and pronouns can be used as the subject or the object of a sentence:
subject --- verb --- object
The dog --- bit --- her.

As can be seen from this example, the pronoun she is used as the subject, but if it is used as the object it becomes her. These different forms are called cases. There are three cases in English, subjective, objective, and possessive …

The ODO definition of case, as it relates to grammar in general and not necessarily contemporary English grammar:

4 Grammar any of the forms of a noun, adjective, or pronoun that express the semantic relation of the word to other words in the sentence: the accusative case

I do not find a better taxonomic definition that satisfies the OP's need as of now.

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  • Thanks to John Lawler, Edwin Ashworth, Kris et al. for your patience in what must appear to be my dogged pursuit not to understand. "Did Sue get my card?" "Yes, I gave Sue it." In my mind Sue is in the dative. Examples in English are admittedly subtle; consider: The roof of my house, tectum domus meae and my house is large, magna est domus mea. Is domus in the same case in both examples. – Michael Owen Sartin Dec 1 '13 at 13:39
  • Thank you for an excellent summary :). Yes, I believe "case" is the word I'm looking for. – Lou Dec 1 '13 at 13:54

I believe the word you are looking for is "case." Pronouns come in three cases: subjective, objective and possessive. With the exception of pronouns, word order, rather than changes in the word, usually identify the case.

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  • Not true (second sentence). See John Lawler's answers – case is defined by inflections. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 30 '13 at 22:54
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    @Edwin Ashworth: I take your point, but it is one of taxonomy rather than a description of the underlying grammar. Would you argue that there is no case difference between Mike and Sue in "Sue hates Mike?" – Michael Owen Sartin Nov 30 '13 at 23:41
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    Why this confusion? I didn't notice that both the answers (not quite the same in their essence) belong to the same member. Can you merge them? Or is there something I'm missing? – Kris Dec 1 '13 at 6:43
  • There is no case. 'Other NPs don't have case in English.' "Sue hates Mike" is S-V-Od. Before we can start discussing the grammar involved, we have to be sure we're using the terms the way the professional linguists do. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 1 '13 at 16:56
  • So, if I am following you, "Sue hates Mike" is subject verb direct object, but neither "Sun" nor "Mike" can be assigned a case because neither is inflected, while "She hates me" is also subject verb direct object, and both "she" and "me," because of the fact that they have been inflected are in the subjective and objective cases respectively while "Sue" and "Mike" have no assigned case? – Michael Owen Sartin Dec 1 '13 at 18:23

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