I heed the etymological fallacy, but how can I connect the etymology to cases' meanings or rationalise/make sense of these esoteric words? I'm always confused as to which is which, and I need to consult a dictionary every time. Supplementary info:

ablative. Etymonline: mid-15c., from Middle French ablatif, from Latin (casus) ablativus "(case) of removal," expressing direction from a place or time, coined by Julius Caesar from ablatus "taken away," past participle of auferre "carrying away," from ab- "away" + irregular verb ferre (past participle latum see oblate); "to carry, to bear". The Latin case of adverbial relation, typically expressing the notion "away from," or the source or place of an action.

accusative. Etymonline: grammatical case whose primary function is to express destination or goal of motion, mid-15c., from Anglo-French accusatif, Old French acusatif, or directly from Latin (casus) accusativus "(case) of accusing," from accusatus, past participle of accusare (see accuse).

1. How does it make sense to accuse a noun, a pronoun or an adjective?

dative. Etymonline: mid-15c., from Latin dativus "pertaining to giving," from datus "given" (see date (n.1)); in grammatical use from Greek dotike (ptosis) "dative (case)," from dotikos "of giving nature," from dotos "given," from PIE root *do- "to give," from the same PIE root as the Latin word. In law, "that may be disposed of at pleasure," from 1530s. Typically the case of the indirect object, but sometimes also denoting "motion toward." In old Germanic languages, the "fourth case," catch-all for Indo-European dative, ablative, locative, and other cases.

genitive. Etymonline late 14c., from Old French genitif or directly from Latin (casus) genitivus "case expressing possession, source, origin," from genitus (past participle of gignere; see genital); misused by Latin grammarians to render Greek genike (ptosis) "generic (case)," expressing race or kind (see genus). The noun meaning "the genitive case in grammar" is from 1610s.

nominative. Etymonline: 1540s, "to call by name," back-formation from nomination or else from Latin nominatus, past participle of nominare "to name, call by name, give a name to," also "name for office,"" from nomen "name" (see name (n.)). Later "to appoint to some office or duty" (1560s); "to formally enter (someone) as a candidate for election" (c.1600). It also occasionally was used from c.1600 with a sense "give a name to." Related: Nominated; nominating.

2. What's being named?

vocative. early 15c., "showing the person or thing spoken to," from Middle French vocatif, from Latin vocativus (casus) "(case of) calling," from vocatus, past participle of vocare "to call" (see voice (n.)). The Latin is a translation of Greek kletike ptosis, from kletikos "related to calling," from kletos "called." As a noun from 1520s.

3. How does call apply here? Speaking to a person or thing differs from calling him or it?

Footnote: I omit the locative and instrumental cases; the modifiers (italicised) are self-explanatory.

  • 1
    Why do you feel you need to know all this? No wonder you're confused. English is not Latin, their verbs are much easier compared to French and Italian.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6 '14 at 8:20
  • 1
    Stop studying declensions and speak to people in English. Join a class, pay a native speaker for conversation, speak into a recorder and listen, critically, to yourself.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6 '14 at 8:31
  • Nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative and ablative are names in Latin grammar for the various cases a noun can take in a sentence. Cases are not to be confused with declensions.
    – rogermue
    Nov 6 '14 at 8:48
  • @Mari-LouA Thanks. Some posts here and on ELL mention them, so I thought to ask.
    – NNOX Apps
    Nov 6 '14 at 8:55

ablative: Refers to "taking something away from". Remember "ablative armour", where each projectile takes away a chunk of the armour, weakening it. In Latin, ablative commonly has a meaning "from ...", like "he came from the house"; but it also has some other meanings, because it melded with pre-Latin locative, among other reasons.

accusative: You don't accuse a noun, a pronoun or an adjective. The name is thought to be a Latin mistranslation from Greek, where it should have been "that which is caused" instead of "that which is accusing". (I do not speak Greek, so... second hand sources.) in "I make dinner", dinner is caused by me and my process of making. Regardless of the origin, it is the case that tells us what the subject operates on. Mangled mnemonic: ac-cause-ative.

dative: This should be straightforward - it's a case that mostly specifies someone who is being given something - a physical object, as in "I gave him a book", or a favour, like in "I made a dinner for him". Mnemonic: "data" is something that is a given.

genitive: Usually signifies a part of something, or a relation to something. "leg of a table", "a sip of water", "John 's book", "descendants of apes". With the last example, a mnemonic is easy: "Humans are of genus Homo (species Homo sapiens)"

nominative: The thing being named is the subject. It names whoever is doing the action (well, most of the time). "Lee killed John" names Lee as the one who did the killing, the protagonist of the sentence.

vocative: Speaking about a person or thing differs from calling him or it. Well, not in English, really. You'd say "Mark, come" and "Mark comes" with no distinction in "Mark". In Latin, as in many European languages, they are different: "Marco, veni" vs. "Marcus venit" ("Marcus" being "Mark" who is being named as the one coming, and "Marco" being the one being called with a command to come). You can think of it as a bit archaic "Oh Mark! I summon thee!" if it helps.

Cases have a lot of ground to cover, so all of these are just a slice of the wide spectrum of meanings they take on; these are just for you to understand the core meaning and associate it to the word. The "real" meanings should come with experience in the target language (I assumed by the selection of the cases that it was Latin, sorry if I was off the mark).


How does it make sense to accuse a noun, a pronoun or an adjective?

If you look at accuse at etymonline, you see it is related to cause. In the sentence I hit the dog, the dog would be in the accusative, and you could say the dog is the reason or cause of my action (hitting).

What's being named?

The object that the noun refers to is named. This sense of "name" or "naming" refers to stating its basic nature. It's the ground form or the noun. Nomen is related in this sense to nominal as in nominal value.

How does call apply here? Speaking to a person or thing differs from calling him or it?

To call someone has little to do with phones. It can be better understood in the sense of addressing someone, which is also obvious in an expression like "I call on you all to take action". The sense of calling is present in forms like "Jove! Why does this happen to me", but the vocative is used in general whenever you address someone. (In Greek, for instance, if I want to ask a guy named Nikos, for the sugar, I'd say "Niko, can you pass the sugar." I'm not calling him, but I am calling on him to pass me the sugar.

Dative should be easy, as in the sentence I give the book to you.

Genitive should not create too much of a problem either, with from being closely related in meaning to of (from a good family / of good breeding).

Ablative seems clear as well.


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