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Old 09.09.2006, 15:52
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[English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

This article is not intended to teach anyone English, it is designed to provide some background information on some of the grammatical constructs used in English. Why? Knowledge of how certain things work in English can be directly applied when learning other foreign languages.

This article is the second part to an article which covered the use of nominative and accusative case in English. If you haven't already read the previous article please do so before continuing.

Quick review

As you'll remember from last time, nominative case indicates the subject of a sentence, whereas accusative case indicates the object of a sentence. For example, in the sentence "The dog bit the boy" the dog is the subject, and the boy (who is receiving the action) is the object.

We will now expand this idea a little further to examine the dative and genitive cases.

Dative case - the giving case

The dative case has all but disappeared from modern English, which is possibly why few are even aware of it. If you are studying a language where it is still used (like German), it might be helpful for you to try and think of times when it might be used in English - this might help you to decide which case you should be using in your translated sentence.

In grammatical terms we use dative case when the object of our sentence receives something directly. You could think of it like the "giving case". In our sentence "the dog bit the boy" the boy did receive a bite from the dog - but the dog didn't "give" him a bite, he simply bit the boy. If our sentence was "the dog gave rabies to the boy" then this would be dative.

The simplest way to look for remnants of dative case in English is to ask yourself whether the preposition "to" is being used or whether there is a verb present which would normally require the use of the preposition "to". For example - "give" is the easiest to remember. You don't say "give it me", rather "give it to me". In this case the verb "to give" is said to be a dative verb, and "me" becomes dative. Note that me is exactly the same in accusative and dative case - this is why dative and accusative are said to have merged into what many people call "object case". In other languages (such as German) the dative case is alive and well and different pronouns and declination will be required depending on the case - so know the difference!

A word of warning - do not confuse the many uses of "to" in English. When we talk about a verb in its infinitive form we always add "to", for example: "to sleep". The preposition "to" in this case has nothing to do with dative case, just as "too" is a completely different word. Think about whether the presence of "to" is indicating that something is being given.

Dative verbs in disguise

Be careful - sometimes you might have a dative verb, but for some reason you might not realise that it is dative. Consider the fact that "write to me" is dative - the "to" and the fact that something is being given (the writing) show that write is a dative verb. However, in American English the "to" has been dropped - "write me". Just because the preposition has disappeared doesn't mean that the verb ceases to be dative.

Other clues to dative

Those English-speakers who know when to use "who" and "whom" are already able to correctly identify dative case. In the sentence "Who is on the telephone?" the subject (nominative case) is "who". In the sentence "to whom am I speaking?" dative case dictated that "who" must change to "whom". A good way to remember this is the sentence "who gave what to whom?"

Since dative and accusative case have effectively merged in English we also use the dative "whom" in accusative case as well. You can also find more background information on dative case here [wikipedia.org].

Genitive - the possessive case

This is possibly the easiest case to understand since the test is simple - is a noun possessing another? "My book" contains two nouns - "my" (a personal pronoun) and "book". Instead of "I" (nominative) or "me" (accusative) we change the pronoun to "my". Other genitive pronouns might be "his", "hers", "its", "theirs" or "ours". You can refer to the German Cheatsheet [internal link] which also contains a list of genitive pronouns in English.

As well as using a possessive (genitive) pronoun where appropriate, we also use the preposition "of" or apostrophe followed by the letter "s" (or the reverse in the case of plural nouns). For example the following two sentences have the same meaning:

"That is the daughter of Mike".
"That is Mike's daughter".

In this case "daughter" is in genitive case since daughter "belongs" to Mike. Care should be taken not to confuse abbreviated forms with genitive as in the following example:

"That's Mike's daughter".

"That" and "is" are joined together to make "That's" which has nothing to do with genitive case at all. Likewise "its" is a genitive pronoun (with no apostrophe) and "it's" is a shortened form of "it is".

Genitive in disguise

There are many times when genitive is used incorrectly, even in publications. Consider the title to a movie, "Two weeks notice". In reality the notice belongs to the two weeks, and since weeks is a plural noun, an apostrophe must follow to indicate genitive - "Two weeks' notice". If it were only one week then it would be "One week's notice". If we consider that the meaning of the sentence was really "Two weeks [worth of] notice" it becomes obvious that we were dealing with genitive in disguise.

Consider the sentence "two hours' drive" - how often have you seen this written with an apostrophe? Regardless of whether people realise it or not, the drive "belongs" to the two hours.

You can also find more background information on genitive case here [wikipedia.org].

Stay tuned for part three - reflexive voice.

Last edited by mark; 09.09.2006 at 16:09.
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Old 16.10.2006, 11:11
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

This is extremely helpful! Thank you.
Although, I will need to read parts of it a few times till I totally get it all.


Just one question. When you said,
"That's Mike's daughter".

"That" and "is" are joined together to make "That's" which has nothing to do with genitive case at all.

You were saying that, whether the sentence says, "That's" or "That is", doesn't really matter, the result is the same, correct?
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Old 16.10.2006, 11:31
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

Quote:
This is extremely helpful! Thank you.
Although, I will need to read parts of it a few times till I totally get it all.





Just one question. When you said,
"That's Mike's daughter".

"That" and "is" are joined together to make "That's" which has nothing to do with genitive case at all.




You were saying that, whether the sentence says, "That's" or "That is", doesn't really matter, the result is the same, correct?
That's is the short form - and in English it is very important. Oddly for native speakers, 'English as foreign language' courses teach the short form (it's, that's, I'm, I'd, won't, etc.etc.) from the outset in preference to the long form. Why? Because if you learned the long form, you'd never understand spoken English, which almost excluvely uses short form, doesn't it?
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Old 16.10.2006, 12:46
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

Mark,

Might I say that you have drawn together here with these two primers, something which certainly does help those who are attempting to learn a foreign language by understanding the construction of languages in general. It is fair to say that the dative and genetive cases are less used in modern languages, including German, but understanding how they work in your native tongue certainly helps map this to the structure of the target language.

If you actually allowed yourself to be "reputationalised" I would award you some for this...

Richard
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Old 16.10.2006, 21:24
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

Quote:

Quote:
"That" and "is" are joined together to make "That's" which has nothing to do with genitive case at all.
You were saying that, whether the sentence says, "That's" or "That is", doesn't really matter, the result is the same, correct?
Easy - That's is not genetive, but Mike's is genetive because it is "possessive".

In other words - just because you see an apostrophe don't assume genetive (look, there was another one!) - and I wanted to say that apostrophe followed by "s" can be even more confusing.

Another problem is that even native speakers seem to have a very poor grasp of punctuation. Is "camera's" genetive? Well usually it's just someone who actually means to say "cameras". This total abuse of the apostrophe (also on large public signs) by so called "native speakers" drives me absolutely insane. I'd better stop there...
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Old 16.10.2006, 21:37
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

DVDs and CDs are written wrongly with apostrophes (DVD's and CD's) more times than not, that it is becoming generally accepted to be OK. (See also 1990's.)

BUT if I were marking a exam paper, I'd deduct a mark...

Last edited by AbFab; 16.10.2006 at 21:52.
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Old 16.10.2006, 21:58
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

Quote:
Easy - That's is not genetive, but Mike's is genetive because it is "possessive".

In other words - just because you see an apostrophe don't assume genetive (look, there was another one!) - and I wanted to say that apostrophe followed by "s" can be even more confusing.

Another problem is that even native speakers seem to have a very poor grasp of punctuation. Is "camera's" genetive? Well usually it's just someone who actually means to say "cameras". This total abuse of the apostrophe (also on large public signs) by so called "native speakers" drives me absolutely insane. I'd better stop there...
Makes sense to me. Thank you for the explanation.
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Old 16.10.2006, 22:18
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

Quote:
DVDs and CDs are written wrongly with apostrophes (DVD's and CD's) more times than not, that it is becoming generally accepted to be OK. (See also 1990's.)

BUT if I were marking a exam paper, I'd deduct a mark...
And you would be right to deduct a mark. All abbreviations are made plural by simply adding an s. So BMWs, VWs and ATMs should all be without an apostrophe.

Nice to see there are others who know their English grammar
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Old 16.10.2006, 23:59
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

Quote:
And you would be right to deduct a mark. All abbreviations are made plural by simply adding an s. So BMWs, VWs and ATMs should all be without an apostrophe.

Nice to see there are others who know their English grammar
Somehow I always knew that it was wrong to use an apostrophe with an abbreviation, but since I hardly ever saw anyone writing PCs, DVDs I always assumed that everybody thought I was wrong anyway. Thanks for the clarification. Good to see that I'm not the only pedant around here
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Old 17.10.2006, 06:32
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

I'm not convinced that "two hours drive", with or without an apostrophe is good English in any case. "A drive of two hours" or "two hours of driving" would be better.

On a separate note: unlike nouns , pronouns that indicate possession do not use an apostrophe,

dave

Quote:
Consider the sentence "two hours' drive" - how often have you seen this written with an apostrophe? Regardless of whether people realise it or not, the drive "belongs" to the two hours.
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Old 17.10.2006, 06:39
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

Quote:
I'm not convinced that "two hours drive", with or without an apostrophe is good English in any case. "A drive of two hours" or "two hours of driving" would be better.

On a separate note: unlike nouns , pronouns that indicate possession do not use an apostrophe,

dave
Or singular: "a two hour drive". Like "a six foot hole".?!?
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Old 17.10.2006, 06:48
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

You are right, and I am wrong. There are plenty of such expressions:

"a day's work"
"for God's sake"
"in the mind's eye"

and so on.



Quote:
Or singular: "a two hour drive". Like "a six foot hole".?!?
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Old 17.10.2006, 07:04
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Re: [English] Grammar primer part 2: Dative and Genitive Case

... and: a Hard Day's Night and I've been working like a dog...
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