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
Stay tuned for part three - reflexive voice.