The Latin Language/Latin Cases and Gender

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If you wish to delve deeply into the subject of Latin cases, see Wikipedia.

Explicitur totum, pro amore Dei, da mihi potum.

The whole thing is done, for the love of God, give me a drink.[1]

What is a case?[edit | edit source]

The case of a noun or pronoun tells us its function in a sentence. For example, in English a noun in a sentence could be a subject, as in The quick cat chased the little mouse, or it could be a direct object, as in The quick cat chased the little mouse. However, English is an uninflected language, which means that a noun does not inflect (that is, change form) based on its case. Notable exceptions are the pronouns, where, for example, I takes the form me when it is a direct object.

However, Latin — like many modern languages — is an inflected language, so nouns in Latin change form based on their case. Specifically, each case changes the ending of a noun.

The Latin cases[edit | edit source]

There are seven cases in Latin. Here is the list of cases, along with the general idea of what they are used for. As with everything in language, there are exceptions and special rules, but for now this is a quick summary.

  • Nominative, which is used for the subject of a sentence: what is the sentence about?
The quick cat chased the little mouse.
  • Genitive, which is used for the possessor of another noun: whose is the noun?
The tall man's quick cat chased the little mouse.
  • Accusative, which is used for the direct object of a sentence: what does the action in the sentence apply to?
The quick cat chased the little mouse.
  • Dative, which is used for the indirect object of a sentence: who benefits from the action in the sentence?
The quick cat gave the dead mouse to his owner.
  • Ablative, which is used for many, many things, including where and when the action takes place, what was used to perform the action, and who was also there:
In the basement, the quick cat with his friend batted the little mouse at noon with his paw.
  • Vocative, which is used when addressing someone:
Silly cat, take that dead mouse outside!
  • Locative, which is used for where the action takes place, but only for some words, such as cities:
The silly cat chased mice in Rome.

The first five are the most widely used. Since the vocative and locative cases have highly restricted uses, we will introduce them later.

Exercises[edit | edit source]

1 In each of the following sentences, identify the noun that has nominative case.

  • The dog barked at the cat.

  • The big man's hand grasped the mouse.

  • The ball was hit by the cat's paw.

  • 2 In each of the following sentences, identify the noun that has genitive case.

    • The dog barked at the lady's cat.

    • The big man's hand grasped the mouse.

    • The ball was hit by the cat's paw.

    • 3 In each of the following sentences, identify the noun that has accusative case.

      • The big man's hand grasped the slippery mouse.

      • The silly cat pushed open the bathroom door.

      • The dog climbed the stairs.


      • Grammatical Gender[edit | edit source]

        The grammatical gender of a noun has nothing to do with the physical gender of the thing it represents (its "natural gender"). Rather, gender simply means type, and there can be any number of genders in a language. Just as the number of a noun (singular or plural) forces other words in the sentence to match that number (a cat bites, but cats bite), the grammatical gender of a noun forces other words in the sentence to match that gender.

        Latin has a system of three genders: feminine, masculine, and neuter. The Luganda language of Uganda has ten genders, while Swahili has 18!

        Notes[edit | edit source]

        1. Another grateful scribe. Gameson, Richard (2002). The Scribe Speaks? Colophons in early English manuscripts. University of Cambridge. p. 3. ISBN 0953217272. http://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/site/human/english/materials/grad/mstpages/650_1550/readings/Gameson%20-%20Scribe%20Speaks.pdf.