CASE

Case is the grammatical function of a noun or pronoun. There are only three cases in modern English, they are subjective (he),objective (him) and possessive (his). They may seem more familiar in their old English form – nominativeaccusative and genitive. There is no dative case in modern English. Yippee!

First more good news. You cannot really go wrong here, we got rid of most of our cases and as a result English is easier than many other languages because nouns and some indefinite pronouns (anyone, someone, everyone, and so on) only have a distinctive case form for the possessive. There are a few remnants of old English though, and pronouns have distinctive forms in all three cases and should be used with a bit more care.

The pronoun cases are simple though. There are only three:-

1. Subjective case: pronouns used as subject.
2. Objective case: pronouns used as objects of verbs or prepositions.
3. Possessive case: pronouns which express ownership.

 

PERSONAL PRONOUN

Subjective/NominativeObjective/AccusativePossessive/Genitive
Referring to the subject in a sentenceReferring to the object in a sentenceThe apostrophe form of the word (“Lynne’s).
IMeMine
YouYouYours
HeHimHis
SheHerHers
ItItIts
WeUsOurs
TheyThemTheirs
WhoWhomWhose

These pronouns, and who and its compounds, are the only words that are inflected in all three cases (subjective, objective, possessive). In nouns the first two cases (subjective and objective) are indistinguishable, and are called the common case. One result of this simplicity is that, the sense of case being almost lost, the few mistakes that can be made are made often, even by native speakers, some of them so often that they are now almost right by prescription.

Objective / Accusative Case

First you need to know what an object is. If the subject of a sentence is doing something to someone, that someone or something becomes the object of the sentence.

Now it might help you if you know what the term “case” means. It’s the grammatical function of a noun or pronoun, thankfully almost extinct in the English language, but we haven’t buried it yet.

A noun or pronoun is in the objective case when it is used as a direct object, an indirect object, or an object.

A noun which is directly affected by the action of a verb is put into the objective case. In English we call this noun the “direct object” which is a little more descriptive of its function. It’s the direct object of some action.

  • Robert fixed the car.

In the example above, the “car” is in the objective case because it’s the direct object of Robert’s action of fixing.

Pronouns are inflected to show the objective case.

PERSONAL PRONOUN

Objective/Accusative
Referring to the object in a sentence
Me
You
Him
Her
It
Us
Them
Whom

For example:

  • The web site gave Lynne a headache.
  • Mum gave us the money.
  • She gave him the book.

    POSSESSIVE CASE / GENITIVE CASE

    There are different ways to show ownership of something. To show possession you can use nouns to modify other nouns.

    (For purposes of clarity, we distinguish between the genitive case and the possessive case here.)

    The good news is that the genitive case “of” is used less and less in English today. Hooray!

    Possessive Case

    The possessive case is used to show ownership. The possessive pattern or mark (‘s) is generally used when indicating a relation of ownership or association with a person, rather than a thing. (Linguistically speaking it is a form of genitive case.)

    Singular nouns take -‘s.

    For example:-

    • Bob’s presentation.
    • Lynne’s web site kept growing larger and larger.

    There are, as ever, exceptions to this rule. When a group of people is involved or animals.

    For example:-

    • The members’ forum. 
    • The dogs’ tails.

    Companies are often treated like people.

    For example:-

    • Coca Cola‘s latest advertising campaign.

    Irregular plural nouns that don’t end in s take -‘s.

    For example:-

    • The children‘s toys.
    • The people‘s court.

    Plural nouns that end in ” s ” take an apostrophe at the end ( ‘ ).

    For example:-

    • The girls dresses.

    People’s names that end in “s” you can write (‘) at the end, or add (‘s).

    For example:-

    • Charles’ job was on the line.

    or

    • Charles’s job was on the line.

    Try to avoid sounding like hissing Sid though. When an added – s would lead to three closely bunched s or z sounds just use an apostrophe at the end.

    • The map of Ulysses’ journey.

    If you have to show joint ownership, give the possessive form to the final name only.

    • Abbott and Costello’s famous baseball sketch.

    Pronouns and determiners are inflected to show the possessive / genitive case.

    PERSONAL PRONOUN/DETERMINER

    Possessive
    Lynne’s
    Lynne’s

    My
    Mine
    Your
    Yours
    His
    His
    Her
    Hers
    Its
    Its
    Our
    Ours
    Their
    Theirs
    Whose
    Whose

    For example:-

    • This is Lynne’s web site. It’s my website! It’s mine!
    • It’s not Zozanga’s web site. It’s not his website! It’s not his!
    • Have you seen her book? It’s her book. It’s hers.

    Genitive Case

    You should still use the “of” form of the possessive / genitive case when talking about things that belong to other things.

    For example:-

    • The door of the car. You can also say, “the car door”.
    • The top speed of the car is 1000 km/hr. You might also hear, “the car’s top speed” in advertising, because they like to humanise things.
    • The content of the website. You can also say, “the website content”, or “the website’s content”.
    • Go to the top of the page.

    You may still hear someone say something like “The father of the bride,” but it could equally be; “The bride’s father.”

    In other instances the “of” form never changes: “The House of Lords.” This example is not the possessive, but it is genitive.

    !Tip – If you are talking about things, but aren’t sure what to use stick to (of the).

    The biggest issue English learners have with the “genetive case” is that it’s not always used to show possession. It can be used to show a relationship between things.

    As with possessives generally, the term ‘genitive’ should not be identified too closely with ideas of ownership or actual possession or belonging. The genitive case signals a structural grammatical relationship between a noun and a noun phrase, and the actual relationship between the things referred to by the nouns may simply be some kind of loose association.” (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student’s Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994)

    Which is why we prefer to use the term possessive case to show possession.

    SUBJECTIVE / NOMINATIVE CASE

    Used especially to identify the subject of a finite verb.

    A noun or pronoun is in the subjective when it is used as the subject of the sentence or as a predicate noun. In the following examples, nouns and pronouns in the subjective case are italicized.

    A noun in the subjective case is often the subject of a verb.

    For example:

    • The tree fell on my car”, “the tree” is in the nominative case because it’s the subject of the verb “fell”.

    Pronouns are inflected to show the subjective case.

    PERSONAL PRONOUN

    Subjective/Nominative
    Referring to the subject in a sentence.
    I
    You
    He
    She
    It
    We
    They
    Who

    For example:

    • Lynne owns this web site.
    • I hope to finish my homework tomorrow.
    • She enjoyed her English lessons.
    • He is an idiot. (The word idiot is a predicate noun because it follows is; a form of the verb “be”)

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