The Ghosts of Cases Past – Part III

The Objective case, Subjectively

The Objective case in English is the catch-all case for all that was once was Dative, Accusative, and Ablative in Latin.

1. The dative case

Succinctly, the dative case represented the inflection for the noun that was the recipient of an act of giving; hence, the word dative exists, which derives from the word in Latin to give. In English, the rule learned by rote was that the indirect object is that word which answers the question to whom or what or for whom or what after the verb.

Look at the following:

Heathrow gave Clarabell a ring as an engagement gift.

Heathrow is the subject. (Nominative case)

Gave is the verb and shows an act of giving (showing, transferring, or any synonymous act) to or for someone or something else.

Clarabell answers the question to whom or for whom after the verb. (Dative case)

Ring is the object given and is the direct object. (Accusative case)

Gift is an object of the preposition as relating the word gift to the direct object adverbially through the verb. (Ablative case)

In an inflected language, like Latin, the endings (inflections) indicate what the case each word is in and the corresponding function of each word with its ending. In English, a relatively uninflected language insofar as nouns and their functions are concerned, it is the word order and helping words, like prepositions, that indicate the functions of the words in the sentence.

Very often the act of giving, showing, or telling (all of which attach a specific inflection on the noun that is the recipient) also shows that which was given, represented by an inflection on the noun to indicate that it was the direct object which is controlled by the accusative case. For example, in the sentence Heathrow gave Clarabell a ring as an engagement gift, Heathrow is the subject (with a nominative case ending; Clarabell is the recipient of the object and has its indicator ending in the dative case; the word ring is the object given to Clarabell and has its indicator ending in the accusative case because it is the direct object; and gift is the object of the preposition.

Latin was a logical language. Certain of its verbs like impero (order), noceo (injure), credo (trust), parco (spare), persuadeo (persuade), resisto (withstand), and studeo (be eager for or desire) took the dative to show that the nouns that followed them were not really direct objects as they seemed to be and that they did not follow a verb of giving, so to speak, thus requiring the dative case. They therefore took the dative as a rule that stated: these verbs (and others) take the dative case as inflections for the nouns that follow to show a relationship that is neither direct requiring the accusative case nor indirect requiring the dative. The philosophy seemed to be to find exceptions and make a rule to govern the use of the exceptions.

This was a convenient method to rationalize the use of the dative case with verbs that consisted of compound parts that rendered a purely direct object relationship illogical.

These compound parts, prefixes attached to a root verb, changed the meaning enough to warrant creating a reason for using a case that did not fit the definition of direct or indirect object. The prefix meanings have easily migrated from Latin to English because English was and still is a willing recipient and adept at creating neologisms through assimilation of various roots and prefix as well as suffix parts.

These are just a few of the prefixes that require the dative case in Latin:

ad – (advocate, admonish)

ante – (antecedent)

con – (conduct)

de – (descend)

in – (incite)

inter – (intermission)

ob – (obstruct)

post – (postpone)

prae – (pr[a]esume)

pro – (project)

sub – (subject)

super – (superimpose)

English makes it easy; it simply uses the prepositions to or for before the noun that is related to the verb. Occasionally, the preposition is implied, but the meaning is still there. For example, Give me the book is equivalent to Give the book to me, or I’ll do you a favor is the same as I’ll do a favor for you.

The dative as a unique entity now resides peacefully as a dormant ghost in the tombs of the minds of latent Latin scholars. As a case in English, it is simply the objective case by reason of being an indirect recipient of the action of giving; the object given is still the direct object transferred to or for some other entity.

2. The Accusative case

The accusative case is that of the direct receiver of the action of the verb. It traditionally answers the question whom or what after the verb. In the sentence Heathrow bought Clarabell a ring is equivalent to Heathrow bought a ring for Clarabell; but, it is not the same as Heathrow bought Clarabell for a ring. In the former, Heathrow has Clarabell’s affection; in the latter, Heathrow has a ring and someone else has Clarabell.

The accusative case was used without a preposition to indicate a duration of time or extent in space or distance as in The war lasted four years and the troops travelled many miles. The words years and miles would be in the accusative case with appropriate accusative inflections. English does no such thing. Those same words are simply objects of their respective prepositions, which is… for (implied) four years, and… for (implied) many miles.

These are the basic prepositions used with the accusative inflection:

ad – to

advorsus – towards

ante – before

apud – near

circa – around, about

circiter – about

cis – on the side of

citra – on this side of

infra – below

intra – within

inter – between

juxta – near

ob – towards

penes – in the hands of

per – through

post – after

prope – near

proprius – nearer

proxume – nearest

preaeter – beside

secundum – following

supra – above

trans – across

uls – beyond

ultra – beyond

The very nature of some of the meanings found their way into the minds of marketing experts who saw the value of short, catchy particles of language to influence buying habits and make for attractive messages.

Trans Am became a great name for a Pontiac and Supra was a speedy appearing Toyota as well as a fast -acting shaving blade.

Now, the noun that took the inflection of the accusative case is merely the object of that preposition with no inflection at all.

However, one of the more influential uses of the accusative in Latin is still extant in English. The subject of an infinitive was in the accusative case then, and it still is now. A noun is in the objective case in English when it is the subject of an infinitive.

I knew him to be the one who accused me.

This is equivalent to saying I knew that he is the one who accused me.

In the first sentence, him is in the objective case as subject of the infinitive to be.

Making the structure an indirect statement eliminates the need for the object/infinitive relationship. The ghosts of the accusative are still evident in the him (objective form of the masculine personal pronoun) that appears as the subject of to be. Note: The to part of the infinitive is sometimes hidden as in I allowed him to bully me and I let him bully me. Both are the same meaning, but the word to disappears with certain leading verbs that have synonyms that express the same idea in a different form. That seems to be the way with ghosts that appear and disappear at will.

3. The Ablative case

The ablative case means literally [to be] taken away from a place or time other than when the place is a city, town, or small island. In those situations, the locative case was the appropriate one to use. The preposition used was in with the ablative inflection to indicate a place where one was located. If it were a place from which one was to be taken, then the preposition was de or ex. Now, the objective case is the noun plus the preposition away from, out of, or from. The ablative is gone out of mind.

The next most common use of the ablative was to express the person (agent) or means (thing or idea) by which or through which an action was completed. If it were by personal agent, as in The case was pled by the best attorney available, then the preposition a or ab, meaning by, was used.

If it were by means of an instrument as in He was killed by a sword, then the ablative without a preposition was used. Now, it is just the plain, ordinary preposition plus the requisite noun to indicate the person or means.

When there was a relationship of accompaniment intended between persons, the preposition cum (with) was used to indicate that relationship.

If cum were used with an object, it would not have been clear whether both the person and the sword were recipients of the action of the verb; likewise, if cum were not used with the person accompanying the subject, then it would not be clear whether one or both were killed, if one was the agent, as in Heathrow was killed with his friend, Heathcliff, with a sword. It all would beg the question of who killed whom and with what.

Now, it is simple. If there is accompaniment, all those together are joined by the preposition with. If something is the instrument, it is accompanied by the preposition with and any necessary clarification, like the words by means of to indicate how an act might have been done. No more confusing inflections and interpretations to confuse the issue exist. The ablative has been absorbed into the functions of prepositional phrases that in themselves are self -explanatory.

The ablative of comparison has been absorbed by the truncated form of the nominative and the repetitive verb. Instead of an ablative with the word quam to indicate the comparison, English makes it easy. Just state the comparison without repeating the verb. Of course, simplifying that created another issue. Instead of the correct form, Heathrow is as tall as I am, those recidivists repeatedly utter the far easier though totally incorrect and illogical Heathrow is taller than me.

The ablative of description, very similar to that of the genitive of description, is simply reduced to a noun with no inflection and the preposition of. It is self -evident as to the meaning as in Heathcliff is a man of honor. The interpretation of whether it is really a genitive or ablative of description becomes a moot point. Take it for what it is worth and equate what interpretation comes to mind between the subject, Heathcliff, and the concept of honor, which now has no misinterpretable inflection. That ablative is gone and replaced by the simple objective case with a preposition. Even its ghost has been nowhere to be seen.

Further ablatives, like ablative of respect and ablative of specification, have become so easily subject to transmutability in the form of prepositional phrases that through their description alone, they have rendered the ablative inflected form archaic.

The primary use of the ablative of separation fell quickly by the wayside as once again the prepositional phrase with from (de), out of (ex,e), down from (de), and away from (ab, a) supplanted any further need for any explication.

The ablative absolute became the dumping ground for any adverbial dependent clause that subjectively had no grammatical relationship to the rest of the sentence. It was a way for the Romans to incorporate a supplemental idea of time, cause, or condition and attach it to any sentence simply and easily. The ablative absolute could be a combination of two nouns, a noun and an adjective, or a noun and participle form with all parts using the ablative case inflections. But it was read and translated as a clause with interpretation based on the intent of its relationship to the rest of the sentence.

Rege interfecto, for example, both with ablative inflections, could mean any of the following:

After the king was killed…,

Since the king had been killed…,

Because he had killed the king…,

The king having been killed…,

English paid due homage to the form, praised its merits, then put it on the proverbial shelf and let it evaporate into linguistic antiquity. There is not even a ghost of a chance of its revival. It has been adequately replaced by the form it represented, the adverbial clause of time, condition, or purpose.

Again, in brief, the ablatives have been absorbed by the simple objective case. The datives have been absorbed into the objective case. The accusative has been absorbed into the objective case. The spirits of the locatives, vocatives, datives, accusatives and ablatives all hover innocuously over the three remaining cases in English, the subjective, the one that names; the possessive, the one that shows possession; and the objective, the one that does everything else. The seven (7) progenitors, Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative, Vocative, and Locative, look quietly if not proudly from afar upon what is left of Latin Syntax at its finest with regard to grammatical exactitude. Separate entities have learned that art of multi-tasking in the world where language lives to change and definitively changes to live.