common case (grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms


In English grammar, common case is the ordinary base form of a noun--such as cat, moon, house.

Nouns in English have only one case inflection: the possessive (or genitive). The case of nouns other than the possessive is regarded as the common case. (In English, the forms of the subjective [or nominative] case and the objective [or accusative] case are identical.)

See Examples and Observations below.

Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
    (Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960)

  • "A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation."
    (Mark Twain)

  • "People's backyards are much more interesting than their front gardens, and houses that back on to railways are public benefactors."
    (John Betjeman)

  • Common Case and Possessive Case
    "Nouns such as man inflect not only for number, but also for the distinction between genitive case and common case. The uninflected form man is in the common case. By contrast, in the man's hat, man's is said to be in the genitive (or possessive) case. The term case is a traditional term in the description of classical languages, where it is a topic of much greater complexity than it is in English. For instance, in Latin there are as many as six different case distinctions for nouns. English nouns have very little variability of this kind; we must guard against attributing to English nouns as many cases as there are for Latin ones."
    (David J. Young, Introducing English Grammar. Hutchinson Education, 1984)

  • The Vanished Case
    "[A]ll nouns are said to be in the common case--the grammarian's way of pronouncing them caseless. His 'common' means that the one form serves every possible use--subject, object of verb, indirect object, object of preposition, predicate complement, appositive, vocative, and even interjection. The grammarian is in effect asserting that case, except as it survives vestigially in a few pronouns, has disappeared from English. . . .

    "'Common case' describes nothing and analyzes nothing. But grammar is essentially analytic; it names things not for the fun of having a nomenclature but so as to understand the relations of working parts. One can analyze an English sentence without using the word 'case'; what matters is to know that a given word is subject or object, and of what it is the one or the other."
    (Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage, revised by Erik Wensberg. Hill and Wang, 1998)