Understanding Case in English Grammar

So what is this thing called "case" in English, anyway? And why is it important? Being pretty clueless about this aspect of grammar is pretty common: When teachers or editors discuss the importance of getting case right in English grammar, quizzical looks from listeners are often the result.

But not to worry. Here's a simple explanation: Basically, the concept of case in English is the grammatical relationship of nouns and pronouns to other words in a sentence. In English, nouns have only one case inflection: the possessive (or genitive). The case of nouns other than the possessive is sometimes called the common case. Common case nouns are the basic word, such as "dog," "cat," "sunset" or "water."

Pronouns have three case distinctions:

Examples and Observations on Case

Sidney Greenbaum: Potentially, countable nouns have four case forms: two singular (child, child's), two plural (children, children's). In regular nouns, these manifest themselves only in writing, through the apostrophe ( girl, girl's, girls, girls'), since in speech three of the forms are identical. The genitive [or possessive] case is used in two contexts: dependently, before a noun ( This is Tom's/his bat), and independently ( This bat is Tom's/his). Most personal pronouns have different forms for the dependent and independent genitive: This is your bat and This bat is yours. The genitive case forms of personal pronouns are often called possessive pronouns. A few pronouns have three cases: subjective or nominative, objective or accusative, and genitive or possessive.

Andrea Lunsford: In compound structures, make sure pronouns are in the same case they would be in if used alone (Jake and she were living in Spain). When a pronoun follows "than" or "as," complete the sentence mentally. If the pronoun is the subject of an unstated verb, it should be in the subjective case (I like her better than he [likes her]). If it is the object of an unstated verb, it should be in the objective case (I like her better than [I like] him.).

Robert Lane Greene: While the stickler might see the misuse and gradual disappearance of 'whom' as proof that education and society have been flushed down the toilet, most linguists -- even though they will almost certainly use 'whom' in their written work themselves -- see the pronoun's replacement with 'who' as merely another step in English's gradual shedding of case endings. In the era of "Beowulf," English nouns had endings that showed what role they played in the sentence, as Latin did. But nearly all of them disappeared by the time of Shakespeare, and a linguist would see the death of 'whom' as simply the conclusion of the process.

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Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding Case in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-case-grammar-1689825. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, January 29). Understanding Case in English Grammar. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-case-grammar-1689825 Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding Case in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-case-grammar-1689825 (accessed March 22, 2023).