case, in language, one of the several possible forms of a given noun, pronoun, or adjective that indicates its grammatical function (see inflection); in inflected languages it is usually indicated by a series of suffixes attached to a stem, as in Latin amicus, "friend" (nominative); amicum (accusative); amici (genitive); and amico (ablative and dative). In modern English, nouns are marked for two cases—common or nominative (e.g., man ) and possessive or genitive ( man's ). A few pronouns are marked for three—nominative (e.g., he ), objective or accusative ( him ), and possessive ( his ). Old English also inflected for accusative, dative, and sometimes instrumental, cases. In Latin, six cases are indicated by changes in inflection—nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, and vocative. The hypothetical ancestor of the Indo-European languages used eight cases, the above six plus the instrumental and locative cases. The Altaic and Finno-Ugric language families also use case-marking systems. German uses four cases, Russian six, Finnish sixteen. In Europe, the concept was first introduced by the Greeks, although Sanskrit grammarians established it independently. The names of the most common cases derive from Greek by way of Latin translation, as does the term case itself.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Language and Linguistics