Case

Examples of English Grammatical Case Forms

In English, things we speak about by means of nounsOpens in new window stand in various relations to other things, and to actions and attributes. Hence, when these relations are expressed in language,Opens in new window nouns have various relations to other words in the sentences in which they are applied.

Take for example, in the sentence, “The horse eats the man’s hay,”

  • horse stands for that which does the action expressed by the verb;
  • hay stands for that upon which the action is done;
  • man’s is used to indicate ‘to whom the hay belongs.’

The words horse and hay have with each other a certain connection with the action verb eats, and man’s has a certain connection with the noun hay.

What then is Case?

Some languages have several endings which nouns are made to assume, to indicate the various relations in which they stand to other words. These different forms of the noun are what is called case. On this note, we look at the definition of case.

In simple words, Case is a set of endings that words take to indicate its function and relationship to other words in the sentence.

The process of forming the different cases of a noun is called inflectionOpens in new window.

The English language has three forms of case; namely:

  1. The Subjective or Nominative CaseOpens in new window
  2. The Objective or Accusative CaseOpens in new window
  3. The Possessive or Genitive CaseOpens in new window

These three cases are all different in pronouns; in nouns the nominative and objective cases (or accusative case) are alike.

1.     The Nominative Case

The Nominative Case is also known as the subjective case. In English the subjectOpens in new window of a verb is usually in the nominative caseOpens in new window. This can be a nounOpens in new window, noun–phraseOpens in new window or pronounOpens in new window. The subject in the nominative case answers the question “Who or what is performing the action?”

Take as example, the following:
  • Gretchen studies English.

In this sentence, the noun 'Gretchen', denotes the subject in relation to the verb 'studies'; it is also the doer of the action, expressed by the verb 'studies'. Thus Gretchen is in the nominative case.

How to identify the nominative case in a sentence

To identify the nominative case insert who? or what? before the verb:

observe the examples below:
    1. Genesis shot the video
  • Who shot the video? (the answer is) Genesis
  • Therefore, Genesis is in the nominative case.
  • 2. Worries make Alice unhappy.
  • What make Alice unhappy? (the answer is) Worries
  • Therefore, Worries is in the nominative case.
  • 3. The school gate is opened at 6:30 a.m.
  • What is opened at 6:30 a.m? (the answer is) The school gate
  • Therefore, The school gate is the nominative case.
  • 4. Salary was paid to the workers.
  • What was paid to the workers? (the answer is) Money
  • Therefore, money is in the nominative case.
Important Hint  

Nouns, pronouns and noun phrases Opens in new window always appear in the nominative case. The main function of the Nominative Case is to indicate the subject of the sentence.
Any noun put in apposition with the subject is also in the nominative case.

2.    The Accusative Case

The Accusative CaseOpens in new window is commonly known as objective case. A noun or pronoun serving as the direct objectOpens in new window of a verb is said to be in the accusative case.

You identify words in the accusative case by inserting whom? or what? before the verb and its subject:

Observe the examples below:
    1. She studies English.
  • What does she study? (the answer is) English
  • Therefore, English is in the accusative case.
  • 2. Genesis manufacture computer programs.
  • what do Genesis manufacture? (the answer is) computer programs
  • Therefore, computer programs is in the accusative case.
  • 3. He loves Alice.
  • Whom does he love? (the answer is) Alice
  • Therefore, Alice is in the accusative case.

3.     The possessive case

A noun or a pronoun which denotes possessor or owner of something is said to be in the possessive case. A possessive caseOpens in new window answers the question “whose”. Pronouns in the possessive case include: my, our, your, his, her, its, their.

An apostrophe is used to mark the possessive case of nouns; this is usually formed in the singular number by adding to the nominative an –s with an apostrophe (‘) before it, as in:

one’s home, by day’s end, John’s pet, the witness’s testimony, a fox’s habitat, the knife’s edge, etc.

Likewise in the plural, by simply tagging along its tail with this mark, as in:

the Ages’ voice, boys’ school, girls’ squad, horses’ tails.

However, when the noun is in plural, but does not end in –s the possessive is formed by adding ’s as in: men’s club, children’s books, etc.

The following are examples of the declension of nouns in English:

Nominative CaseObjective CasePossessive Case
SingularPluralSingularPluralSingularPlural
ManMenManMenMan'sMen's
FatherFathersFatherFathersFather'sFathers'