Noun Cases

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Understanding English Noun cases

CaseOpens in new window is that property of a nounOpens in new window or pronoun that shows the relation of the noun or pronounOpens in new window to the rest of the sentenceOpens in new window.

Nouns have three cases; they are listed as follows.

  1. The Nominative CaseOpens in new window
  2. The Objective CaseOpens in new window
  3. The Possessive caseOpens in new window

Each of these noun cases has the following forms, as shown in the chart below.

NumberNominativeObjectivePossessive
Singulargirlgirlgirl's
ladyladylady's
Pluralgirlsgirlsgirls'
ladiesladiesladies'

The nominative and objective cases of a noun have the same form. Thus, there can be no confusion associated in their uses.

Now we can examine the roles of the three case forms.

  1. Nominative Case

    The nominative case is used for the subjectOpens in new window of a verb and predicate nounOpens in new window.

    For Example:
    • The lawyer argued with plausibility.
    • The girl is a student.
  2. Objective Case

    The objective case is used for the objectOpens in new window of a verb or prepositionOpens in new window.

    For Example:

    • The farmer built a fence.
    • He drove across the country.
  3. Possessive Case

    The possessive case shows ownership or possession. As indicated above in the chart, the possessive case of a noun is marked by the use of an apostrophe ( ).

    For Example:
    • This is the teacher’s manuscript.
    • The mob occupied the city's square.

How to Form the Possessive Case

The Possessive Case of a singular noun is frequently formed by adding an ’s to the end of the noun: as, principal’s, doctor’s, lawyer’s, mother’s, bride’s.

The Possessive Case of a plural noun is formed in the following ways:

  • By adding an apostrophe to the simple plural when the plural ends in s : as, dogs’ (simple plural, dogs), girls’ (simple plural, girls).
  • By adding ’s, as in the singular, when the simple plural does not end in s : as, men’s (simple plural, men), children’s (simple plural, children).

For singular nouns that end in s or an s–sound (like ce) we usually add only an apostrophe.

For example:

Moses’ story, Jesus’ crucifixion, for conscience’ sake.

The same applies when other s–sounds follow:

as, Odysseus’ adventure.

Use of the regular ’s in such instances is not incorrect.

Some Observations of Possessive Case

Observation #1

Sometimes the possession is of a modified type. For example, in the expressions:

“Einstein’s theories” and “Wordsworth’s poems.”

Einstein and Wordsworth are the possessors only in the sense that they are the theorists or creators.

Compare the two kinds of possession indicated in the following sentence:

“This is David’s copy of Wordsworth’s collected poems.”

Observation #2

Some instances of possession indicate a lack of ownership entirely:

  • a day’s work,
  • my year’s salary,
  • the law’s delay.

These phrases mean “the work of a day,” “my salary for a year,” “the delay of the law.”

Observation #3

A nounOpens in new window in the possessive case is usually equivalent to a phraseOpens in new window beginning with of.

For example, we may say:
  • Either “Hardy’s poems” or “the poems of Hardy”;
  • “the governor’s mansion” or “the mansion of the governor”;
  • “the President’s agenda” or “the agenda of the President.”

We would not, however, say

  • “the car of Johnny” for “Johnny’s car,” or “the law of Murphy” for “Murphy’s law.”

When making such distinctions, one must be guided by one's ear for what sounds correct.

Observation #4

As a general principle only the possessive case is not used with inanimate objects. A phrase with of is used instead.

For example:
  • “the cover of the book” (not “the book’s cover”);
  • “the branches of the tree” (not “the tree’s branches”).

There are exceptions to this rule:

  • time’s delay, ship’s mast, earth’s surface, tree’s fruit, etc.
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