An Introduction to Case Endings
In Medieval Latin, there are 6 noun cases – but for the purposes of amateur learning, there are 5 main ones. These are as follows:
NOMINATIVE – The subject of a sentence
ACCUSATIVE – The object of a sentence
GENITIVE – A possessive noun / ‘Of’
DATIVE – ‘To’ or ‘For’
ABLATIVE – ‘By’, ‘With’ or ‘From’
The 6th one that we are missing out is commonly found in the Bible and is referred to as the Vocative. This case refers to a declaration or address of someone such as saying “O Lord…” It is commonly missed out as it is rarely found in wills and charters. Nevertheless, the easiest way to understand these cases is to analyse them using English. We have already looked at subject and object nouns in sentences and so let us move on to the three other cases.
Nominative and Accusative
The subject (Nominative) refers to the word that the sentence is about, or in other words, ‘Who’ is doing the action in the sentence.
If we take the sentence, "The girl sees a dog" we see that as it is the girl who is seeing a dog (the one 'doing' the action), the ‘the girl’ is the subject.
The object of the sentence refers to the word or thing receiving the action from the subject. In the case above, as the girl is seeing a dog, the dog is the object of the sentence. This is important to understand as in Latin, the ending of a word tells you whether it is the subject, or object.
The Genitive case is used for prepositions:
“I am using Anne’s Pencil”
English has adopted the use of the apostrophe for prepositions as seen in the example, but for the purposes of Medieval Latin, we would translate “Anne’s Pencil” as “the pencil of Anne”. The use of ‘of’ in this example is the Genitive case. And the Genitive noun is “of Anne”.
The Dative case in Latin tells us the indirect object of a verb. In other words, whether the object receiver is the recipient or beneficiary of an action. A recipient is expressed by the word “for”, and a beneficiary is expressed by the word “to”. A sentence example could be:
“Anne buys a pencil for Roger”
“Anne gives a pencil to Roger”
When translating from Latin to English you will have to decide whether the sentence needs either ‘to’ or ‘for’ if the noun is dative.
The final case is Ablative. Quite simply this case is used to express ‘By’, ‘With’ or ‘From’. For example:
“I bought this land from the Lord”
“Anne bought fruit with Peter”
“Roger lives by the church”
It is rare, however, to have a sentence with just one case. Each noun in a sentence is one of these five cases and it is up to you to know which is which to successfully translate it.
Take for instance this sentence:
Robertus filius Willelmi dat terram suam domino.
This translates to: “Robert, the son of William, gives his land to the Lord.”
This sentence contains a nominative, an accusative, a genitive, and a dative noun. But what noun correlates to which case?
Nominative – Robert
Accusative – Land
Genitive – Of William
Dative – To the Lord