What is case?

rogersgeorge on November 22nd, 2011

Grammatical case is a subject worth several posts. Perhaps the subject is best approached with a comic first.

The Alt text on the original is "The syntax is strong with this one"

I met the artist for this comic, John Wigger, recently on line, in a hang out on Google+. I had been thinking about doing a series on case, and this strip makes a good place to start. Here’s a link to the comic site, Zombie roomie.

Case is a way of telling you how a word is used in a sentence, usually by changing the letters at the end of the word. Every Indo-European language (far as I know) uses case, but many languages don’t. For example, Hebrew (Semitic language family) doesn’t have case.

My sixth-grade teacher taught us that English had three cases—Subjective, Objective, and Possessive. The guy in the comic is using nominative instead of subjective. (Frankly, I like this better. Nominative is the term used in other languages.) Since I’m giving you vocabulary here, I’ll tell you a few more: Objective is called accusative in other languages, and possessive is called genitive. Other cases exist, but not in English.

In future posts I’ll tell you how to get case correct, and warn you against common ways to get it wrong.

One last item. Why did your parents and teachers always correct you when you said “me and Tom” with “Tom and I”? The only reason to put yourself last is humility. It has nothing to do with grammar.

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