The English language is challenging enough, I admit, but try studying a foreign language if you really want to exercise your gray matter. In German, for instance, there are six different ways to say the word “the.” First, one has to consider the noun’s gender (masculine, feminine or neuter). Then, one must determine case, and we have four possibilities there: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. Don’t worry – you don’t have to memorize these!
“But surely there is no such thing as ‘case’ in the English language,” I hear you say. Don’t feel bad. I didn’t know there was such a thing as case in English either, until I began to study German a few years ago. Well, I didn’t know what it was called, but it was always there, nonetheless.
Case refers the function a noun or pronoun takes in a sentence. These are the cases in the English language:
*Nominative: the subject of a sentence, the person or thing that is performing the action of the verb. The nominative pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, they.
*Accusative: the direct object, that which receives the action. Pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, them.
*Dative: the indirect object, that which is indirectly affected by the action of the verb. A preposition must be included or implied. Examples include to him, with her, for them, etc.
*Genitive: This is the possessive case, exemplified by the pronouns my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, etc.
Okay, I know you’re stuck on that “implied preposition” thing in the dative case. I’ll explain in the following example:
I gave John the book. Clearly, “I” is the subject (nominative), the one performing the action. But what is the direct object and what is the indirect object? The book is the direct object (accusative) because the book is the thing that is being given. John cannot be the direct object because he is not the thing being given. But if John is the indirect object (dative) where’s the preposition? The implied preposition is “to” because what you are really saying is, “I gave the book to John.” Aha, indirect object!
But the real question you should be asking is, Why should I care about any of this? I’ll give you a practical example.
Consider the following: “A few members of my critique group sat down with Janice, an agent with Beastly Books, to discuss our manuscripts. The only writers Janice invited to submit were Gertrude and I.” This is incorrect. It should be, “Gertrude and me.” But wait – isn’t “I” is the subject because I am one of those submitting – I am performing the action of the verb “submit?” Therefore “Gertrude and I” take the nominative case, right?
Read the sentence again. Janice is the subject because she is performing the action of the main verb in the sentence: “invited.” If you simplify the sentence it will become clear. “Janice invited us to submit.” You wouldn’t say, “Janice invited we to submit.”
In complex sentences, with multiple clauses and parenthetical elements, it is sometimes difficult to identify the role each word takes. The more words that come between the subject and object – in this case “Janice” the subject and “Gertrude and me” the object – the more mindful we must be. Knowing the names of the cases (nominative, accusative, etc.) is not important. Understanding the principles behind them is. From a practical standpoint, for example, you wouldn’t want your query letters to be filled with errors. Proper grammar is essential if we are to be taken seriously as writers. ♥
Lisbeth Eng works as a Compliance Officer in the financial industry by day and writes historical romance by night. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English, and speaks a smattering of German, Italian and French. Please visit her at www.lisbetheng.com.