55. Case is an inflection
or use of a noun (or pronoun) to show its relation to other words in the
In the sentence, "He sleeps in a felon's cell," the word
felon's modifies cell, and expresses a relation akin to
possession; cell has another relation, helping to express the idea of
place with the word in.
56. In the general
wearing-away of inflections, the number of case forms has been greatly
Only two case forms.
There are now only two case forms of English
nouns,—one for the nominative and objective, one for the
possessive: consequently the matter of inflection is a very easy thing
to handle in learning about cases.
Reasons for speaking of three
cases of nouns.
But there are reasons why grammars treat of three
cases of nouns when there are only two forms:—
(1) Because the relations of all words, whether inflected
or not, must be understood for purposes of analysis.
(2) Because pronouns still have three case forms as well
as three case relations.
57. Nouns, then, may be said to have three
cases,—the nominative, the objective, and the
I. Uses of the Nominative.
58. The nominative case is
used as follows:—
(1) As the subject of a verb: "Water seeks
(2) As a predicate noun, completing a verb, and
referring to or explaining the subject: "A bent twig makes a crooked
(3) In apposition with some other nominative word,
adding to the meaning of that word: "The reaper Death with his sickle
(4) In direct address: "Lord Angus, thou
(5) With a participle in an absolute or independent
phrase (there is some discussion whether this is a true nominative): "The
work done, they returned to their homes."
(6) With an infinitive in exclamations:
"David to die!"
II. Uses of the Objective.
59. The objective case is
used as follows:—
(1) As the direct object of a verb, naming the
person or thing directly receiving the action of the verb: "Woodman, spare that
(2) As the indirect object of a verb, naming the
person or thing indirectly affected by the action of the verb: "Give the
devil his due."
(3) Adverbially, defining the action of a verb by
denoting time, measure, distance, etc. (in the older
stages of the language, this took the regular accusative inflection): "Full
fathom five thy father lies;" "Cowards die many times before
(4) As the second object, completing the verb, and
thus becoming part of the predicate in acting upon an object: "Time makes the
worst enemies friends;" "Thou makest the storm a calm." In these
sentences the real predicates are makes friends, taking the object
enemies, and being equivalent to one verb, reconciles; and
makest a calm, taking the object storm, and meaning calmest. This
is also called the predicate objective or the factitive
(5) As the object of a preposition, the word toward
which the preposition points, and which it joins to another word: "He must have
a long spoon that would eat with the devil."
sometimes takes the possessive case of a noun, as will be seen in Sec.
(6) In apposition with another objective: "The
opinions of this junto were completely controlled by Nicholas Vedder, a
patriarch of the village, and landlord of the inn."
III. Uses of the Possessive.
60. The possessive case
always modifies another word, expressed or understood. There are three forms of
possessive showing how a word is related in sense to the modified
(1) Appositional possessive, as in these
The blind old man of Scio's rocky isle.—Byron.
Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay.—Shelley.
In these sentences the
phrases are equivalent to of the rocky isle [of] Scio, and in the bay
[of] Baiæ, the possessive being really equivalent here to an
appositional objective. It is a poetic expression, the equivalent phrase being
used in prose.
(2) Objective possessive, as shown in the
Ann Turner had taught her the secret before this last
good lady had been hanged for Sir Thomas Overbury's murder.—Hawthorne.
He passes to-day in building an air castle for
to-morrow, or in writing yesterday's elegy.—Thackeray
In these the possessives are equivalent to an objective
after a verbal expression: as, for murdering Sir Thomas Overbury; an
elegy to commemorate yesterday. For this reason the use of the possessive
here is called objective.
(3) Subjective possessive, the most common of all;
The unwearied sun, from day to
Does his Creator's power display.
If this were expanded into the power which his Creator
possesses, the word Creator would be the subject of the verb: hence
it is called a subjective possessive.
61. This last-named
possessive expresses a variety of relations. Possession in some sense is
the most common. The kind of relation may usually be found by expanding the
possessive into an equivalent phrase: for example, "Winter's rude
tempests are gathering now" (i.e., tempests that winter is likely to have);
"His beard was of several days'
growth" (i.e., growth which several days had developed); "The forest's
leaping panther shall yield his spotted hide" (i.e., the panther which the
forest hides); "Whoso sheddeth man's blood" (blood that man
How the possessive is
62. As said before (Sec.
56), there are only two case forms. One is the simple form of a word,
expressing the relations of nominative and objective; the other is formed by
adding 's to the simple form, making the possessive singular. To form
the possessive plural, only the apostrophe is added if the plural nominative
ends in -s; the 's is added if the plural nominative does not end
Declension or inflection of
63. The full declension of
nouns is as follows:—
|1. Nom. and Obj.
|2. Nom. and Obj.
NOTE.—The difficulty that some students have in
writing the possessive plural would be lessened if they would remember there
are two steps to be taken:—
(1) Form the nominative plural according to Secs 39-53
(2) Follow the rule given in Sec. 62.
Special Remarks on the Possessive Case.
Origin of the possessive with its
64. In Old English a large
number of words had in the genitive case singular the ending -es; in
Middle English still more words took this ending: for example, in Chaucer,
"From every schires ende," "Full
worthi was he in his lordes werre [war]," "at his beddes syde,"
"mannes herte [heart]," etc.
A false theory.
By the end of the seventeenth century the present way of
indicating the possessive had become general. The use of the apostrophe,
however, was not then regarded as standing for the omitted vowel of the
genitive (as lord's for lordes): by a false theory the ending was
thought to be a contraction of his, as schoolboys sometimes write,
"George Jones his book."
Use of the apostrophe.
Though this opinion was untrue, the apostrophe has proved
a great convenience, since otherwise words with a plural in -s would
have three forms alike. To the eye all the forms are now distinct, but to the
ear all may be alike, and the connection must tell us what form is
The use of the apostrophe in the plural also began in the
seventeenth century, from thinking that s was not a possessive sign, and
from a desire to have distinct forms.
Sometimes s is left out in
the possessive singular.
65. Occasionally the
s is dropped in the possessive singular if the word ends in a hissing
sound and another hissing sound follows, but the apostrophe remains to mark the
possessive; as, for goodness' sake, Cervantes' satirical work.
In other cases the s is seldom omitted. Notice
these three examples from Thackeray's writings: "Harry ran upstairs to his
mistress's apartment;" "A postscript is added, as by the
countess's command;" "I saw what the governess's views were of
Possessive with compound expressions.
66. In compound
expressions, containing words in apposition, a word with a phrase, etc., the
possessive sign is usually last, though instances are found with both
appositional words marked.
Compare the following examples of literary
Do not the Miss Prys, my neighbors, know the amount of
my income, the items of my son's, Captain Scrapegrace's, tailor's
The world's pomp and power sits there on this hand: on
that, stands up for God's truth one man, the poor miner Hans Luther's
They invited me in the emperor their master's
I had naturally possessed myself of Richardson the
painter's thick octavo volumes of notes on the "Paradise Lost."—DE
They will go to Sunday schools to teach classes of
little children the age of Methuselah or the dimensions of Og the king of
More common still is the practice of turning the
possessive into an equivalent phrase; as, in the name of the emperor their
master, instead of the emperor their master's name.
Possessive and no noun
67. The possessive is
sometimes used without belonging to any noun in the sentence; some such word as
house, store, church, dwelling, etc., being
understood with it: for example,—
Here at the fruiterer's the Madonna has a
tabernacle of fresh laurel leaves.—Ruskin.
It is very common for people to say that they are
disappointed in the first sight of St. Peter's.—Lowell.
I remember him in his cradle at St. James's.—Thackeray.
Kate saw that; and she walked off from the
68. A peculiar form, a
double possessive, has grown up and become a fixed idiom in modern English.
In most cases, a possessive relation was expressed in Old
English by the inflection -es, corresponding to 's. The same
relation was expressed in French by a phrase corresponding to of and its
object. Both of these are now used side by side; sometimes they are used
together, as one modifier, making a double possessive. For this there are
Its advantages: Euphony.
(1) When a word is modified by a, the,
this, that, every, no, any, each,
etc., and at the same time by a possessive noun, it is distasteful to place the
possessive before the modified noun, and it would also alter the meaning: we
place it after the modified noun with of.
(2) It is more emphatic than the simple possessive,
especially when used with this or that, for it brings out the
modified word in strong relief.
(3) It prevents ambiguity. For example, in such a sentence
as, "This introduction of Atterbury's has all these advantages" (Dr.
Blair), the statement clearly means only one thing,—the introduction
which Atterbury made. If, however, we use the phrase of Atterbury, the
sentence might be understood as just explained, or it might mean this
act of introducing Atterbury. (See also Sec. 87.)
The following are some instances of double
This Hall of Tinville's is dark, ill-lighted
except where she stands.—Carlyle.
Those lectures of
Lowell's had a great influence with me, and I used to like whatever they
bade me like.—Howells
Niebuhr remarks that no pointed sentences of
Cæsar's can have come down to us.—Froude.
Besides these famous books of Scott's and
Johnson's, there is a copious "Life" by Thomas Sheridan.—Thackeray
Always afterwards on occasions of ceremony, he wore that
quaint old French sword of the Commodore's.—E.