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NOUNS > Abstract Nouns > Case Nouns > Collective Nouns > Common Nouns > Gender Nouns > Material Nouns > Number Nouns > Personification Nouns > Proper Nouns > Special Nouns > Special Uses > Word Groups



55. Case is an inflection or use of a noun (or pronoun) to show its relation to other words in the sentence.

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 reduced.

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 possessive.

I. Uses of the Nominative.

58. The nominative case is used as follows:—

(1) As the subject of a verb: "Water seeks its level."

(2) As a predicate noun, completing a verb, and referring to or explaining the subject: "A bent twig makes a crooked tree."

(3) In apposition with some other nominative word, adding to the meaning of that word: "The reaper Death with his sickle keen."

(4) In direct address: "Lord Angus, thou hast lied!"

(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 tree!"

(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 their deaths."

(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 object.

(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."

The preposition sometimes takes the possessive case of a noun, as will be seen in Sec. 68.

(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 word:—

(1) Appositional possessive, as in these expressions,—

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 sentences,—

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; as,—

The unwearied sun, from day to day,
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 possesses).

How the possessive is formed.

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 in -s.

Case Inflection.

Declension or inflection of nouns.

63. The full declension of nouns is as follows:—

1. Nom. and Obj. lady ladies
Poss. lady's ladies'
2. Nom. and Obj. child children
Poss. child's children's
A suggestion.

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 apostrophe.

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 intended.

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 the matter."

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 usage:—

Do not the Miss Prys, my neighbors, know the amount of my income, the items of my son's, Captain Scrapegrace's, tailor's bill—Thackeray.

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 son.—Carlyle.

They invited me in the emperor their master's name.—Swift.

I had naturally possessed myself of Richardson the painter's thick octavo volumes of notes on the "Paradise Lost."—DE QUINCEY.

They will go to Sunday schools to teach classes of little children the age of Methuselah or the dimensions of Og the king of Bashan's bedstead.—Holmes.

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 limited.

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 don's.—De Quincey.

The double possessive.

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 several reasons:—

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 possessives:—

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. E. Hale.

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