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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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8.3 Uses of the dative case

The dative case is frequently used where someone is giving or transmitting something to someone. (The word ‘dative’ is derived from the Latin verb , meaning ‘I give’). Note that English can say both ‘I gave a book to him’ or ‘I gave him a book’. In both situations, Greek could use a dative case.

Further examples

  • δώσω ἱερὰ τῷ Διονύσῳ (dōsō hiera tōi Dionysōi) – I shall give sacrifices to Dionysus
  • χάριν ἐχόμεν τοῖς ᾿Αθηναίοις (charin echomen tois Athēnaiois) – we are grateful to the Athenians

The dative case has a range of uses – you will meet another in the next section. Nevertheless, when beginning Greek it is reasonable to think of it as, in part, the ‘to’ (or sometimes ‘for’) case. This is especially likely when the noun in the dative case is 1) a person and 2) on the receiving end of something beneficial, or, occasionally, disadvantageous.


The English preposition ‘to’ covers a wider range of meanings than the dative case in Greek. Note in particular the following cases where Greek would not use a dative case:

  • ‘I am going to the shops’. Here ‘to’ expresses the idea of motion towards a thing, not someone on the receiving end of anything. In this situation, Greek would use a preposition.
  • ‘I wish to depart this house’. In this instance ‘to’ accompanies the verb ‘depart’. In grammatical terms, they form an ‘infinitive’, ‘to depart’.


Activity 39: the dative case


a. The Athenians provided supplies for Themistocles.


b. The Athenians sailed to Sicily.


c. Odysseus gave a gift to his wife.


d. Odysseus gave his wife a gift.


e. I want to live well.

The correct answers are a, c and d.






Correct. c. and d. mean the same.