Getting started on classical Latin
Getting started on classical Latin

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5.1.4 Summary of cases

Table 8 below summarises the uses of the nominative, accusative and the other four cases in Latin. There is no need to commit this to memory now: this is simply here to provide an overview of how Latin nouns work.

Note how the ending of a Latin noun like servus, ‘slave’, changes in the various cases (serv us, serv um, serv i, etc.). Importantly, whereas English speakers rely on word order to tell them what grammatical role a word is playing in the sentence, readers of Latin principally rely on word shape.

Table 8 Summary of the cases in Latin

caseuseEnglish translation ('slave')
nominative (servus)

used for the subject of a sentence or clause

used for the complement of the verb ‘to be’ (i.e. after the verb ‘to be’)

a slave …, the slave …
vocative (serve)used when addressing someoneslave!, … O slave,
accusative (servum)used for the object of a verb used after certain prepositions… a slave, … the slave (meaning of preposition) + the slave/a slave
genitive (servi)used to indicate possession: of, ______’sof the slave, of a slave; the slave’s, a slave’s
dative (servo)used with verbs of giving, saying, showing or telling: to, forto the slave, to a slave; for the slave, for a slave
ablative (servo)when used by itself (usually with things rather than people): by, with, from used after certain prepositionsby, with, from (whichever seems to fit) + the thing (meaning of preposition) + the slave/a slave

Note that Latin has no word for ‘a’ or ‘the’. This means that you can choose to translate the different forms of servus as ‘slave’, ‘a slave’ or ‘the slave’, whichever seems to make best sense in context.

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