Six cases in English?

A few weeks ago, I received the following question from Nicola McLelland, on behalf of Martin Durrell.

"I certainly remember (and may have told you about) an English grammar which my father had at home when I was a boy. This listed six cases for English, i.e.

  • Nominative ‘the man’
  • Vocative ‘O man!’
  • Accusative ‘the man’
  • Genitive ‘of the man’
  • Dative ‘to the man’
  • Ablative ‘by the man’

I don’t know what happened to the book later, but I remembered it when I started doing linguistics and heard about the horrors of ‘traditional grammar’, which it seemed to be a classic example of. I can’t remember the author, but I recall mentioning it to David Denison and Sylvia Adamson in the not-too far distant past, and they confirmed that it was not unusual. It may go back to the notorious Bishop Lowth, but I can ask colleagues in English Language if you are interested."

Nicola ask: "Do you know any more about how common that still was in the 20th C? And/or can you name any examples? Or is it too recent for you? It’s interesting to me because it’s step ‘backwards’ from earlier grammars in English, of course…".

Reacties will be welcome. Nicola is particularly interested in all this in connection with any possible links with German. I know for a fact that it didn’t originate with Lowth, but at the same time it doesn’t look completely unusual to me. More information might be found in Michael’s English Grammatical Categories (1970).

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  1. ingrid tieken

    Carol Percy, in her article on Lowth’s grammar of 1997, confirms this: “nowhere in his grammar does Lowth use the terms ‘vocative’, ‘dative’, or ‘ablative’, terms which still graced other texts in mid-century”.

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