Dative case: Wikis


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The dative case (abbreviated dat, or sometimes d when it is a core argument) is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given. For example, in "John gave Mary a book".

The name is derived from the Latin casus dativus, meaning "the case appropriate to giving"; this was in turn modelled on the Greek ἡ δοτικὴ πτῶσις, from its use with the verb διδόναι (didónai) — "to give".

The thing being given may be a tangible object, such as "a book" or "a pen", or it may be an intangible abstraction, such as "an answer" or "help". The dative generally marks the indirect object of a verb, although in some instances the dative is used for the direct object of a verb pertaining directly to an act of giving something. In Russian, for example, the verb 'to call' [by telephone] is always followed by a noun in the dative.

In some languages the dative case has assimilated the functions of other now-extinct cases. In Scottish Gaelic and Irish, the term dative case is misleadingly used in traditional grammars to refer to the prepositional case-marking of nouns following simple prepositions and the definite article. In Georgian, the dative case also marks the subject of the sentence in some verbs and some tenses. This is also called the dative construction.

The dative was common among early Indo-European languages and has survived to the present in the Balto-Slavic branch and the Germanic branch, among others. It also exists in similar forms in several non–Indo-European languages, such as the Finno-Ugric family of languages and Japanese.

Under the influence of English, which uses the preposition "to" for both indirect objects (give to) and directions of movement (go to), the term "dative" has sometimes been used to describe cases that in other languages would more appropriately be called lative.


The dative case in English

The Old English language, current until approximately some time after the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, had a dative case; however, the English case system gradually fell into disuse during the Middle English period, when the accusative and dative pronouns merged into a single objective pronoun used in both roles. This merging of accusative and dative functionality in Middle and Modern English has led most modern grammarians to discard the "accusative" and "dative" labels in English as obsolete, in favor of the term "objective".

While the dative case is no longer a part of modern English usage, it survives in a few set expressions. One good example is the word "methinks", with the meaning "it seems to me". It survives in this fixed form from the days of Old English (having undergone, however, phonetic changes with the rest of the language), in which it was constructed as "[it]" + "me" (the dative case of the personal pronoun) + "thinks" (i.e. "seems", < Old English thyncan -"to seem", a verb closely related to the verb thencan -"to think", but distinct from it in Old English; later it merged with "think" and lost this meaning).

The pronoun whom is also a remnant of the dative case in English, descending from the Old English dative pronoun "hwām" (as opposed to the nominative "who", which descends from Old English "hwā") — though "whom" also absorbed the functions of the Old English accusative pronoun "hwone". Likewise, "him" is a remnant of both the Old English dative "him" and accusative "hine", "her" serves for both Old English dative "hire" and accusative "hīe", etc.

In current English usage, the indirect object of an action is sometimes expressed with a prepositional phrase of "to" or "for", though an objective pronoun can also be placed directly after the main verb and used in a dative manner, provided that the verb has a direct object as well; for example, "He gave that to me" can also be phrased as "He gave me that", and "He built a snowman for me" can also be rendered as "He built [for] me a snowman". In both examples, the generic objective pronoun "me" functions as a dative pronoun in the same way that it does in languages which still retain distinct accusative and dative cases.

The dative case in German

The dative is generally used to mark the indirect object of a German sentence. Certain German prepositions require the dative: aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu and gegenüber (a sequence that may be remembered by singing them to the main tune of The Blue Danube as a mnemonic device). Other prepositions (an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor, and zwischen) may be used with dative (indicating current location), or accusative (indicating direction towards something). Das Buch steht auf dem Tisch (dative: the book is standing on the table), but Ich stelle das Buch auf den Tisch (accusative: I set the book on the table).

Note that the concept of an indirect object may be rendered by a prepositional phrase. In this case, the noun or pronoun's case is determined by the preposition, NOT by its function in the sentence. Consider this sentence:

  • Ich sandte das Buch zum Verleger. 'I sent the book to the editor.'

Here, the subject, Ich, is in the nominative case, the direct object, das Buch, is in the accusative case, and zum Verleger is in the dative case, since zu always requires the dative (zum is a contraction of zu + dem). However:

  • Ich habe das Buch an meinen Freund (accusative) weitergegeben. 'I forwarded the book to my friend.' (weitergeben = lit.: to give further).

In this sentence, Freund would seem to be the indirect object, but because it follows an (direction), the accusative is required, not the dative.

All of the articles change in the dative case.

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Definite article dem der dem den (plus an "n" at the end of most substantives)
Indefinite article (and other "ein-words") einem einer einem keinen (plus an "n" at the end of most substantives)

Some German verbs require the dative for their direct objects. Common examples include folgen, helfen and antworten. In each case, the direct object of the verb is rendered in dative. For example:

  • Meine Freunde helfen mir. (My friends help me.)

The dative case is also used with reflexive (sich) verbs when specifying what part of the self the verb is being done to:

  • Ich wasche mich. - accusative (I wash myself, literally "I wash me")
  • Ich wasche mir die Hände. - dative (I wash my hands, literally "I wash to me the hands")

Adjective endings also change in the dative case. There is also another factor that determines the endings of adjectives and that is whether the adjective is being used after a definite article (the), after an indefinite article (a/an) or without any article before the adjective (many green apples).

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Definite article -en -en -en -en
Indefinite Article -en -en -en -en
No article -em -er -em -en

The dative case in Latin

Except the main case (Dativus), there are several other kinds:

  • Dativus finalis with the meaning of purpose, e.g. auxilio vocare - "to call for help", venio auxilio - "I'm coming for help", accipio dono - "I receive this as a gift" or puellae ornamento est - "this serves for the girl's decoration";
  • Dativus commodi (incommodi), which means action for somebody, e.g. Graecis agros colere - "to till fields for Greeks"; Combination of Dativus commodi and finalis (double Dative): tibi laetitiae "to you for joy"
  • Dativus possessivus (possessive dative) which means possession, e.g. angelis alae sunt - literally "to (or for) the angels are wings", this is typically found with a copula and translated as "the angels have wings".
  • Dativus ethicus (ethic dative) indicates that the person in the dative is or should be especially concerned about the action, e.g. 'quid mihi Celsus agit?' ' What is Celsus doing' (I am especially interested in what it is)?
  • Dativus auctoris, meaning; 'in the eyes of', e.g. 'vir bonus mihi videtur' 'the man seems good to me'.
  • The Dative is also used to express agency with the gerundive, a future passive participle that, along with the verb to be, expresses obligation or necessity of the action being performed on the noun with which it agrees, e.g. 'haec nobis agenda sunt,' 'these things must be done by us'

The dative case in Greek

In addition to its main function as the Dativus, the dative case has different other functions in Classical Greek[1]:

  • Dativus finalis: The dativus finalis, or the 'dative of purpose', is when the dative is used to denote the purpose of a certain action. For example:
    • "τῷ βασιλεῖ μάχομαι"
      • "I fight for the king".
    • "θνῄσκω τῇ τιμῄ"
      • "I die for honour".
  • Dativus commodi (incommodi): The dativus commodi sive incommodi, or the 'dative of benefit (or harm)' is the dative that expresses the advantage or disadvantage of something for someone. For example:
    • For the benefit of: "πᾶς ἀνὴρ αὑτῷ πονεῖ" (Sophocles, Ajax 1366).
      • "Every man toils for himself".
    • For the harm or disadvantage of: "ἥδε ἡ ἡμέρα τοῖς Ἕλλησι μεγάλων κακῶν ἄρξει." (Thucydides 2.12.4).
      • "This day will be the beginning of great sorrows for the Greeks (i.e., for their disadvantage)".
  • Dativus possesivus: The dativus possesivus, or the 'dative of possession' is the dative used to denote the possessor of a certain object or objects. For example:
    • "ἄλλοις μὲν γὰρ χρήματα ἐστι πολλὰ καὶ ἵπποι, ἡμῖν δὲ ξύμμαχοι ἀγαθοί." (Thucycdides 1.86.3).
      • "For others have a lot of money and ships and horses, but we have good allies (i.e., To others there is a lot of money..)".
  • Dativus ethicus: The dativus ethicus, or the 'ethic or polite dative,' is when the dative is used to signify that the person or thing spoken of is regarded with interest by someone. This dative is mostly, if not exclusively, used in pronouns. As such, it is also called the "dative of pronouns." For example:
    • "τούτῳ πάνυ μοι προσέχετε τὸν νοῦν." (Demosthenes 18.178).
      • "Pay close attention to this, I beg you (i.e., please pay..)".
    • "ὦ μῆτερ, ὡς καλός μοι ὁ πάππος." (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 18.178).
      • "Oh, mother, how handsome grandpa is (I've just realized!)".
  • Dativus auctoris: The dativus auctoris, or the 'dative of agent,' is the dative used to denote the doer of an action. Note, however, that in Classical Greek, the agent is usually in the genitive after ὑπό (by, at the hands of). The agent is in the dative only with the perfect and pluperfect passive, and after the verbal adjective in -τέος. For example:
    • "πολλαὶ θεραπεῖαι τοῖς ἰατροῖς εὕρηνται." (Isocrates 8.39)
      • "Many cures have been discovered by doctors."
  • Dativus instrumenti: The dativus instrumenti, or the 'dative of instrument,' is when the dative is used to denote an instrument or mean of a certain action (or, more accurately, as the instrumental case). For example:
    • "με κτείνει δόλῳ." (Homer, Odyssey 9.407)
      • "He kills me with a bait (i.e., by means of a bait)."
  • Dativus modi: The dativus modi, or the 'dative of manner,' is the dative used to describe the manner or way by which something happened. For example:
    • "νόσῳ ὕστερον ἀποθανόντα." (Thucydides 8.84)
      • "having died of (from) a disease."
  • Dativus mensurae: The dativus mensurae, or the 'dative of measurement,' is the dative used to denote the measurement of difference. For example:
    • "τῇ κεφαλῇ μείζονα." (Plato, Phaedo 101a)
      • "taller by a head."
    • "μακρῷ ἄριστος." (Plato, Laws 729d)
      • "by far the best."

The dative case in Slavic languages

Unusual in other Indo-European branches but common among Slavic languages, the choice of ending depends on whether the word is a noun or an adjective. Other factors are gender and number. In some cases, the ending may not be obvious, even when those three factors are considered, ie. in Polish, syn ("son") and ojciec ("father") are both masculine singular nouns but syn → synowi and ojciec → ojcu.

In Russian, the dative case is used to indicate the indirect object of an action (that to which something is given, thrown, read, etc). In the instance where a person is the goal of motion, dative is used instead of accusative to indicate motion toward. This is usually achieved with the pronoun κ+destination in dative case; К врачу, meaning 'to the doctor'.

Dative is also the necessary case taken by certain prepositions when expressing certain ideas. For instance, when the preposition по is used to mean "along", its object is always in dative case as with, По бокам, 'along the sides'.

Other Slavic languages apply the dative case (and the other cases) more or less the same way as does Russian, some languages may use the dative in other ways. The following examples are from Polish:

  • after certain verbs (dziękować komuś "to thank someone", pomóc komuś "to help someone", wierzyć komuś "to believe someone")
  • in certain expressions (Czy podoba ci się piosenka? "Do you like the song?", Jest mi zimno "I'm cold", Jest nam smutno "We're feeling sad", Będzie wam trudniej... "It will be more difficult for you guys"), Śniło jej się, że... "She dreamt that")
  • dativus commodi to indicate action for somebody (Zbuduję temu człowiekowi dom "I will build a house for this person")
  • when something is taken away or something occurs to someone (Zdechł im pies "Their dog died", Zabrali mu komputer "They took away his computer", Zepsuł nam się samochód "Our car broke down", Coś mi się przypomniało "I just remembered something")

The dative case in Armenian

The dative case in Armenian (տրական) is signified with a -ի (-i) ending (some Western Armenian dialects will use -ին (-in) suffix for the dative.)

The most common use of the Dative in Armenian is to indicate the indirect object of an action.

  • շուն (šun, dog) → շունի (šuni, to the dog)
    • շունի ուտելիք տալիս էիմ (šuni utelik talis eim) = I gave the dog food / I gave food to the dog)

In addition to showing the indirect object of an action, it also shows movement toward a place or direction.

  • տուն (dun, house)→ տունին (dunin, to the house)
    • տունին մօտեցայ (dunin modetsa) = I approached the house

The dative case in Sanskrit

The term "dative" is grammatically similar to the sanskrit word "datta". "Datta" means "gift" or "the act of giving". The dative case is the fourth in the usual procedure in the declension of nouns (chaturthi-vibhakti).

The dative case in non-Indo-European languages

The dative case in Hungarian

As with many other languages, the dative case is used in Hungarian to show the indirect object of a verb. For example, Dánielnek adtam ezt a könyvet (I gave this book to Dániel).

It has two suffixes, -nak and -nek; the correct is selected by vowel harmony. The personal dative pronouns follow the -nek version: nekem, neked, etc.

This case is also used to express "for" in certain circumstances, such as "I bought a gift for Mother".

In possessive constructions the nak/nek endings are also used but this is NOT the dative form (rather, the attributive or possessive case)[2]

The dative case in Tsez

In the Northeast Caucasian languages, such as Tsez, the dative also takes the functions of the lative case in marking the direction of an action. By some linguists, they are still regarded as two separate cases in those languages, although the suffixes are the exact same for both cases. Other linguists list them separately only for the purpose of separating syntactic cases from locative cases. An example with the ditransitive verb "show" (literally: "make see") is given below:

Кидбā ужихъор кIетIу биквархо.
kidb-ā uži-qo-r kʼetʼu b-ikʷa-r-xo
"The girl shows the cat to the boy."

The dative/lative is also used to indicate possession, as in the example below, because there is no such verb as "to have".

Кидбехъор кIетIу зовси.
kidbe-qo-r kʼetʼu zow-si
"The girl had a cat."

As in the examples above, the dative/lative case usually occurs in combination with another suffix as poss-lative case; this should not be regarded as a separate case, though, as many of the locative cases in Tsez are constructed analytically; hence, they are actually a combination of two case suffixes. See Tsez language#Locative case suffixes for further details.

Verbs of perception or emotion (like "see", "know", "love", "want") also require the logical subject to stand in the dative/lative case, note that in this example the "pure" dative/lative without its POSS-suffix is used.

ГIалир ПатIи йетих.
ˁAli-r Patʼi y-eti-x
Ali-DAT/LAT Fatima:[II]:ABS II-love-PRES
"Ali loves Fatima."

See also

External links


  1. ^ Morwood, James. Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek. Oxford University Press, 2002. (ISBN 0-19-521851-5)
  2. ^ Ignatius Singer, 'Simplified Grammar of the Hungarian Language', 1882.

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