In Ancient Greek, the nominative case is used for the subject, subject complement, or words used in apposition to the subject of a sentence.

  • John killed the cat. (subject)
  • Mimes are evil. (subjective complement)
  • Jane, my alternate personality, is a raving lunatic. (appositive)

Another node on Ancient Greek grammar, by everone's favorite Hellenic pedant. forward.
The word 'nominative' is from the Latin nomen 'name', because it is the form in which you name something in isolation: that is, it is the citation form or dictionary form. You say "the Latin for 'master' is dominus".

This is also the case used in certain functions in a sentence, as described above. The most basic one is the subject of a sentence: in 'John kisses Mary' or 'John sleeps' or 'John is hungry', John is nominative.

Now in English nouns have no case marking except for the genitive in 'John's book', so John has the same form in 'Mary kisses John' as in 'John kisses Mary'. If we're talking about morphology, the actual shapes of words, we can say they're both the same, nominative. But English pronouns do show a difference between subject and object forms: 'He kisses Mary' versus 'Mary kisses him'. The nominative pronouns include he/she/I/we/they, while the accusative ones are him/her/me/us/them. The pronouns it/you are like nouns in not showing a distinction. But we can say that the underlying grammar of English does have this distinction, but not all words show it. So, in this underlying syntactic sense, John is nominative in 'John kisses Mary' but accusative in 'Mary kisses John'.

It is very rare to find any discrepancy between the subject form and the citation form, but at least logically they are distinct. I'll now go over some language situations where the two kinds of use might be considered different.

In Polynesian languages the tendency is to cite words with a particle o, whose exact meaning is hard to describe: "subject" isn't quite right. So o ika 'fish', where we would actually find ika in a dictionary.

In Basque the subject (of an intransitive sentence) usually has an article -a attached (if it has no other more specific article). So 'woman' is emakume but 'the woman is old' is emakumea zaharra da.

Neither instance is important, because the extra element can be compared to the English article 'the'.

When applied further afield than Latin, Greek, and related European languages, the nominative is specifically the case of the subject of an intransitive sentence, that is one with no direct object. Languages where the subject of a transitive sentence is differently marked are called ergative. The transitive subject case is also called ergative; and the nominative is used for the direct object as well as the intransitive subject. In this situation some linguists prefer to use the term absolutive (or absolute) instead of nominative, which they restrict to languages that work on a nominative-accusative system. See typology for more explanation.

A few languages (Georgian is one) vary between nominative-accusative and ergative-absolutive depending on tense.

The nominative is sometimes called subjective, especially in grammars of the English language. I can't see any good reason for this.

in Latin, words in the Nominative case are those that function as a subject or a complement (predicate nominative, predicate adjective) in a sentence.

For Example:
English: "Mary1 is a Roman3 girl2."
Latin: "Maria1 est puella2 Romana3."

English: "John1 is happy3."
Latin: "Johannes1 est felix3."

1 - Acting as a Subject
2 - Acting as a Predicate Nominative
3 - Acting as a Predicate Adjective

In Latin, the Nominative case uses the endings:
      Sing  Plur
1Dec  -a    -ae
2Dec  -us   -i
3Dec  -*    -es
4Dec  -us   -us
5Dec  -es   -es

* - Third Declension singular Nouns can have almost any ending in the Nominative Case. You Just have to memorize them. Tough beans.

back to Latin...

I'd like to comment upon the status of the Nominative in English, particularly the predicate nominative. Usually, in English, the Nominative and Accusative (direct object) cases are identical, except in certain situations that are very imoportant, namely situations involving pronouns. Me, you, him, her, it, us, (y'all), and them are the accusative forms of I, you, he, she, it, we, (y'all), and they. As far as I know, these are the only accustaive forms that appear on the surface in English grammar (Accusative case in English is normally dictated by word order, not inflection, especially now that are verbs are for the most part uninflected), except for of course, the reflexive forms myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves, which are different monsters altogether.

Now, in most European languages, the object of a verb of being, such as 'is' (even when it's not stated, like in Russian ja amerikanets -- I (am) (an) American), must always be in the nominative, since this is in essence a statement of equality, not having anything to do with one thing acting upon another, which would yield an object. So, in the sentence 'John is a jerk,' both of the nouns are in the nominative case, as would be any adjective describing jerk. and in languages with case inflection, such as Czech, the subject and the 'object' of the being verb are both in the nominative : Ludmila je dobrá studentka 'Ludmila is a good student', not * Ludmila je dobrou studentku. This sounds very wrong.

Now in most languages, pronouns function much like the nouns they are filling in for, and in most languages, the predicate nominative presents no obstacle to this. In Spanish, you'd sound like an idiot if you said *es mí, soy mí Or let's look at a language closer to home, such as German where a dummy subject 'it' is used at the beginning of a sentence: Es ist er, natürlich 'It is he, of course.' Now, look at how silly the English translation will look to most of you. What's going on? To a presrciptivist, of course, this is perfectly correct in every way. But does anyone else rememebr sitting in elementary school saying 'what the hell?' to this? I do.

In Modern English, it seems that it sounds more natural, perhaps in some cases more correct, to use the accusative form of the pronoun after the being verb. When you're knocking on your friend's door and they yell 'who is it?' 'It's me' sounds much more natural than 'It is I.' 'Who's been eating my turnips?' 'It was she!' They always tell you that you'd have to answer the question 'she has been,' so then, logically, 'It was her!' is wrong. This is also the reason why it is technically wrong to answer 'Me!' to a question such as 'Who won?' But as the folly of the no double negative bullshit rule has proven, prescriptivist 'logic' and syntax can often butt heads. Most people, at least in the States, who use forms like 'It is I' and 'It was she' sound like a.) bourgeois snobs -- the socially mobile (or so they think) 'new-money' people who constantly prove that you can have a lot of money but you'll never be upper class no matter how much you want it (this is where Chevrolet and Hummer get their entire market for Avalanches and H2s). I can almost guarantee you that the 'correct' form appears more often in upper-middle class speech than in actual upper class speech (See William Labov's 'fourth floor' study in New York for this phenomenon in action).

Or, you could sound like b.) a non-native speaker of English who has learned from a textbook which declares these forms as correct.

In both cases, your speech will be highly marked, either as a snob or a foreigner. I don't mind foreigners, and am in fact intrigued by systematic mistakes of non-native speakers, but I can't stomach snobs, especially the ones who habve nothing to be snobby about. I remember being with my girlfriend and her family looking for the presentations of some architectural projects. when we found them, my girlfriend said 'Here they are,' to which her mother responsed 'Oh, these are they?' I wanted to laugh out loud at this and how what she thought would make her sound smart only made her look like a twit. She's from Joliet, Illinois, and I can bet anyone reading this that that form is NOT in her native grammar. Any speaker of any standard American English dialect would immediately find that construction as odd. But, in all fairness, any alternative is awkward: 'This is them, these are them,' all sound kind of funny, but none as bad as 'these are they.'

So the question to a theorhetician is 'are these accusative surface forms actually accusative?, and if not then why do they show up?' Maybe it's because speakers are putting objects behind all verbs, regardless of its grammatical function. This is definitely hardwired into the grammar of the speakers who use these forms. But does that actaully make them accusative? And what implications does this have for the nouns they are replacing? If we construct 'It is him' as S-V-O ( as opposed to S-V-S), then what doe sthis say about 'It is John.' Is the underlying cas eof this S-V-S or really S-V-O. I don't know the answers to these questions. All I know is that my girlfriend's mother cringes when I say 'It was me and him' and even 'him and her are getting married' (this is highly nonstandard, and has nothing to do with the predicate nominative, I admit). But what do I care? I'm a linguist, and my experience as one has made me proud of this. Samuel Johnson can shove it up his split infinitive.

Nom"i*na*tive (?), a. [L. nominativus belonging to a name, nominative.] Gram.

Giving a name; naming; designating; -- said of that case or form of a noun which stands as the subject of a finite verb.



The nominative case.


© Webster 1913.

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