Dative case

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The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given. The name derives from the Latin dativus, meaning "appropriate to giving". The thing being given may be a real 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 certain languages, the dative case has assimilated the functions of other now-extinct cases. Dative also marks possession in Vulgar Latin (and, to a lesser extent, Classical Latin) and in Classical Greek, which has lost the locative and instrumental cases. The dative assumed their functions. In Scottish Gaelic, the dative case is used by 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 languagues, such as the Finno-Ugric family of languages and Japanese.

Languages that use or used the dative case include:

The dative case in English

The Old English language, current until approximately 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, phonetical changes with the rest of the language), in which it was constructed as "me" (the dative case of the personal pronoun) + "thinks" ("to seem", a verb closely related to the verb "to think", but distinct from it in Old English; later it merged with "to 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 me a snowman". In both examples, the generic objective pronoun "me" functions as a dative pronoun 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. Modern German usually additionally uses prepositions to mark the dative, most commonly aus, auer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, and zu (a sequence that may be remembered by singing them to the main tune of the Blue Danube as a mnemonic device). The use of any of these prepositions automatically throws its noun into the dative case, even if that slot would otherwise be in a different case, were the preposition not present.

For example, consider the sentence Ich gebe das Buch zum Kassierer, meaning "I give the book to the cashier." Here, the subject, Ich, is in the nominative case; the direct object, das Buch, is in the accusative case, and zum Kassierer is in the dative case. (Zum is a contraction of zu + dem.)

Roughly 25% of German verbs, generally those pertaining directly to an act of giving, require the dative for their direct objects. For example, in the sentence Hilf mir! ("Help me!"), the speaker is telling someone else to give assistance. Since this assistance is something which is given, the direct object is mir, in dative case, instead of mich, in accusative. Other common examples include Er antwortet ihm... ("He answers him..."), Ich gebe ihr... ("I give her..."), and Sag uns... ("Tell us..."). In each case, the direct object of the verb is rendered in dative.

See also

de:Dativ es:Caso dativo eo:dativo fr:Datif hr:Dativ it:Dativo nl:Datief pl:Celownik (przypadek) ro:Cazul dativ zh:与格


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