What is Dative Case?
A reader asks about the grammatical term “dative case.”
English makes use of four “cases” – Nominative, Genitive, Accusative, and Dative.
The term “case” applies to nouns and pronouns.
The case of a noun or pronoun is determined by what the word does in the sentence.
A noun or pronoun is in the “Nominative Case” when it is the subject of a sentence, or when it completes a being verb.
A noun or pronoun is in the “Genitive Case” when it shows possession.
A noun or pronoun is in the “Accusative Case” when it receives the action of a transitive verb, or when it serves as the object of a preposition. Another term for “Accusative” is ‘Objective.”
A noun or pronoun is in the Dative Case when it is used as an indirect object.
Ex. Oma gave me a puppy.
This sentence contains two objects, a direct object and an indirect object.
To find the direct object, find the verb and ask “what?”
Question: gave what?
Answer: gave puppy.
Puppy is the direct object. It receives the action of the verb.
To find the indirect object, find the verb and ask “to whom?” or “to what?” “for whom?” or “for what?”
Question gave to whom?
Answer: to me
Me is the indirect object.
Me is a pronoun in the dative case. It does not receive the action of the verb directly, but it does receive it indirectly.
Here are some more examples of sentences that contain nouns or pronouns in the dative case:
The king gave his son his crown.
Gwen sent her boyfriend a Valentine.
The mother made them Koolaid.
I read my children the Narnia books.
The Eagle Scout built the homeless man a shelter.
TIP: The indirect object always stands between the verb and its direct object. (I suppose it might be possible to find some exceptions in Milton.)
When a personal pronoun is used as an indirect object it will, of course, take the object form: I baked him a cake.
The teaching of formal grammar in the American English classroom has been in decline for many years now. An academic debate about “explicit” and “implicit” grammar instruction rages. As with most debates, each side has valid points to make.
A mind-numbing, isolated exercise approach is not desirable, but neither is throwing out all formal grammar instruction. Students need to be taught the terms–especially if they intend to study a foreign language.