What is Dative Case?

By Maeve Maddox - 2 minute read

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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.

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13 Responses to “What is Dative Case?”

  • nutmeag

    I definitely agree that grammar is much rarer to find in an American English classroom these days. I learned how to map sentences in my college Latin classes . . .

  • Raymond

    How much is the software (WhiteSmoke) cost?

  • John Gordon

    Do any nouns or pronouns take a different form in the accusative vs the dative case? If not, why do we say that English makes use of four cases? It seems like only three: Nominative, Genitive, and Accusative/Dative.

  • richard

    DEar sir

    Isn’t there a subjunctive case, still used in english, although infrequently perhaps and when it is used people don’t know they have used it?

    I have never understood it ,so can someone help me.

  • Maeve

    You may be thinking of Subjunctive Mood, a term that is used in describing the function of verbs.

    See http://www.dailywritingtips.com/english-grammar-101-verb-mood/

  • Maeve

    I suppose it would be possible to speak of only three cases in English if the concept of case were based on the form of the pronoun and not its function. Nouns, however, retain the same form when used in either Nominative or Accusative.

    Here’s a thought: If English speakers continue in the trend of misusing the personal pronouns, English may eventually be left with only one case.

  • Charles

    The indirect object usually follows the direct object when preceded by a preposition. For example, I gave some money to Jim.

    On the subjunctive, one use is in contrary-to-fact contexts as in the song, “If I were a rich man.”

  • Maeve

    My understanding of the Dative Case is that the “to” or “for” is understood.

    Once you have “to Jim” you have a prepositional phrase.

  • Charles


    You’re right. Cases usually refer to the inflection of a noun or pronoun, and so in one sense, “to me” would be a prepositional phrase. Yet, that prepositional phrase accomplishes the dative function. I can imagine that there might be disagreement on that perspective, but see http://www.bartleby.com/68/22/1622.html

  • Maeve

    Thanks for the link.

    I suggest that everyone check it out. An analytic language like English cannot be defined by the rules of a synthetic language like Latin.

  • Aleks

    Aah, finally, I’m on familiar ground where the kasus (Latin, case/s) are concerned, and I’m glad this topic is mentioned here.

    A European myself, I learned “Oxford English” in school which, naturally, involved the use of cases. Imagine my surprise when during the mandatory English course in college in the U.S., I only received blank stares at the mention thereof (even from the intructor)! I was at a complete loss when I tried to explain the difference between “who” and “whom”, a topic most students just didn’t grasp.

    I would love to see the kasus find their way (back?) into American classrooms, as I think that many aspects of grammar could be explained more easily; however, I guess we’ll just have to stick with the times, as well as the changes they bring.

    Anyway, thanks for making me feel at home for a moment! :)))

  • El Amine

    How does the inderect object receive the Dative Case from the verb as in Elle me manque? and is Case assigned under government?

  • Jordan

    Couldn’t the direct object precede the indirect object just as easily as it could follow?
    In the example above, “I baked him a cake,” “him” is the indirect object and “cake” is the direct, so would that still be true if the sentence were phrased, “I baked a cake for him,” and would it still be in the dative case?

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