Dative case

The dative case (abbreviated dat, or sometimes d when it is a core argument) is a grammatical case used in some languages to indicate, among other uses, the noun to which something is given, as in Maria Jacobo potum dedit, Latin for "Maria gave Jacob a drink".

In such examples, the dative 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. This may be a tangible object (e.g. "a book" or "a tapestry"), or an intangible abstraction (e.g. "an answer" or "help").

Sometimes the dative has functions unrelated to giving. In Scottish Gaelic and Irish, the term dative case is 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 with some verbs and some tenses. This is 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 Uralic family of languages. In some languages, the dative case has assimilated the functions of other, now extinct cases. In Ancient Greek, the dative has the functions of the Proto-Indo-European locative and instrumental as well as those of the original dative.

Under the influence of English, which uses the preposition "to" for (among other uses) 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.


"Dative" comes from Latin cāsus datīvus ("case for giving"), a translation of Greek δοτικὴ πτῶσις, dotikē ptôsis ("inflection for giving"),[1] from its use with the verb didónai "to give".[2] Dionysius Thrax in his Art of Grammar also refers to it as epistaltikḗ "for sending (a letter)",[3] from the verb epistéllō "send to", a word from the same root as epistle.


The Old English language, which continued in use until after the Norman Conquest of 1066, had a dative case; however, the English case system gradually fell into disuse during the Middle English period, when the accusative and dative of pronouns merged into a single oblique case that was also used with all prepositions. This conflation of case in Middle and Modern English has led most modern grammarians to discard the "accusative" and "dative" labels as obsolete in reference to English, often using the term "objective" for oblique.[4][5]

Set expressions

The dative case is rare in modern English usage, but it can be argued that it survives in a few set expressions. One example is the word "methinks", with the meaning "it seems to me". It survives in this fixed form from 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 þyncan, "to seem", a verb closely related to the verb þencan, "to think", but distinct from it in Old English; later it merged with "think" and lost this meaning).

Relic pronouns

The modern objective case pronoun whom is derived from the dative case in Old English, specifically the Old English dative pronoun "hwām" (as opposed to the modern subjective "who", which descends from Old English "hwā") — though "whom" also absorbed the functions of the Old English accusative pronoun "hwone". It is also cognate to the word "wem" (the dative form of "wer") in German. The OED defines all classical uses of the word "whom" in situations where the indirect object is not known – in effect, indicating the anonymity of the indirect object.

Likewise, some of the object forms of personal pronouns are remnants of Old English datives. For example, "him" goes back to the Old English dative him (accusative was hine), and "her" goes back to the dative hire (accusative was hīe). These pronouns are not datives in modern English; they are also used for functions previously indicated by the accusative.

Modern English

A grammatical "object" is an object of something, either an object of a preposition or an object of a verb. Objects of verbs can be either direct or indirect, while objects of prepositions are neither direct nor indirect. The indirect object of the verb is expressed between the verb and the direct object of the verb: "he gave me a book" or "he wrote me a poem."

An indirect object can often be re-worded with a prepositional phrase using "to" or "for", but it is then no longer an indirect object. For example, "He gave a book to me" and "He wrote a poem for me" have the same meaning the examples above, but are now adverbial prepositional phrases. Of course it is not unusual that two different grammatical structures can describe the same situation; however referring to these prepositional objects mistakenly as indirect objects is a common error.


Due to syntactic flexibility in Spanish, the indirect object of the verb is marked with the preposition "a", although is not considered the object of the preposition, a potentially confusing optical illusion. All of these sentences are correct iterations of "John told Mary the truth":

Thе flexible word order and the object-marker "a" can easily lead English-speakers to think this reflects the same structure as the prepositional object in English "Juan told the truth to María", but it does not.

Shifting the subject somewhere behind the verb demonstrates why the indirect object is marked in Spanish, distinguishing it from the subject:

In Spanish, indirect-object pronouns (me, nos, te, os, le, les, and se) immediately precede the verb:

Indirect-object pronouns can also be attached to the infinitive and to the gerund:

If the indirect object appears somewhere before the verb, it is usual, bordering on obligatory, to also include the indirect-object pronoun:

It is very common, although by no means obligatory, to use the indirect-object pronoun redundantly when the indirect object appears somewhere after the verb:

Spanish uses the indirect object to express many ideas that have to be expressed in English using other structures:

Indirect-objects are often associated to express actions of giving, but in Spanish they are also used in actions of taking:

Each indirect-object pronoun in Spanish also has an optional emphatic/clarifying 'tag', for example:

While the primary indirect-object pronoun (such as le) completes the verb, its 'tag' (a ella) cannot:

However, the primary indirect-object pronoun cannot be used without the verb, as in this question/answer exchange:

In this case, the indirect-object 'tag' is used:

Spanish indirect objects are also used with a small group of very common verbs, often referred to as "psych verbs". Because these ideas are expressed with direct objects in English, they often cause confusion for English-speakers (especially when presented to beginners, as is commonly done!):

In English, most indirect objects can be re-worded as prepositional objects (to... or for...), however this is rare in Spanish, but not impossible:

indirect object:

re-worded as prepositional object:


In general, the dative is used to mark the indirect object of a German sentence. For example:

In English, the first sentence may be rendered: "I sent the man the book." The indirect object here is marked by standing in front of the direct object. The normal word order in German is also to put the dative in front of the accusative (as in the example above). However, since the German dative is marked in form, it can also be put after the accusative: Ich schickte das Buch dem Mann(e). The (e) after Mann and Kind signifies a now largely archaic -e ending for certain nouns in the dative (known in German as the Dativ-e). It survives today almost exclusively in set phrases such as zu Hause, im Zuge, and am Tage, as well as in occasional usage in formal prose, poetry, and songs.

Some masculine nouns (and one neuter noun, Herz), referred to as weak nouns or n-nouns, take an -n or -en in the dative singular and plural. Many are masculine nouns ending in -e in the nominative (such as Name, Beamte, and Junge), although not all such nouns follow this rule. Many also, whether or not they fall into the former category, refer to people, animals, professions, or titles; exceptions to this include the aforementioned Herz and Name, as well as Buchstabe, Friede, Obelisk, Planet, and others.

Certain German prepositions require the dative: aus, außer, bei, entgegen, mit, nach, seit, von, zu, and gegenüber. Other prepositions (an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor, and zwischen) may be used with dative (indicating current location), or accusative (indicating direction toward something). Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch(e) (dative: the book is lying on the table), but Ich lege das Buch auf den Tisch (accusative: I put the book onto the table).

In addition the four prepositions wegen ("because of"), trotz ("in spite of"), [an]statt ("in place of") and während ("during"), which require the genitive in modern formal language, are most commonly used with the dative in colloquial German. For example, "because of the weather" is expressed as wegen dem Wetter instead of the formally correct wegen des Wetters. Other prepositions requiring the genitive in formal language, are combined with von ("of") in colloquial style, e.g. außerhalb vom Garten instead of außerhalb des Gartens ("outside the garden").

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

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:

In this sentence, Freund is 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
Indefinite article einem einer einem Ø
Negative articles keinem keiner keinem keinen

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

These verbs cannot be used in normal passive constructions, because German allows these only for verbs with accusative objects. It is therefore ungrammatical to say: *Ich werde geholfen. "I am helped." Instead a special construction called "impersonal passive" must be used: Mir wird geholfen, literally: "To me is helped." A colloquial (non-standard) and rarely used way to form the passive voice for dative verbs is the following: Ich kriege geholfen, or: Ich bekomme geholfen, literally: "I get helped". The use of the verb "to get" here reminds us that the dative case has something to do with giving and receiving. In German, help is not something you perform on somebody, but rather something you offer them.

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

Cf. the respective accord in French: "Les enfants se sont lavés" (the children have washed themselves) vs. "Les enfants se sont lavé" [uninflected] "les mains" (... their hands).

German can use two datives to make sentences like: Sei mir meinem Sohn(e) gnädig! "For my sake, have mercy on my son!" Literally: "Be for me to my son merciful." The first dative mir ("for me") expresses the speaker's commiseration (much like the dativus ethicus in Latin, see below). The second dative meinem Sohn(e) ("to my son") names the actual object of the plea. Mercy is to be given to the son for or on behalf of his mother/father.

Adjective endings also change in the dative case. There are three inflection possibilities depending on what precedes the adjective. They most commonly use weak inflection when preceded by a definite article (the), mixed inflection after an indefinite article (a/an), and strong inflection when a quantity is indicated (many green apples).

Adj. in dative case Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Weak inflection -en -en -en -en
Mixed inflection -en -en -en -en
Strong inflection -em -er -em -en


There are several uses for the dative case (Dativus):



In addition to its main function as the dativus, the dative case has other functions in Classical Greek:[7] (The chart below uses the Latin names for the types of dative; the Greek name for the dative is δωτική πτώση, like its Latin equivalent, derived from the verb "to give"; in Ancient Greek, δίδωμι.)

The articles in the Greek dative are

Masculine Feminine Neutral Plural Masculine Plural Feminine Plural Neutral
Definite article ΤΩΙ (τῳ) ΤΗΙ (τῃ) ΤΩΙ (τῳ) ΤΟΙΣ (τοις) ΤΑΙΣ (ταις) ΤΟΙΣ (τοις)
Indefinite article ΩΙ (ῳ) ΗΙ (ῃ) ΩΙ (ῳ) ΟΙΣ (οις) ΑΙΣ (αις) ΟΙΣ (οις)

Nouns as well as adjectives receive suffixes. These vary according to the declension.


The dative case, strictly speaking, no longer exists in Modern Greek, except in fossilized expressions like δόξα τω Θεώ (from the ecclesiastical τῷ Θεῷ δόξα, "Glory to God") or εν τάξει (ἑν τάξει, lit. "in order", i.e. "all right" or "OK"). Otherwise, most of the functions of the dative have been subsumed in the accusative.

Slavic languages

In Russian, the dative case is used for indicating 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 preposition 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 in По бокам, meaning "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:

Some other kinds of dative use as found in the Serbo-Croatian language are: Dativus finalis (Titaniku u pomoć "to Titanic's rescue"), Dativus commodi/incommodi (Operi svojoj majci suđe "Wash the dishes for your mother"), Dativus possessivus (Ovcama je dlaka gusta "Sheep's hair is thick"), Dativus ethicus (Šta mi radi Boni? "What is Boni doing? (I am especially interested in what it is)") and Dativus auctoris (Izgleda mi okej "It seems okay to me").

Unusual in other Indo-European branches but common among Slavic languages, endings of nouns and adjectives are different based on grammatical function. Other factors are gender and number. In some cases, the ending may not be obvious, even when those three factors (function, gender, number) are considered. For example, in Polish, 'syn' ("son") and 'ojciec' ("father") are both masculine singular nouns, yet appear as syn → synowi and ojciec → ojcu in the dative.

Baltic languages

Both Lithuanian and Latvian have a distinct dative case in the system of nominal declensions.

Lithuanian nouns preserve Indo-European inflections in the dative case fairly well: (o-stems) vaikas -> sg. vaikui, pl. vaikams; (ā-stems) ranka -> sg. rankai, pl. rankoms; (i-stems) viltis -> sg. vilčiai, pl. viltims; (u-stems) sūnus -> sg. sūnui, pl. sūnums; (consonant stems) vanduo -> sg. vandeniui, pl. vandenims.

Adjectives in the dative case receive pronominal endings (this might be the result of a more recent development): tas geras vaikas -> sg. tam geram vaikui, pl. tiems geriems vaikams.

The dative case in Latvian underwent further simplifications - the original masculine endings of both nouns and adjectives have been replaced with pronominal inflections: tas vīrs -> sg. tam vīram, pl. tiem vīriem. Also, the final "s" in all Dative forms has been dropped. The only exception is personal pronouns in the plural: mums (to us), jums (to you). Note that in colloquial Lithuanian the final "s" in the dative is often omitted, as well: time geriem vaikam.

In both Latvian and Lithuanian, the main function of the dative case is to render the indirect object in a sentence: (lt) aš duodu vyrui knygą; (lv) es dodu [duodu] vīram grāmatu - I am giving a book to the man.

The dative case can also be used with gerundives to indicate an action preceding or simultaneous with the main action in a sentence: (lt) jam įėjus, visi atsistojo - when he walked in, everybody stood up, lit. to him having walked in, all stood up; (lt) jai miegant, visi dirbo - while she slept, everybody was working, lit. to her sleeping, all were working.

In modern standard Lithuanian, Dative case is not required by prepositions, although in many dialects it is done frequently: (dial.) iki (+D) šiai dienai, (stand.) iki (+G) šios dienos - up until this day.

In Latvian, the dative case is taken by several prepositions in the singular and all prepositions in the plural (due to peculiar historical changes): sg. bez (+G) tevis (without thee) ~ pl. bez (+D) jums (without you); sg. pa (+A) ceļu (along the road) ~ pl. pa (+D) ceļiem (along the roads).


In modern Eastern Armenian, the dative is attained by adding any article to the genitive:

dog = շուն

GEN > շան (of the dog; dog's) with no articles

DAT > շանը or շանն (to the dog) with definite articles (-ն if preceding a vowel)

DAT > մի շան (to a dog) with indefinite article

DAT > շանս (to my dog) with 1st person possessive article

DAT > շանդ (to your dog) with 2nd person possessive article

There is a general tendency to view -ին as the standard dative suffix, but only because that is its most productive (and therefore common) form. The suffix -ին as a dative marker is nothing but the standard, most common, genitive suffix -ի accompanied by the definite article -ն. But the dative case encompasses indefinite objects as well, which will not be marked by -ին:

Definite DAT > Ես գիրքը տվեցի տղային: (I gave the book to the boy)

Indefinite DAT> Ես գիրքը տվեցի մի տղայի: (I gave the book to a boy)

The main function of the dative marking in Armenian is to indicate the receiving end of an action, more commonly the indirect object which in English is preceded by the preposition to. In the use of "giving" verbs like give, donate, offer, deliver, sell, bring... the dative marks the recipient. With communicative verbs like tell, say, advise, explain, ask, answer... the dative marks the listener. Other verbs whose indirect objects are marked by the dative case in Armenian are show, reach, look, approach...

Eastern Armenian also uses the dative case to mark the time of an event, in the same way English uses the preposition at, as in Meet me at nine o' clock.


The dative case is known as the "fourth case" (chaturthi-vibhakti) in the usual procedure in the declension of nouns. Its use is mainly for the indirect object as Sanskrit has seven other cases including an instrumental. The term "dative" is grammatically similar to the Sanskrit word "datta". "Datta" means "gift" or "the act of giving".

Non-Indo-European languages


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 one 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)[8]


Finnish does not have a separate dative case. However, the allative case can fulfill essentially the same role as dative, beyond its primary meaning of directional movement (that is, going somewhere or approaching someone). For example: He lahjoittivat kaikki rahansa köyhille (They donated all their money to the poor.)


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 exactly the 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.
"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.
"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, however, as many of the locative cases in Tsez are constructed analytically; hence, they are, in fact, 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.
"Ali loves Fatima."

See also


  1. δοτικός. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  2. διδόναι in Liddell and Scott
  3. Dionysius Thrax. τέχνη γραμματική (Art of Grammar), section ιβ´ (10b): περὶ ὀνόματος (On the noun). Bibliotheca Augustana.
  4. "Objective case (grammar)". (about) education. Retrieved 2016-01-29.
  5. "Personal pronoun". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2016-01-29.
  6. "Generating & parsing clitics with getarun". CiteSeerX accessible.
  7. Morwood, James. Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek. Oxford University Press, 2002. (ISBN 0-19-521851-5)
  8. Ignatius Singer, 'Simplified Grammar of the Hungarian Language', 1882.

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/1/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.