Introduction to the Cases or
Declensions of a Noun.
As seen in earlier lessons, a sentence
consists of a subject, predicate and often an object.
The subject of a sentence is formed by
the noun. The subject is the person or thing whose action is specified
by the predicate, which is expressed through the verb. A second noun present
in the sentence will generally relate to the action specified by the verb
and this second noun is called the direct object of the verb. Simple sentences
may just have a noun and a verb. This applies to normal conversations as
well. However in normal writing and in prose, the subject, predicate and
the object are quite common.
What is of interest to us here is the form
in which the noun or verb is presented in the sentence. Let us look at
a few examples.
John is running.
John's father is running.
Lakshmi is giving the book to Sita.
Peter is watering the plant.
This painting was done by Picasso.
I am returning from Delhi.
This present is for you.
Sanskrit is the language of the Devas.
In all these sentences, the nouns are seen
as subjects and/or objects but in each sentence, you will find that the
use of the noun is distinguished through the addition of words such as
"to", "for" "by", "from" etc.. Thus "Rama" has a meaning which is different
from "by Rama" or "Rama's".
In sentence 1, John is performing the action
specified by the verb "running". In sentence 2, it is not John but his
father. Father, which is a noun, is referenced as being John's, is a specific
instance of father, thus expressing a connection or relationship with
Likewise, "for you", "to Sita", "by Picasso"
etc., convey different meanings which help us understand what is actually
said in the sentence. For our readers, who are familiar with the English
Language, it is not difficult to see that the basic form of the noun is
retained but a suitable preposition is
added to distinguish the specific use of the noun. The differences in the
use of the noun with different prepositions correspond to what are called
"Cases". In English, cases are expressed through the use of prepositions
and sometimes suffixes which are fixed irrespective of the number and gender
of the noun. Hence it may not be easy for us to infer much about the noun
from the sentence, such as if it is masculine, singular or plural.
If we say Lakshmi gave Rama a book, we
cannot say much about Rama, for there is nothing that tells us if Rama
is a boy, girl or an organization. Though this information might have been
established from a previous sentence,It will certainly be helpful if this
information is also apparent in the sentence.
Sanskrit is one of the languages which
brings out the differences in the meaning conveyed by the noun through
the use of suffixes which distinguish each case as also the gender and
number of the noun. It is for reasons like this Sanskrit packs a lot of
information in a sentence. Essentially, one can discern the different links
sentence implicitly refers to and thus
gather a lot of information. In other words, a sentence in Sanskrit will
convey in general, much more information than seen from the grammatical
construction of the sentence. We will probably look at this unique aspect
of Sanskrit in another section of the website dealing with Linguistics.
Across the languages of the world, eight
different ways of using a noun have been identified. These form the eight
1. Nominative case:
The basic form of the noun is seen in this
case. The nominative case denotes the doer or the subject of the verb in
Lakshmi is singing.
Lakshmi is expressed in the Nominative
2. Accusative case:
Here the noun forms the direct object of
the action expressed by the verb.
John is watching a movie.
Movie is the object that John is watching
and so movie is in the Accusative case.
3. The Instrumental case:
The instrumental case gives the means,
the cause etc., for the action specified by the verb. The presence of this
case is governed by prepositions such as "by", "with" as also prepositional
phrases such as "by means of", "along with" etc.. Let us see an example.
The environment is being degraded by plastics.
The verb "degrade" refers to plastics as
4. Dative case:
The Dative case refers to the use of the
noun as an indirect object of the verb. The indirect object of a verb is
another noun associated with the direct object. In the sentence,
John gave Janet a dress
dress is the direct object and Janet is
the indirect object. The sentence will continue to make sense even in the
absence of the indirect object since we can also make sense from
John gave a dress.
The Dative case is recognized by the presence
of prepositions such as "for" or phrases like "for the sake of", "in connection
with" or "regarding".
5. Ablative case:
The ablative case refers to comparisons
and is identified by the presence of prepositions such as "as", "apart"
, "from", "in comparison with".
You are drawing water from the well.
The word is mightier than the sword.
6. The Possessive case:
This case is also known as the Genitive
case. It relates to the use of nouns which have a connection or relationship
with one another. This case is a familiar one to most as it involves the
use of the suffix ('s).
This is Rama's book.
A bed of straw is his only possession.
The possessive case is identified through
prepositions such as "of" and sometimes "to". The suffix with an apostrophie
and s ('s) is the most common indicator of the use of the noun in the possessivecase.
7. Locative case:
The locative case indicates the locality
or position of a person or a thing. It is generally expressive of the meaning
given by the addition of prepositions and phrases such as "in", "into",
"inside", "out of"
Have faith in the teacher.
The jewel is kept inside the locker.
8. The Vocative case:
The last case simply refers to the situation
where one is addressed.
Hey John! congratulations.
The reader is likely to wonder why we are
talking about English Grammar when the lessons are about Sanskrit. There
is an important reason for this. In the English language, the different
cases have to be identified based on the prepositions and the prepositional
phrases used with the nouns. The noun itself remains unchanged. In Sanskrit
and some of the ancient languages of the world like Greek or Latin, the
noun is modified with a specific suffix for each case. The rules for the
suffixes are usually well laid out and can be mastered with a bit of practice.
In traditional Sanskrit Primers, one is
directly introduced to the cases without the kind of introduction given
here, for the Primers generally address audiences in India where most of
the languages are similar to Sanskrit in respect of handling the cases,
i.e., they distinguish the eight cases. It is therefore easy for a student
in India to understand the rules for the suffixes. However, the members
of Samskritapriyah felt that it would help the general reader if the cases
were identified first and explained. The rules would make sense when introduced