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Learn Sanskrit through Self Study

Lesson9: Cases and Declensions

Introduction to Lesson-9

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 another noun "John".

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 that the 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 cases.

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 a sentence.

Lakshmi is singing.

Lakshmi is expressed in the Nominative case.

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 the cause.

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" etc..

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 subsequently.


Next Section  A brief review

Contents

Introduction

A brief review

Nominative case

Accusative case

Instrumental case

Dative case

Ablative case

Possessive case

Locative case

Vocative case

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Exercise 3

Exercise 4

Exericise 5

Exercise 6

Conversation

Case distinction in other world language


  Message of the Gita
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Last updated on  Oct. 05, 2012