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What are Noun Circumstances?


You may be aware of verb conjugations, like when verb endings change in Spanish, however do you know that in lots of languages nouns change, too? In languages like German, Latin, Russian, and—sure, type of!—English, you will discover noun circumstances, that are generally known as declensions. In these languages, nouns change to provide further details about what is occurring within the sentence, to allow them to give learners a number of clues about which means!

What are noun circumstances?

Let’s check out noun circumstances in English first. English used to have an actual noun case system, tons of of years in the past, however at this time it solely stays in our pronouns:

  • She provides the ice cream to him.
  • Then he provides the chocolate sprinkles to her.

In English, we use totally different pronouns for the individual doing the motion of giving (“she” and “he”) than for the one who is being given one thing (“her” and “him”). You would think about saying “She provides the ice cream to he” as an alternative—as a result of why not? It would not change the which means; it is simply not what we do in English. If you happen to’ve studied English grammar, you may need heard these known as topic pronouns (“I,” “he,” “she,” “we,” “they,” amongst others) and object pronouns (“me,” “him,” “her,” “us,” “them,” and many others). Circumstances inform you what the noun is doing within the sentence, like giving or receiving one thing. Despite the fact that English would not have a real case system anymore, our topic and object pronouns are the remnants of noun circumstances (topic pronouns are from the outdated nominative case, and the article pronouns got here from a whole lot of different outdated circumstances, like accusative and dative). This may remind you of Spanish pronouns, too!

How do noun circumstances work?

In languages with extra in depth case programs, each noun—not simply pronouns—has to indicate what case it is in, relying on what else is occurring within the sentence (like which verb or preposition it is linked to). In some languages, it is the noun itself that may present the case, perhaps with a sure ending, and different languages will present case in several methods; in German, it is normally proven on the phrases linked to the noun.

In English, we all the time use the identical type of the noun, irrespective of its place within the sentence. For instance, the nouns “woman,” “boy,” and “ice cream” do not change even when their function within the sentence does:

  • [The girl] provides [the boy] [ice cream].
  • [The boy] provides [the girl] [ice cream].
  • [The ice cream] provides [the boy] a stomachache.

However when you’re studying a language with circumstances, you may study totally different varieties for every case! These modifications are known as declensions, so you’ll be able to say {that a} noun declines a sure method in every case. Languages fluctuate within the variety of circumstances they’ve, however listed here are some you may see, together with examples with English pronouns (our final remnants of case!):

Noun case Instance utilization
(This may fluctuate by language!)
English examples
(Keep in mind, English would not have a full case system!)
Nominative for the topic of a verb THEY make nice ice cream.
Genitive possession or possessing one thing However THEIR ice cream is so costly!
Dative for the factor that receives one thing or advantages from it Present THEM your pupil ID for a reduction.

In languages with noun circumstances, these types of modifications occur for each single noun. 😅

Illustration of the Duolingo character Junior sitting on the floor eating a big bowl of pink ice cream. His cheeks are full of ice cream and he looks like he's had too much.

What to search for in languages with case

Case will work in another way in every language, so listed here are some issues to look out for!

  • What number of circumstances does the language have? Some languages, like Chinese language, haven’t any circumstances in any respect, and others, like Hungarian, can have greater than a dozen! Russian and Latin have six circumstances (and used to have extra!), and German has 4.
  • Which circumstances does the language have? For instance, Latin has a case known as the vocative, for if you converse on to somebody, however German would not. Russian had a vocative case that it misplaced over time. However there are nonetheless remnants of it—reminiscent of in ‘bozhe’, which suggests ‘o god.’
  • What phrases decline? Nouns and/or phrases related to them may change for every case. That may embody adjectives and determiners (phrases like “the,” “these,” “an,” and plenty of extra)—that is why the examples within the desk above additionally embody “the” in daring!
  • Does the language have grammatical gender? If the language has case and grammatical gender, you will in all probability see that there are a number of endings for every case: there may be one ending for masculine phrases within the genitive case, and a unique ending for female phrases within the genitive case. (To not point out masculine adjectives within the genitive and female adjectives within the genitive…and that’ll be true for each case!)

There’s one other actually attention-grabbing function you will see in languages with case: Usually, they will have versatile phrase order. Which means there are much more choices for what order you place phrases in! English phrase order is fairly strict, and altering the order of phrases can create a complete new which means. For instance, in an English sentence with common nouns (not pronouns)—which do not present case—phrase order is actually vital. Keep in mind this instance from earlier?

  • The woman provides the boy ice cream.
  • The boy provides the woman ice cream.

The one distinction between these sentences is that “woman” and “boy” had been swapped, but it surely completely modifications who had the ice cream to start with, who gave it away, and who then obtained it. However in languages with noun case, all of that data is included proper within the noun, as a result of it has a particular noun case ending or perhaps it has a specific type of “the” that makes the case clear. These circumstances imply that irrespective of the place within the sentence you progress the noun, it is all the time clear what’s taking place. Check out this instance from Russian, and see how девушка (devushka, “woman,” within the nominative) and мальчику (mal’chiku, “boy,” within the dative) can transfer round:

Russian Circumstances English translation
Девушка дает мальчику мороженое.

Devushka daet mal’chiku morozhenoe.

Девушка (woman): nominative (for the individual doing the giving)
Мальчику (boy): dative (for the individual receiving the factor that was given)
Мороженое (ice cream): accusative (for the factor being given)
The woman provides the boy ice cream.
Девушка мальчику дает мороженое.

Devushka mal’chiku daet morozhenoe.

Identical as above! Identical as above!
Мальчику дает девушка мороженое.

Mal’chiku devushka daet morozhenoe.

Identical as above! Identical as above!

In case you had been questioning…

…There’s extra to come back! Noun case programs can look actually totally different throughout languages, they usually enable you perceive so much concerning the which means of a sentence. Keep tuned for extra details about noun circumstances and grammatical gender, and suggestions and tips for studying circumstances!

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