Introduction to Old English Cases

In modern English, word order is largely what determines the meaning of a word. Modern English word order generally follows the pattern: subject, verb, object.

The dog
Subject
bites
Verb
the man
Direct Object

The man
Subject
bites
Verb
the dog
Direct Object

For example, in 'the dog bites the man', the dog is the subject (what is performing the action); bites is the verb (the action); and the man is the direct object (the object being acted upon). If you reverse the order of the words, the man bites the dog, the meaning of the sentence changes. This is not strictly true for Old English.

Old English is an inflected language. What this means is that the endings of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives change depending on their grammatical function, and these are broken up into categories called cases. How a word declines depends on its number; its grammatical gender; and its grammatical strength. Grammatical gender and strength are not related to the meaning of the word and will be explored in more detail in later modules.

There are four major cases:
The Nominative Case indicates the subject of the sentence.
The Accusative Case indicates the direct object of a sentence.
The Genitive Case indicates possession.
The Dative Case indicates the indirect object of a sentence.

You can see case systems in many modern languages such as Icelandic, Russian or German, though modern English has mostly lost its inflectional case system. Using strong masculine nouns, let’s look at how Old English cases work in more detail.

Continue to Nominative and Genitive Nouns