As far as I know, the French language is considered as a Romance language, which is derived, in its turn, from the Latin language. The last one has a rich grammatical cases system.

I am interested to know, how, during what processes, and why the French language has no the grammatical cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and etc.)?

Had the French the grammatical cases ever sometime in the past?


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    There were 2 cases "cas regime" and "cas sujet". See this question on french.stackexchange.com. Sorry it's in French. See also this part of the "Old French" article on Wikipedia. Commented May 24, 2015 at 17:02
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    Be careful on your facts. German is not descended from Latin; Latin and Proto-German have Proto-Indo-European as a common ancestor and are not otherwise related. Commented May 24, 2015 at 17:13
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    By the way, the Romance language family is a poster child for the Grammaticalization theory of language change. This handout summarizes the phonological changes that occurred in spoken Latin around 0 CE (and did not happen in written Latin) which resulted in the collapse of the case system.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 24, 2015 at 18:18
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    As far as I know, all the Romance languages except Romanian(/Moldovan) have lost case marking from nouns. Outside Romance, this has also happened to English, Bulgarian/Macedinian, and Farsi, but not to their various sister languages.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 22:37
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    @ColinFine Dutch is pretty light on case (as a counter example to your assertion about sister languages of English). There are some idiomatic expressions that retain case (much as defunct English grammar is retained in phrases like suffice it to say), but the system is no longer productive. For example, you see des lands fairly frequently, but des boeks is rarely found outside older sources.
    – phoog
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 1:37

5 Answers 5


It has to do mostly with sound change. French underwent two principal sound changes that effectively prevented it from keeping the case system from Latin.

1) Elision of any post-accentual vowels: French, like other romance languages kept the accent on words on the same syllable as they were in Latin, however the nature of the accent in French changed somehow, probably from Latin pitch accent to something more dynamic (which might have been influence from the Germanic languages). Thus the stressed syllable was reinforced while any following vowels were elided.

2) Loss of final consonants: In line with development of other Romance languages, practically all syllable-final consonants disappeared (some actually remarkably late-hence French preserved the case system quite long).

With Latin declension system being based mostly on one syllable suffixes, this proved deadly to any form of synthetic declension in nouns (not so in personal pronouns - cases are distinguished there still to a degree not dissimilar to English).

The same thing happened to verbs, however since the verbs typically had their accent moving because of the 1st and 2nd person plural having two-syllable suffix where ante-penultimate was long (/'lau-do:/ vs /lau-'da:-mus/), the conjugation system did not disappear entirely but was restructured based on vowel-shifts and root consonant play in many verbs:

je peux /pö/ - nous pouvons /pu vo~/

tu peux /pö/ - vous pouvez /pu ve/

il peut /pö/ - ils peuvent /pö v/


Old French made a distinction between nominative and oblique. The main cause of this change is a set of phonological changes in Vulgar Latin, where final nasals are deleted, and vowel qualities and quantities are merged. German has undergone similar reductions, but to a lesser extent, which is why German (unlike Norwegian or English) still has some case marking. It's possible that case will evaporate in German in a few hundred years -- you can't really predict the rate at which languages change (see for instance Icelandic, which hasn't changed much at all).

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    There is a case to be made for the artificial reintroduction of (some) case distinctions into German and Dutch by grammar fanatics with an admiration for Latin and Greek, particularly in the 16th century. E.g. some of the forms of the pronoun in official standard written Dutch (which are different from the pronoun forms used in spoken language) can be traced back to such a person. Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 21:41
  • It is utterly impossible that major languages will change anytime soon, since writing has become widespread. Granted, not everyone is an avid reader, but school kindalike dictates the standard, and TV/radio makes sure its heared. I might be missing other factors, of which you have given none. Interresting topic, but totally off-topic to the question.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 14:03
  • @vectory Major languages certainly are changing. One of the key facts of language is that it changes, and often does so quite quickly. Shifts in vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar are absolutely possible - and have always occurred - even with the influence of educational prescriptivism. Just for a few examples, features from dialects like AAVE, MLE, and Southern California English have changed the way English is spoken. As languages like English diffuse around the world, they transform in various ways.
    – Graham H.
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 15:05

section 3.3 of the syntax of french says that "à" and "de" at least in some cases aren’t prepositions, but rather DP*-internal inherent-case markers. (sorry I am not expert in linguistics for explain what the book says and French does not have a Descriptive grammar for non experts.)


It's interesting to see that French pronouns retain relics of Latin case, as do the English pronouns. Also, the two rules stated by eleshar above do help explain a lot about the reduction/loss of Latin style declension system as reflected in modern Romance languages. As far as Indo-European language family goes, inflected marking of case seems to be an areal feature. The Balto-Slavic languages retain particularly strong and rich inflected case ending systems. In other words, an IE language's lack of case markings would make it exceptional. Once you get away from the Indo-European language family, like Tibeto-Burman for example, case is typically expressed by word order.

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    Grammatical case exists outside Indogermanic as well: Semitic languages typically have grammatical case, Finno-Ugric languages and Turkic languages have case, the languages of Australia and New Guinea typically have cases (and interesting ones can be found there) and a lot more. Caselessness isn't the default. Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 10:04
  • @SirCornflakes I'm not convinced Semitic languages typically have grammatical case (Neo-Aramaic varieties, Hebrew, Arabic Vernaculars, and most Ethiosemitic languages lack it). Proto-Semitic likely did (seeing as it's attested in Akkadian, Ugaritic, Classical Arabic, and in a reduced form in Ge'ez), but that's a different thing (especially seeing as half of those languages are not in any current use, and one of the remaining two is only used liturgically). Otherwise the point absolutely stands though
    – Tristan
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 15:57

It's not that French doesn't have grammatical cases anymore; rather it marks them differently than Latin. Latin primarily uses inflectional affixes to mark nominal cases (accusative, genitive, etc.), while modern French (like English) uses a more fixed word order and prepositions to mark many of the same cases. You can see the remnants of inflectional case marking in French pronouns:

Je te  vois
I  you see
'I see you'

Tu  me vois
You me see
'You see me'

Both 'je' and 'me' are first-person singular pronouns, but 'je' is nominative and 'me' is accusative (or oblique). The same with 'tu/te' -- 'tu' is nominative and 'te' is accusative.

How and why that process happens is a pretty big mystery. As jlawlor notes, grammaticalization is one model that's been proposed.

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    So what do you take a "case" to be? Do all languages have exactly the same cases?
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 21:20
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    Although this post contain true facts, it does not seem to answer why/how the original Latin cases disappeared during the course of the French language evolution. "A big mystery" does not count for an answer. :-) Languages evolve gradually, so the cases can't suddenly disappear overnight. Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 3:45

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