Like the title says, can anyone give an explanation on the difference between nominal and pronominal cases?

  • 5
    It's not a distinction I've heard of before. Can you say where you heard/read it?
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 15, 2017 at 14:22
  • @curiousdannii I've come across the terms on Conlang Workshop multiple times, where there are two separate options for the two.
    – Qenglow
    Jun 15, 2017 at 15:22
  • 1
    You might like to sign up to the conlang site proposal then. If terms are only used in reference to conlangs then they're probably not on-topic here. But someone else might be able to give some references to these terms being used in linguistics too. :)
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 15, 2017 at 22:03
  • It could refer to languages like many Australian ones in which the nouns are inflected in an ergative/absolutive case system, while the pronouns are inflected in an accusative/nominative case system. Generally nominal absolutives and pronominal nominatives use the same or similar inflection (often zero).
    – jlawler
    Jul 21, 2017 at 16:24

2 Answers 2


Based on the summary on this page, it appears to be terminology completely orthogonal to the function of the case used to distinguish which parts of speech the case applies to.

If I understood the distinction correctly, you could, therefore, talk about the nominal accusative case, the pronominal accusative case, or even adjectival accusative case if you were dealing with a language that marks case only on some parts of speech, but not others. In that respect, you could, I suppose, describe English as having pronominal nominative, accusative, dative and genitive cases as vestiges of a case system that has disappeared for nouns and adjectives.

I imagine that you came across it in a conlanging context because a fair number of conlangers deliberately set out to make their language different from what is found in natural languages, so even if asymmetric case-marking is rare in reality, a conlanger might decide to create a language where case is marked on nouns but not on pronouns, or vice-versa, depending on whatever rule struck their fancy.

  • Interestingly, portuguese has a, kind of a fossil, comitative case from latin in its pronouns, pronouns like: comigo (with me), and conosco (with us), the comitative is on com-, and it appears in other words (i.e. comer), but it has no effect outside the pronouns.
    – saviosg
    Jun 19, 2017 at 20:36

The nominative case refers to how the subject of a verb in a given language will change form simply by being the subject. Present day English does not change the forms of most nouns simply because they are the subject. For example,

  1. Sally likes John.
  2. John likes Sally.

Sally did not change form despite going from the subject position in (1) to the direct object position in (2). Wikipedia has a great example of Japanese displaying the use of nominative case to clearly mark the subject of a verb.

Kabin-ga(S) kowareta
vase-NOM    broke
’A vase broke’

Watashi-wa(S) kabin-wo(O) kowashita
I-NOM         vase-ACC    broke
’I broke the vase’

The subjects are marked with (S), the objects marked with (O) in the first line. In the second line, NOM stands for the nominative case and ACC stands for the accusative (or direct object) case. What these examples show is that -ga and -wa mark the nominative case of the subject of a verb. So, a Japanese speaker could technically scramble the word order and just by hearing Kabin-ga know that Kabin-ga is the subject of some verb.

The pronominal case is similar, but specifically for how pronouns change form. English has pronominal case, for example

  1. I like Susy.
  2. Susy likes me.

I has become me simply by going from subject to direct object position.

One difference between pronominal and nominative case, then, is that pronominal case refers to the changing of the form of a pronoun depending on its position in a sentence while the nominative case refers to the changing of the form of words in specifically the subject position.

  • 1
    This doesn't sound like a useful distinction to make. Would the case on adjectives therefore be called "adjectival case"?
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 15, 2017 at 22:04
  • 4
    I think the term is from hobbyists who are familiar with inflection only from English, and therefore have a somewhat odd view of how it works.
    – jlawler
    Jun 15, 2017 at 22:17
  • 1
    > while the nominal case refers to the changing of the form of words in specifically the subject position. Very untrue: noun case can be many many many things
    – Darkgamma
    Jun 19, 2017 at 9:36
  • 1
    Nominative and and nominal aren't the same thing. Also, I'm not convinced that "case", in the linguistic sense, is really applicable to Japanese particles since their uses cover a broad range of functions, only some of which are comparable to cases. But even allowing for that, the -wa particle does not mark the grammatical subject (nominative) case. It marks the topic of the sentence, which is only sometimes equivalent to the subject when translated into English.
    – Philippe
    Jun 20, 2017 at 14:08

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