In Indo-European languages, the neuter is often characterized by syncretism between nominative and accusative.

There are other examples of syncretism and also historical change where the nominative pairs with accusative and genitive pairs with dative.

Is there a single name referring to something being nominative OR accusative without a further distinction being made? (Or put another way, not genitive/dative?)

Or put yet another way, if I were tagging a neuter word and wanted to indicate that the case is either nominative or accusative, is there a term for that (other than just saying nom/acc or something)?

If the four cases nominative, accusative, genitive, dative were to be treated as having a relationship:

+---+--- Y
    |    +--- nominative
    |    |
    |    +--- accusative
    +--- Z
         +--- genitive
         +--- dative

is there a name for Y (or Z for that matter)?

EDIT: note that I'm particularly interested in labeling the morphological reflex, not the grammatical relation. In other words, I'm not attempting to make any claims about case semantics by this analysis.

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    note: my particular focus is Ancient Greek Dec 2, 2012 at 0:08
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    I have vague recollections of seeing the term core case but can't find any references Dec 2, 2012 at 0:14
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    I have never seen any such term used in Greek or Latin philology. Then again, if you can simply say "nominative or accusative", or write "nom./acc.", do you really need one?
    – Cerberus
    Dec 2, 2012 at 2:04
  • @JamesTauber I have updated the answer. The classification doesn't really 100% apply to your case (no pun intended), but I'm not aware of other single terms for that.
    – Alenanno
    Dec 2, 2012 at 13:10
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    re: "if I were tagging a neuter word and wanted to indicate that the case is either nominative or accusative, is there a term for that (other than just saying nom/acc or something)?" Since you've already mentioned "syncretism", the answer is no.
    – Alex B.
    Dec 2, 2012 at 18:05

3 Answers 3


WALS refers to these as core cases. Specifically, for nominative-accusative aligned languages, these are nominative and accusative; for ergative languages, the core cases are ergative-absolutive.

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    I think this is the term I'm looking for and the page on WALS you link to has some additional, useful information. Dec 4, 2012 at 2:56

Not sure about what language you're working on, but the Nominative is referred to as Direct case (including also the vocative, when available), while the rest of the cases, including Dative and Genitive, are classified as Oblique cases.

  • I was familiar with the term oblique case although that sometimes seems to refer to any non-nominative case. Dec 2, 2012 at 0:09
  • direct case seems to be a term used in Indo-Aryan linguistics Dec 2, 2012 at 0:14
  • @Alenanno: Yes, it always includes any case but nominative and vocative, because of how the Romans imagined declensions worked: to decline means "to tilt, to incline"; only the nominative (/ vocative) was not felt to be inclined, hence it was the casus rectus ("straight"); all the other cases are declined forms, hence obliqui ("slanted"). merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oblique%20case
    – Cerberus
    Dec 2, 2012 at 13:01
  • @Cerberus Ok, fixed answer and removed some obsolete comments. :)
    – Alenanno
    Dec 2, 2012 at 13:09
  • This convention has been used for German as well, e.g. by Eisenberg, but with Dir = Nom + Acc.
    – Crissov
    Feb 23, 2016 at 13:40

I think you got that wrong. Syncretism in a number of forms (as typical in the neuter in IE languages) does not mean that the structural categories themselves merge.

And a language that "fails" to distinguish nominative and accusative case everywhere, cannot really be said to have either of them. (which would mean that arguments would have to be differentiated on some other basis, e.g. head-marking, word order, direct-inverse marking or so)

If you have to tag a form that could be either nominative or accusative you'd usually employ whichever is appropriate in the context; if no context is given or you need to be explicit you can also indicate the syncretism e.g. as "nom/acc"

edit: and you (mostly) got that case relationship wrong. with respect to their prototypical usage, nominative, accusative and dative are closer to each other as they all express argument roles while the genitive is typically used for possessor constructions (although in a number of IE languages some verbs do actually require a genitive argument, but this is a minor pattern)

  • I'm not talking about language that "fails" to distinguish everywhere. I'm talking about a language that morphologically fails to distinguish in some cases. In Ancient Greek, neuter nouns and the dual don't distinguish. So all I'm asking is: is there a handy term to describe the morphological reflex of a neuter noun or dual that is nominative or accusative but does not further distinguish which of those two it is. Dec 4, 2012 at 2:45
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    no, why should there be? it's just syncretism. we don't invent terms for every random case of syncretism.
    – Fryie
    Dec 4, 2012 at 15:09

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