I cannot find any source explaining the Latin names of grammatical cases. I am especially curious in the names of the less common cases, like in Finnish:

  • nominative
  • genitive
  • accusative
  • partitive
  • essive
  • translative
  • inessive
  • elative
  • illative
  • adessive
  • ablative
  • allative
  • abessive
  • comitative
  • instructive

or like in Czech:

  • nominative
  • genitive
  • dative
  • accusative
  • vocative
  • locative
  • instrumental

I can guess the meaning of some of them, such as nominative (name), partitive (part of a whole), accusative (to blame), dative (to give), instrumental (by means of, using something as an instrument).

By meaning I mean the meaning of the Latin words used in the grammar terminology and their connection with what each case expresses.

But is there any source in one single place with the explanation of the meaning of them all? Could we make this question to serve as such?

  • Wiktionary has the etymology for each of those case names, for example: genitive, allative, abessive, etc. Also, Wiktionary gives the general meaning of those cases. It is essential to check Google, Wikipedia, and Wiktionary before asking a question on SE.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 18:51
  • 3
    Is it really a closed class? Seems like new ones can be added and there is no guarantee what a linguist studying an obscure language or phenomenon will choose, even if it already exists. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 19:25
  • english.stackexchange.com/q/206618/50720
    – user5306
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 3:25
  • 1
    The title says "meaning", but based on the question, I would describe what you want to know as instead being the etymology of these terms. Despite being derived from the Latin word for "name", "nominative" in present-day grammatical terminology means something specific (it's debated, but more or less "a case regularly used for the subjects of intransitive verbs and the agents of transitive verbs") that can't accurately be summarized as anything like "a case for names" or "a case for naming". Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 8:25

1 Answer 1


The traditional Latin names are formed from the supine stems of verbs—basically, a way of turning a verb into a noun, and then into an adjective. Nōminātivus, for example, comes from nōmināre "to name"—it's "the case for naming".

When other case names were needed for other languages, they tended to also be formed from Latin verbs. So here are the meanings of those verbs:

  • nominative - "name"
  • genitive - "beget, give birth to"
  • accusative - "accuse, point at" (*)
  • dative - "give"
  • vocative - "call by name"
  • locative - "put (in a place), be located at" (**)
  • partitive - "divide"
  • essive - "be, exist"
  • translative - "carry across"
  • inessive - "be in"
  • elative - "carry out of"
  • illative - "carry into"
  • adessive - "be at"
  • ablative - "carry away from"
  • allative - "carry to"
  • abessive - "be away from"
  • comitative - "accompany"
  • instructive - "arrange, equip"

(*) Likely from a mistranslation of the Greek case name, which came from the word for "cause".
(**) Or alternately from the noun for "place, location", with a verbal-looking ending by analogy with the others.

  • 5
    For my freshman etymology class, I made up a web page with the Latin etymologies of grammatical terms and links pointing to a dictionary.
    – jlawler
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 22:33
  • 2
    @jlawler That's exactly what I was searching for! Please make it an answer - if you are the author you may copy and paste it here, or at least place the link to the answer - but the full text would be better. If you add as an extra bonus how the Latin name relates to the case, even better. It's not always clear. The best answer would be some kind of a combined yours and Drakonis's answer :) Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 8:49
  • 1
    locative - "put (in a place)" looks dubious or at least confusing as in Latin and many other languages that even more locative is used for being in a place while other cases, such as accusative, are used for a direction. More likely just from locus. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 10:25
  • 1
    accusativus is an ancient mistranslation of Greek aitiatikē “causative”. aitia means both “cause” and “accusation”. (I don't see it on @jlawler's useful list).
    – fdb
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 11:31
  • @VladimirF Added a note
    – Draconis
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 17:09

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