"accusative" hails from accusare, which the Romans chose

somewhat inaccurately to translate Greek (ptōsis) aitiatike "(case) of that which is caused" based on the similarity of the Greek word to the Greek verb aitiasthai "to accuse." Greek aitia is the root of both, and means "cause" as well as "accusation," hence the confusion of the Romans. A more correct translation would have been casus causativus.

Was there ever a movement to implement and popularize the more correct translation of casus causativus? This feels effortless to accomplish in Germanic and Romance languages...this would be translated "causative case" in English. If so, why did they fail? If not, why not?


[13] Accuse comes via Old French acuser from the Latin verb accūsāre, which was based on the noun causa ‘cause’ – but cause in the sense not of ‘something that produces a result’, but of ‘legal action’ (a meaning preserved in English cause list, for instance). Hence accūsāre was to ‘call someone to account for their actions’.
      The grammatical term accusative [15] (denoting the case of the object of a verb in Latin and other languages) is derived ultimately from accūsāre, but it arose originally owing to a mistranslation. The Greek term for this case was ptósis aitiātiké ‘case denoting causation’ – a reasonable description of the function of the accusative. Unfortunately the Greek verb aitiásthai also meant ‘accuse’, and it was this sense that Latin grammarians chose to render when adopting the term.

Word Origins (2005 2e) by John Ayto, p 4.

  • 4
    Why do both your links just go to a search page on Etymonline? (I’ve never seen anyone suggest or use ‘causative’ for this case name, probably because ‘accusative’ is so entrenched and because ‘causative’ has since developed a very different meaning within linguistics, so it would only be adding confusion. And it’s not like ‘causative’ describes the case any better than ‘accusative’ does.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 15 at 0:05
  • 2
    Varro chose accusativus, but Priscian, much later, did call it a causativus. – Cairnarvon Mar 15 at 1:34
  • 1
    Linguistic theories evolve, and it's ok even if originally accusativus could have been misunderstood by the Roman grammarians. It doesn't matter. For instance, Aristotle used ptosis (case) to describe both noun and verb endings (and much more). Now, the accusative is used in a very specific, technical sense - typically the core meaning of the accusative is "the affected participant in a transitive clause" oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/… – Alex B. Mar 15 at 2:39
  • 1
    @AlexB. Some scholars seem to think it is not too late to change names like "aorist" and "imperfect". – fdb Mar 15 at 15:33
  • 2
    By the way, this question is an exact duplicate of latin.stackexchange.com/questions/15559/… – fdb Mar 15 at 15:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.