So we know that Latin nouns and adjectives inflect for case as well as person, number, and gender.

Also we know that all the major modern Romance languages except Romanian no longer have a case system.

I believe it's been judged that Romanian's case system is not a direct descendent from the Latin but a later innovation just as its neuter gender is not descended from that of Latin - but I could be wrong on some of this.

So my question is, which Romance language, or which variety of Vulgar Latin is believed to be the one that retained a case system directly inherited from Latin the longest?

(If I'm wrong about Romanian please show the direct relationship or provide references.)

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    Are you sure there was a case system in the Vulgar Latin they came from? My impression was that the phonological changes that wiped out the case markers were more or less complete about the time of the founding of the Empire, although of course written Latin never changed.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 14:18
  • @jlawler: I'm not sure at all actually. But it sounds like you have an answer to my question and should include that it was based on a false premise (-: Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 14:27
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    I really don't know for sure. I'm a general practitioner, not a Romance specialist. Nor a historical linguist, though I play one on stage occasionally.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 16:46
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    From what I understand, Old French retained a two case system that really continued the Latin nominative and accusative, respectively, but I wouldn't know precisely when it collapsed on the way to Modern French. Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 0:35
  • "Romanian's case system is ... a later innovation". Sounds interesting, can you provide any references? Romanian education tends to focus on emphasizing the relationship with Latin. You can see this in how they teach in schools (at least they did when I went to school) that Romanian has 5 cases, ignoring the fact that the Nominative/Accusative and Genitive/Dative pairs are identical. (I.e. in reality there are only 3 cases; e.g. the difference between object and subject is usually conveyed through word order, not through inflecting the words.)
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


Old French most certainly retained a fully functional case system (cas sujet et cas régime) at least up to the XIVth century, perhaps up to the XVth century in eastern parts of France (and of course retains case inflections for pronouns to this day, e.g me/moi). This case system is a direct descendant of the Latin one.

The subject is very well documented so on-line references, starting with Wikipedia, are easy to find.

Interestingly, for some words both the cas régime and cas sujet survived in modern French, usually with slightly different meanings but in a few occasions with identical meanings. One can find prescriptive French speakers (some would say pedantic) who insist on using the cas sujet form in subject position and the cas régime form in object position (as this prescription presupposes one knows about this past cases, you can imagine that such speakers are vanishingly rare).

UPDATE: In response to robert's comment, one could start with Ancien Français and Grammaire élémentaire de l'Ancien Français

Specifically on the survival of one case rather than the other, for instance: Cas sujet/cas régime

I'm sure there are plenty of further references accessible by googling cas régime and cas sujet.

Also, I didn't mean to imply that some speakers retain any syntactic sensibility to these cases (there hasn't been any for 500 years), rather than a vanishingly small number of speakers will preferentially use Le sieur when subject and putain when régime rather than their (perhaps more common) alternatives as some kind of maximal adherence to prescriptive rules, including long lost ones.

  • Sounds reminiscent of who vs whom in English. Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 9:23
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    Do you think you could, for the benefit of your readers, add examples for the last paragraph, and a link to a Wikipedia entry (even if there are several good ones, which one do you think is particularly useful?).
    – robert
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 12:28
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    @robert: One such doublet where the words have diverged in meaning in the modern language is L. senior, seniorem -> OFr. sieur, seigneur. Very interesting to hear that there are still speakers who make the distinction on syntactic grounds...
    – jogloran
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 14:09
  • .. and 'on' v. 'homme'? Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 14:01

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