Dative case

Dative case

The dative case (abbreviated dat, or sometimes d when it is a core argument) is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink".

In general, the dative marks the indirect object of a verb, although in some instances the dative is used for the direct object of a verb pertaining directly to an act of giving something. In Russian, Hebrew, and Swiss German, for example, the verb "to call (by telephone)" is always followed by a noun in the dative.

The thing being given may be a tangible object, such as "a book" or "a pen", or it may be an intangible abstraction, such as "an answer" or "help".

In some languages, the dative case has assimilated the functions of other now-extinct cases. In Ancient Greek, the dative has the functions of the Proto-Indo-European locative and instrumental as well as those of the original dative.

Sometimes the dative has functions unrelated to giving. In Scottish Gaelic and Irish, the term dative case is misleadingly used in traditional grammars to refer to the prepositional case-marking of nouns following simple prepositions and the definite article. In Georgian, the dative case also marks the subject of the sentence in some verbs and some tenses. This is also called the dative construction.

The dative was common among early Indo-European languages and has survived to the present in the Balto-Slavic branch and the Germanic branch, among others. It also exists in similar forms in several non-Indo-European languages, such as the Uralic family of languages, Altaic family of languages and Japanese (sometimes considered as Altaic).

Under the influence of English, which uses the preposition "to" for both indirect objects (give to) and directions of movement (go to), the term "dative" has sometimes been used to describe cases that in other languages would more appropriately be called lative.



"Dative" comes from Latin cāsus datīvus, meaning "case for giving", a translation of Greek ptôsis dotikḗ "inflection for giving",[1] from its use with the verb didónai "to give".[2] Dionysius Thrax in his Art of Grammar also refers to it as epistaltikḗ "for sending (a letter)",[3] from the verb epistéllō "send to", a word from the same root as epistle.


The Old English language, current until approximately sometime after the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, had a dative case; however, the English case system gradually fell into disuse during the Middle English period, when the accusative and dative pronouns merged into a single objective pronoun used in both roles. This merging of accusative and dative functionality in Middle and Modern English has led most modern grammarians to discard the "accusative" and "dative" labels in English as obsolete, in favor of the term "objective".[citation needed]

Set expressions

While the dative case is no longer a part of modern English usage, it survives in a few set expressions. One good example is the word "methinks", with the meaning "it seems to me". It survives in this fixed form from the days of Old English (having undergone, however, phonetic changes with the rest of the language), in which it was constructed as "[it]" + "me" (the dative case of the personal pronoun) + "thinks" (i.e., "seems", < Old English thyncan, "to seem", a verb closely related to the verb thencan, "to think", but distinct from it in Old English; later it merged with "think" and lost this meaning).

The dative case also survives, albeit rarely, in the ethic dative, used to express one's interest in a matter. This only occurs with pronouns. For instance, in the sentence, "Cry me a river," "me" is used to express the speaker's interest in the action.

Relic pronouns

The pronoun whom is a remnant of the dative case in English, descending from the Old English dative pronoun "hwām" (as opposed to the nominative "who", which descends from Old English "hwā") — though "whom" also absorbed the functions of the Old English accusative pronoun "hwone".

Likewise, "him" is a remnant of both the Old English dative "him" and accusative "hine", "her" serves for both Old English dative "hire" and accusative "hīe", etc.

Modern English

In Modern English, an indirect object is often expressed with a prepositional phrase of "to" or "for". If there is a direct object, the indirect object can be expressed by an objective pronoun placed between the verb and the direct object. For example, "He gave that to me" and "He built a snowman for me" are the same as "He gave me that" and "He built me a snowman". Here, the objective pronoun "me" has the same function as a dative pronoun in a language that distinguishes accusative and dative cases.


In general, the dative is used to mark the indirect object of a German sentence. Certain German prepositions require the dative:  aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu, and gegenüber. Other prepositions (an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor, and zwischen) may be used with dative (indicating current location), or accusative (indicating direction toward something).  Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch (dative: the book is lying on the table), but Ich lege das Buch auf den Tisch (accusative: I put the book on the table). In addition, those German prepositions that require the genitive in formal language tend to be used with the dative in contemporary colloquial German; for example, "because of the weather" is often expressed as "wegen dem Wetter" instead of the formally correct "wegen des Wetters".

Note that the concept of an indirect object may be rendered by a prepositional phrase. In this case, the noun's or pronoun's case is determined by the preposition, NOT by its function in the sentence. Consider this sentence: 

  • Ich sandte das Buch zum Verleger. 'I sent the book to the editor.' 

Here, the subject, Ich, is in the nominative case, the direct object, das Buch, is in the accusative case, and zum Verleger is in the dative case, since zu always requires the dative (zum is a contraction of zu + dem).  However:

  • Ich habe das Buch an meinen Freund (accusative) weitergegeben.  'I forwarded the book to my friend.' (weitergeben = lit.: to give further).

In this sentence, Freund would seem to be the indirect object, but, because it follows an (direction), the accusative is required, not the dative.

All of the articles change in the dative case.

  Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Definite article dem der dem den (plus an "n" at the end of most substantives)
Indefinite article (and other "ein-words") einem einer einem keinen (plus an "n" at the end of most substantives)

Some German verbs require the dative for their direct objects.  Common examples include folgen, helfen, and antworten. In each case, the direct object of the verb is rendered in dative. For example:

  • Meine Freunde helfen mir. (My friends help me.)

The dative case is also used with reflexive (sich) verbs when specifying what part of the self the verb is being done to:

  • Ich wasche mich. - accusative (I wash myself)
  • Ich wasche mir die Hände. - dative (I wash my hands, literally "I wash to myself the hands")

Cf. the respective accord in French: "Les enfants se sont lavés" (the children have washed themselves) vs. "Les enfants se sont lavé" [unflected] "les mains" (... their hands).

Adjective endings also change in the dative case. Another factor that determines the endings of adjectives is whether the adjective is being used after a definite article (the), after an indefinite article (a/an), or without any article before the adjective (many green apples).

  Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Definite article -en -en -en -en
Indefinite Article -en -en -en -en
No article -em -er -em -en


Except the main case (Dativus), there are several other kinds:

  • Dativus finalis with the meaning of purpose, e.g., auxilio vocare - "to call for help", venio auxilio - "I'm coming for help", accipio dono - "I receive this as a gift" or puellae ornamento est - "this serves for the girl's decoration";
  • Dativus commodi (incommodi), which means action for somebody, e.g., Graecis agros colere - "to till fields for Greeks"; Combination of Dativus commodi and finalis (double Dative): tibi laetitiae "to you for joy"
  • Dativus possessivus (possessive dative) which means possession, e.g., angelis alae sunt - literally "to (or for) the angels are wings", this is typically found with a copula and translated as "the angels have wings".
  • Dativus ethicus (ethic dative) indicates that the person in the dative is or should be especially concerned about the action, e.g., 'quid mihi Celsus agit?' ' What is Celsus doing' (I am especially interested in what it is)?
  • Dativus auctoris, meaning; 'in the eyes of', e.g., 'vir bonus mihi videtur' 'the man seems good to me'.
  • The Dative is also used to express agency with the gerundive, a future passive participle that, along with the verb to be, expresses obligation or necessity of the action being performed on the noun with which it agrees, e.g., 'haec nobis agenda sunt,' 'these things must be done by us'


In addition to its main function as the Dativus, the dative case has different other functions in Classical Greek[4]:

  • Dativus finalis: The dativus finalis, or the 'dative of purpose', is when the dative is used to denote the purpose of a certain action. For example:
    • "τῷ βασιλεῖ μάχομαι
      • "I fight for the king". 
    • "θνῄσκω τῇ τιμῇ
      • "I die for honour".
  • Dativus commodi (incommodi): The dativus commodi sive incommodi, or the 'dative of benefit (or harm)' is the dative that expresses the advantage or disadvantage of something for someone.  For example:
    • For the benefit of: "πᾶς ἀνὴρ αὑτῷ πονεῖ" (Sophocles, Ajax 1366). 
      • "Every man toils for himself".
    • For the harm or disadvantage of: "ἥδε ἡ ἡμέρα τοῖς Ἕλλησι μεγάλων κακῶν ἄρξει." (Thucydides 2.12.4). 
      • "This day will be the beginning of great sorrows for the Greeks (i.e., for their disadvantage)".
  • Dativus possesivus: The dativus possesivus, or the 'dative of possession' is the dative used to denote the possessor of a certain object or objects. For example:
    • "ἄλλοις μὲν γὰρ χρήματά ἐστι πολλὰ καὶ ἵπποι, ἡμῖν δὲ ξύμμαχοι ἀγαθοί." (Thucycdides 1.86.3).  
      • "For others have a lot of money and ships and horses, but we have good allies (i.e., To others there is a lot of money..)".
  • Dativus ethicus: The dativus ethicus, or the 'ethic or polite dative,'  is when the dative is used to signify that the person or thing spoken of is regarded with interest by someone. This dative is mostly, if not exclusively, used in pronouns. As such, it is also called the "dative of pronouns." For example:
    • "τούτῳ πάνυ μοι προσέχετε τὸν νοῦν." (Demosthenes 18.178). 
      • "Pay close attention to this, I beg you (i.e., please pay..)".
    • "ὦ μῆτερ, ὡς καλός μοι ὁ πάππος." (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 18.178).  
      • "Oh, mother, how handsome grandpa is (I've just realized!)".
  • Dativus auctoris: The dativus auctoris, or the 'dative of agent,' is the dative used to denote the doer of an action. Note, however, that in Classical Greek, the agent is usually in the genitive after ὑπό (by, at the hands of).  The agent is in the dative only with the perfect and pluperfect passive, and after the verbal adjective in -τέος.  For example:
    • "πολλαὶ θεραπεῖαι τοῖς ἰατροῖς εὕρηνται." (Isocrates 8.39)
      • "Many cures have been discovered by doctors."
  • Dativus instrumenti:  The dativus instrumenti, or the 'dative of instrument,' is when the dative is used to denote an instrument or means of a certain action (or, more accurately, as the instrumental case). For example: 
    • "με κτείνει δόλῳ." (Homer, Odyssey 9.407)
      • "He kills me with a bait (i.e., by means of a bait)." 
  • Dativus modi: The dativus modi, or the 'dative of manner,' is the dative used to describe the manner or way by which something happened. For example:
    • "νόσῳ ὕστερον ἀποθανόντα." (Thucydides 8.84)
      • "having died of (from) a disease."
  • Dativus mensurae: The dativus mensurae, or the 'dative of measurement,' is the dative used to denote the measurement of difference.  For example:
    • "τῇ κεφαλῇ μείζονα." (Plato, Phaedo  101a)
      • "taller by a head."
    • "μακρῷ ἄριστος." (Plato, Laws 729d)
      • "by far the best."

Slavic languages

In Russian, the dative case is used to indicate the indirect object of an action (that to which something is given, thrown, read, etc.). In the instance where a person is the goal of motion, dative is used instead of accusative to indicate motion toward. This is usually achieved with the preposition "κ" + destination in dative case; К врачу, meaning 'to the doctor'.

Dative is also the necessary case taken by certain prepositions when expressing certain ideas. For instance, when the preposition по is used to mean "along", its object is always in dative case as with, По бокам, 'along the sides'.

Other Slavic languages apply the dative case (and the other cases) more or less the same way as does Russian, some languages may use the dative in other ways. The following examples are from Polish:

  • after certain verbs (dziękować komuś "to thank someone", pomóc komuś "to help someone", wierzyć komuś "to believe someone")
  • in certain expressions (Czy podoba ci się piosenka? "Do you like the song?", Jest mi zimno "I'm cold", Jest nam smutno "We're feeling sad", Będzie wam trudniej... "It will be more difficult for you guys"), Śniło jej się, że... "She dreamt that")
  • dativus commodi to indicate action for somebody (Zbuduję temu człowiekowi dom "I will build a house for this person")
  • when something is taken away or something occurs to someone (Zdechł im pies "Their dog died", Zabrali mu komputer "They took away his computer", Zepsuł nam się samochód "Our car broke down", Coś mi się przypomniało "I just remembered something")

Other kinds of dative case are also used in Serbo-Croatian language: Dativus finalis (Titaniku u pomoć "to Titanic's rescue"), Dativus commodi/incommodi (Operi svojoj majci suđe "Wash the dishes for your mother"), Dativus possessivus (Ovcama je dlaka gusta "Sheeps' hair is thick"), Dativus ethicus (Шта ми ради Бони? "What is Boni doing? (I am especially interested in what it is)") and Dativus auctoris (Izgleda mi okej "It seems okay to me").

Unusual in other Indo-European branches but common among Slavic languages, endings of nouns and adjectives are different. Other factors are gender and number. In some cases, the ending may not be obvious, even when those three factors are considered. That is, in Polish, syn ("son") and ojciec ("father") are both masculine singular nouns, but syn → synowi and ojciec → ojcu.

Baltic languages

Both Lithuanian and Latvian have a distinct dative case in the system of nominal declensions.

Lithuanian nouns preserve Indo-European inflections in the dative case fairly well: (o-stems) vaikas -> sg. vaikui, pl. vaikams; (ā-stems) ranka -> sg. rankai, pl. rankoms; (i-stems) viltis -> sg. vilčiai, pl. viltims; (u-stems) sūnus -> sg. sūnui, pl. sūnums; (consonant stems) vanduo -> sg. vandeniui, pl. vandenims.

Adjectives in the dative case receive pronominal endings (this might be the result of a more recent development): tas geras vaikas -> sg. tam geram vaikui, pl. tiems geriems vaikams.

The Dative case in Latvian underwent further simplifications - the original masculine endings of both nouns and adjectives have been replaced with pronominal inflections: tas vīrs -> sg. tam vīram, pl. tiem vīriem. Also, the final "s" in all Dative forms has been dropped. The only exception is personal pronouns in the plural: mums (to us), jums (to you). Note that in colloquial Lithuanian the final "s" in the Dative is often omitted, as well: time geriem vaikam.

In both Latvian and Lithuanian, the main function of the Dative case is to render the indirect object in a sentence: (lt) aš duodu vyrui knygą; (lv) es dodu [duodu] vīram grāmatu - I am giving a book to the man.

The Dative case can also be used with gerundives to indicate an action preceding or simultaneous with the main action in a sentence: (lt) jam įėjus, visi atsistojo - when he walked in, everybody stood up, lit. to him having walked in, all stood up; (lt) jai miegant, visi dirbo - while she slept, everybody was working, lit. to her sleeping, all were working.

In modern standard Lithuanian, Dative case is not required by prepositions, although in many dialects it is done frequently: (dial.) iki (+D) šiai dienai, (stand.) iki (+G) šios dienos - up until this day.

In Latvian, the dative case is taken by several prepositions in the singular and all prepositions in the plural (due to peculiar historical changes): sg. bez (+G) tevis (without thee) ~ pl. bez (+D) jums (without you); sg. pa (+A) ceļu (along the road) ~ pl. pa (+D) ceļiem (along the roads).


The dative case in Armenian (տրական) is signified with a -ի (-i) ending (some Western Armenian dialects will use -ին (-in) suffix for the dative.)

The most common use of the Dative in Armenian is to indicate the indirect object of an action. 

  • շուն (šun, dog) → շունի (šuni, to the dog)
    • շունի ուտելիք տալիս էիմ (šuni utelik talis eim) = I gave the dog food / I gave food to the dog)

In addition to showing the indirect object of an action, it also shows movement toward a place or direction.

  • տուն (dun, house)→ տունին (dunin, to the house)
    • տունին մօտեցայ (dunin modetsa) = I approached the house


The term "dative" is grammatically similar to the Sanskrit word "datta". "Datta" means "gift" or "the act of giving". The dative case is the fourth in the usual procedure in the declension of nouns (chaturthi-vibhakti).

Non-Indo-European languages


As with many other languages, the dative case is used in Hungarian to show the indirect object of a verb. For example, Dánielnek adtam ezt a könyvet (I gave this book to Dániel). 

It has two suffixes, -nak and -nek; the correct is selected by vowel harmony. The personal dative pronouns follow the -nek version:  nekem, neked, etc.

This case is also used to express "for" in certain circumstances, such as "I bought a gift for Mother". 

In possessive constructions the nak/nek endings are also used but this is NOT the dative form (rather, the attributive or possessive case)[5]


In the Northeast Caucasian languages, such as Tsez, the dative also takes the functions of the lative case in marking the direction of an action. By some linguists, they are still regarded as two separate cases in those languages, although the suffixes are exactly the same for both cases. Other linguists list them separately only for the purpose of separating syntactic cases from locative cases. An example with the ditransitive verb "show" (literally: "make see") is given below:

Кидбā ужихъор кIетIу биквархо.
kidb-ā uži-qo-r kʼetʼu b-ikʷa-r-xo
"The girl shows the cat to the boy."

The dative/lative is also used to indicate possession, as in the example below, because there is no such verb as "to have".

Кидбехъор кIетIу зовси.
kidbe-qo-r kʼetʼu zow-si
"The girl had a cat."

As in the examples above, the dative/lative case usually occurs in combination with another suffix as poss-lative case; this should not be regarded as a separate case, however, as many of the locative cases in Tsez are constructed analytically; hence, they are, in fact, a combination of two case suffixes. See Tsez language#Locative case suffixes for further details.

Verbs of perception or emotion (like "see", "know", "love", "want") also require the logical subject to stand in the dative/lative case. Note that in this example the "pure" dative/lative without its POSS-suffix is used.

ГIалир ПатIи йетих.
ʻAli-r Patʼi y-eti-x
Ali-DAT/LAT Fatima:[II]:ABS II-love-PRES
"Ali loves Fatima."

See also

External links


  1. ^ δοτικός. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at Perseus Project
  2. ^ διδόναι in Liddell and Scott
  3. ^ Dionysius Thrax. τέχνη γραμματική (Art of Grammar), section ιβ´ (10b): περὶ ὀνόματος (On the noun). Bibliotheca Augustana.
  4. ^ Morwood, James.  Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek. Oxford University Press, 2002.  (ISBN 0-19-521851-5)
  5. ^ Ignatius Singer, 'Simplified Grammar of the Hungarian Language', 1882.

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