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Vocative case

Grammatical cases
List of grammatical cases
Abessive case
Ablative case
Absolutive case
Adessive case
Allative case
Causal case
Causal-final case
Comitative case
Dative case
Dedative case
Delative case
Disjunctive case
Distributive case
Distributive-temporal case
Elative case
Essive case
Essive-formal case
Essive-modal case
Excessive case
Final case
Formal case
Genitive case
Illative case
Inessive case
Instructive case
Instrumental case
Lative case
Locative case
Modal case
Multiplicative case
Oblique case
Objective case
Partitive case
Possessive case
Postpositional case
Prepositional case
Prolative case
Prosecutive case
Separative case
Sociative case
Sublative case
Superessive case
Temporal case
Terminative case
Translative case
Vialis case
Vocative case
Morphosyntactic alignment
Absolutive case
Accusative case
Ergative case
Instrumental case
Instrumental-comitative case
Intransitive case
Nominative case
Declension in English

The vocative case is the case used for a noun identifying the person being addressed, found in Latin among other languages. A vocative expression is an expression of direct address, wherein the identity of the party being spoken to is set forth expressly within a sentence. For example, in the sentence, "I don't know, John.", John is a vocative expression indicating the party who is being addressed.

Historically, the vocative case was an element of the Indoeuropean system of cases, and existed in Latin, Sanskrit, and Classical Greek. Although it has been lost by many modern Indoeuropean languages, some languages have retained the vocative case to this day. Examples are Modern Greek and Slavic languages such as Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatic, Ukrainian, and - to a lesser extent - Russian.


The vocative case in various languages


In Latin the vocative case of a noun is the same as the nominative, except for masculine singular second declension nouns that have the ending -us in the nominative case. An example would be the famous line from Shakespeare, "Et tu, Brute?" ("And you, Brutus?", commonly translated as "You too, Brutus?"), where Brute is the vocative case, whilst Brutus would be the nominative case. When Latin names in the vocative case are translated into English, the nominative case is usually used, as English simply uses the nominative case for vocative expressions but sets them off from the rest of the sentences with pauses as interjections (rendered in writing as commas) (see below).

Four historical Indoeuropean languages

on the example of the word for "wolf".

Proto-Indoeuropean Latin Classical Greek Sanskrit
Nominative case *wl̥kʷ-o-s lup-u-s λύκ-ο-ς (lk-o-s) vr̥k-a-s
Vocative case *wl̥kʷ-e- lup-e- λύκ-ε (lk-e-) vr̥k-a-

Notes on notation: The elements separated with hyphens denote the stem, the so-called theme vowel of the case and the actual suffix. The symbol "" means that there is no suffix in a place where other cases may have one. In Latin, e.g., the nominative case is lupus and the vocative case is lupe!, whereas the accusative case is lupum. The asterisk in front of the Indoeuropean words means that they are merely hypothetical reconstructions, not based on any written sources.


In Polish, unlike in Latin, the vocative is almost always different from the nominative case and is being formed according to a complex grammatical pattern. Here are some examples.

Nominative case Vocative case
Pani Ewa (Ms Eve) Pani Ewo! (Ms Eve!)
Pan profesor (Mr Professor) Panie profesorze! (Mr Professor!)
Krzysztof (Christoph) Krzysztofie! (Christoph!)
Krzyś (affectionate form of Krzysztof) Krzysiu!
Ewusia (affectionate form of Ewa) Ewusiu!
Marek (Mark) Marku!

There are very few exceptions where the vocative case can be replaced with the nominative (e.g. Ewa!), but normally it is used even in informal speech.

Vocative-like expressions in English

In English the vocative case is not marked, but English syntax performs a similar function; witness: "John, could you come here?" or "I don't think so, John", where "John" is neither subject nor object of the verb, but rather indicates the person to whom the statement is being addressed. Other examples for vocative markers are O Death, where is thy victory, or Hey, you!. These vocative expressions are usually classified as interjections and can occur in any clause, irrespective of mood. Some examples:

  • Good morning, class!
  • Don't forget your swimming trunks, George.
  • Hey, George, did you remember to bring your swimming trunks?
  • No, Bob, I forgot.
  • I'm proud of you, son.
  • If I were you, Mary, I'd take Spanish next year instead of French, it's the Future.
  • Death, be not proud!

Last updated: 02-10-2005 23:04:39
Last updated: 02-22-2005 02:35:42