Wondering what the Latin accusative case does? Read this post to learn all about the uses of the accusative – with lots of examples.
The accusative is usually the first Latin case that students learn after the nominative. This is because once you know the nominative and the accusative, you can form simple sentences such as “The sailor sees the woman.”
In this post, I will proceed from the most basic use of the accusative – to express the direct object – to more complex types of accusative. If you are a beginning Latin student, simply read as far as seems relevant to you!
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Latin Accusative Case: Basic Facts
The primary function of the accusative case is to mark the direct object of a verb. I will discuss what this means more below, but for now, I want to make the point that the accusative is associated with being the target of an action.
And this makes sense when you consider the origin of the word “accusative”. It derives from the Latin accūsātīvus, which is an adjective meaning “related to accusation.” So, in other words, the accusative case is the accusing case.
This primes us to expect an “aggressive” function for the accusative. If you remember that the accusative often involves being the target of some action, you will be in good shape.
Uses of the Accusative Case in Latin
Accusative as Direct Object
The most important use of the accusative is to indicate the direct object of a transitive verb. The direct object is the person, place, or thing that receives the action of the verb.
Let’s look at a few examples. The direct objects are in bold.
Nauta fēminam videt. = The sailor sees the woman.
Auxilium mittis. = You send help.
Vir matrem amat. = The man loves his mother.
In the first sentence, the woman is the direct object, since she receives the action of seeing. She is the one being seen, and so fēminam is in the accusative.
Similarly, in the second sentence, “help” is the direct object, since it is the target of the action of sending. And in the final sentence, the mother is the recipient of the love and hence the direct object.
You will see accusative direct objects everywhere in Latin, now that you know how they work.
Note: Sometimes verbs take multiple accusatives, in which case there is special terminology involved. If you want to learn more about this, then you can check out my detailed guide to transitive and intransitive verbs.
Accusative of Place To Which
The accusative case also appears after prepositions that indicate motion toward a place. When you see such prepositions, you can assume that the noun or pronoun following will be in the accusative.
- ad = to, toward, for
- in = into, onto (in contrast to in = in, on)
Typically, the accusative cannot stand on its own: you need in or ad. But with the names of cities and small islands, and with the nouns domus “house” and rūs “countryside”, you use the plain accusative. No preposition is needed.
Rōmam veniō. = I am coming to Rome. (city name; no preposition)
Ad Ītaliam eō. = I am going toward Italy. (preposition needed)
Īte domum! = Go home! (domus; no preposition)
In silvās currunt. = They run into the woods. (preposition needed)
Accusative with Prepositions
We just saw how the accusative appears with prepositions indicating motion to or toward. There are many other prepositions that take the accusative, as well.
Some are connected with motion, but others are not. The best course of action is to memorize what case a preposition takes when you learn it.
Here are more common prepositions that take the accusative:
- per = through
- trāns = across
- ob = because of
- propter = on account of
If you want to learn more, be sure to read my post all about Latin prepositions. It even contains a downloadable list of the most common Latin prepositions.
Accusative of Extent of Space or Time
If you want to say how long something goes on or how far or how wide something is, then you use the accusative.
In the following sentences, accusatives of extent of time are in bold. The accusative is used to answer the question: “How long?”
Hodiē trēs hōrās nāvigāvī. = Today I sailed for three hours.
Canis duo et vīgintī annōs vīxit. = The dog lived twenty-two years.
Tōtum diem iter facimus. = We travel the entire day.
Sometimes in English we use “for” with expressions of extent of time, while other times we make do without the preposition. In Latin, if there is ambiguity, it is possible to add the preposition per “through.”
In a similar way, the accusative expresses the extent of space. This accusative answers the questions: “How far? How wide? How tall?” and so forth.
Soror mea duo mīlia passuum currit. = My sisters runs two miles.
Pōns est quīnque pedēs lātus. = The bridge is five feet wide.
Rōma ā Carthāgine multa mīlia passuum abest. = Rome is many miles away from Carthage.
Accusative as Subject in Indirect Statements
Generally the subject is in the nominative case, but under certain circumstances we can have a subject accusative. Basically, the subject of an infinitive is always in the accusative.
This occurs most commonly in indirect statements, so that is what I will focus on here. First, let’s clarify some terminology. Look at the following two sentences.
- He says, “I see a city.”
- He says that he sees a city.
Sentence #1 contains a direct statement: “I see a city.” You can put it in quotation marks, because this is the precise thing that he says.
Sentence #2 contains an indirect statement: that he sees a city. There are no quotation marks, because his statement is rephrased and relayed indirectly.
In English, we introduce indirect speech with the word “that”. Sometimes “that” disappears, though, in colloquial speech. For example, “He says he sees the city.”
In classical Latin, indirect statements are not introduced by a specific word like “that.” Instead, the subject of the indirect statement is put in the accusative, and the verb of the indirect statement becomes an infinitive.
We do something like this in old-fashioned English.
I believe him to be a good man.
Now let’s look at a few examples of Latin indirect statements. They are triggered by words of saying, thinking, knowing, hearing, seeing, etc.
The accusative subjects are in bold.
Puella dīcit canem currere. = The girl says (that) the dog is running.
Rēx audīvit exercitum esse in monte. = The king heard (that) the army was on the mountain.
Sciō tē hoc fēcisse. = I know (that) you did it.
Indirect statements can be confusing in the beginning, but they get easier with time. They deserve a whole post of their own (which I will hopefully publish soon).
But in the meantime, the thing I want you to remember is that the subjects of infinitives are in the accusative.
Latin Accusative Case: Further Resources
There are other uses of the accusative in Latin, but these should give you a good idea of what the case is all about. Remember: the focus is on the target of an action, whether that is the direct object or the place toward which something is moving.
If you are interested in an even deeper dive into the Latin accusative case, then I recommend Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar. Paragraphs 386-397 deal exclusively with the accusative case, and paragraphs 423-431 are also relevant.
Now you know more about the accusative, but how do you feel about the other Latin cases? Check out these helpful posts: