Wondering how to use or translate the nominative case in Latin? This post explains what the nominative is and what its uses are – with lots of examples.
Look no further! Here is your comprehensive guide to the Latin nominative case. Let’s dive right in!
Nominative Case: The Basics
The nominative is the default case in Latin. We learn Latin nouns in the nominative singular form. When you memorize a vocabulary word, you are memorizing the nominative singular.
The nominative singular appears first in dictionary entries and textbook vocabulary lists. It also appears first in declension paradigms. Basically, you always start with the nominative!
The very name of the case stresses this primacy. In Latin, this case is known as the cāsus nōminātīvus or the “naming case”.
Nōminātīvus comes from the verb nōminō “name, call by name”, which in turn goes back to the noun nōmen. Nōmen means “name” or, in a grammatical context, “noun.”
This etymology makes sense when we study the uses of the nominative. The nominative is the default case, the one that you use to name the subject of a sentence.
With this background, let’s examine the uses of the nominative case in detail.
Uses of the Nominative Case in Latin
There are two primary uses of the nominative case: for subjects and for predicate nominatives. We will also touch briefly on a third possible use: for exclamations.
1. Subject of a Finite Verb
The subject of a finite verb is always in the nominative case. Remember: the subject is the noun or pronoun that controls the verb.
If the verb is active, the subject performs the action. If the verb is passive, the subject receives it.
I have put the subjects in bold in the following English and Latin sentences.
The sailors see the water. = Nautae aquam vident.
The woman will come tomorrow. = Fēmina crās veniet.
The wall was tall. = Mūrus erat altus.
All of these examples involve the subjects of active verbs. The subjects – the sailors, the woman, and the wall – are the ones that perform the actions of seeing, arriving, and being. (Insofar as you can perform the action of being . . .)
Now let’s look at the subjects of passive verbs.
The priest was heard. = Sacerdōs audītus est.
The dogs are carried by the men. = Canēs a virīs portantur.
War will be declared. = Bellum nūntiābitur.
In all of these examples, the subjects – the priest, dogs, and war – receive the actions of the passive verbs. But they are still the subjects, because the verbs agree with them in person and number.
Before we move on to the next usage of the Latin nominative case, I need to make one final distinction. The subjects of finite verbs are in the nominative.
What is a finite verb? Basically, it is a verb that is conjugated and has all the verbal properties of conjugation: person, number, tense, voice, and mood.
This distinction is important because the subjects of infinitives are in the accusative case, not the nominative. But if you are a beginning Latin student, you don’t need to worry about this yet.
The big takeaway: the subject of a Latin verb will be in the nominative.
2. Predicate Nominative / Predicate Adjective
Predicate nominatives are – gasp – in the nominative case. But, you may ask, what is a predicate nominative, anyway?
Predicate nominatives are nouns or pronouns that come after a linking verb. Predicate adjectives are adjectives that come after a linking verb.
The most common linking verb is the verb sum “to be”. Here are a few examples, with the predicate nominatives in bold.
The king is a farmer. = Rēx est agricola.
The girls were priestesses. = Puellae erant sacerdōtēs.
I will be a leader. = Dux erō.
These examples all involve the verb “to be” (Latin sum), but there are many other linking verbs. A few others in English are “become”, “seem”, “appear”, and “look”.
Linking verbs express an equivalence between the subject and the predicate. They say that X equals Y. And so, since the subject is in the nominative, it makes sense that the predicate nominative or adjective would also be in the nominative.
Here are some examples of sentences with predicate adjectives:
Today the girl seems happy. = Hodiē puella vidētur laeta.
You became good. Tū factus es bonus.
And there you go. As long as the subject is nominative, the predicate nominative or predicate adjective will also be in the nominative.
3. Nominative in Exclamations
Occasionally Romans used the nominative case for exclamations. This is not a very frequent use, however – usually the accusative appears in this function.
A classic example of an exclamatory nominative is found in the Latin translation of the Gospel of St. John. When Pontius Pilate reveals Jesus to the crowd, he cries:
Behold the man! = Ecce homō!John 19:5
Homō is in the nominative case, instead of the accusative as we might expect.
Final Thoughts on the Nominative Case in Latin
Are you feeling more confident about the Latin nominative case? The main two things to remember are
- subjects of finite verbs are in the nominative
- predicate nominatives / adjectives are in the nominative
If you keep these functions in mind, you will do just fine.
Now one last note: in textbooks and dictionaries, you will often see “nominative” abbreviated to “nom.” or even just “N”.
Are you on Instagram? Then be sure to follow my new Latin account – @latinwithlivia. I share a mixture of light-hearted Latin phrases, practical study aids, and fun etymology reels.
YOU MAY ALSO LOVE: