Wondering what the vocative case is in Latin? This post tells you everything you need to know, with examples and charts.
The good news is that the vocative case is one of the easiest Latin cases to learn. It only has one use and it is almost always identical to the nominative case in form.
This post will cover
- what the vocative is
- what the forms of the vocative are (with a handy infographic)
- how to use the vocative (with lots of examples)
Ready? Let’s do this!
Vocative Case: The Basics
The vocative case is used for direct address. In other words, if you are speaking directly to someone, any term that you use to refer to them must be in the vocative.
Usually you address someone by their name, but you might also use a term of endearment or an insult. Whatever you call them, you put it in the vocative case in Latin.
Here are some examples in English with nouns in the vocative (vocatives) in bold.
Hey, Dad, help me wash the dishes!
Angela, do you know why the sky is blue?
You idiot! What are you doing?
Children, you know you aren’t supposed to run inside.
Come on, computer, why aren’t you working?
Honey, the house is flooding!
As you can see from these examples, vocatives often appear in commands, questions, and exclamations. This makes sense, because you are most likely to call someone by name if you are angry, curious, or feeling some other emotion.
Another sign to watch out for vocatives is a second person pronoun (“you” or “y’all”). And sometimes the exclamation “Ō” will be included along with the vocative.
You can remember the use of the vocative by thinking about its name. “Vocative” comes from the Latin cāsus vocātīvus “vocative case”, which in turn comes from the verb vocō “call”. So the vocative is literally the “calling” case.
Think about related words in English, like “vocation” (your calling), “evoke” (call out), and even “voice”. This will help you to associate the vocative with direct address.
Forms of the Vocative Case in Latin
The good news is that the vocative case is almost always identical to the nominative case in form. Yay! Less case endings to memorize.
In fact, the vocative only has a different ending in singular masculine nouns and adjectives of the second declension. Specifically, singular masculine nouns and adjectives of the second declension that end in –us!
Here are two quick rules to follow in order to form the vocative case:
- If the nominative of a noun or an adjective ends in –us, remove –us and add –e.
- BUT if the noun is a proper noun (a name) AND the nominative ends in –ius, remove –ius and add –ī.
Here is a graphic for more visual learners.
There are a few exceptions, which I list below. I give first the nominative singular and then the ablative singular.
- fīlius “son” > fīlī
- genius “tutelary deity, genius” > genī
- meus “my” > mī
- Deus “God” > Deus
- Iēsus “Jesus” > Iēsū
I repeat: for all other nouns and adjectives the vocative is equal to the nominative. For this reason, the vocative is not typically included in noun declension paradigms. It simply isn’t necessary!
Examples of the Vocative Case in Latin
Now let’s look at some examples in Latin. Here’s a nice chart showing five 2nd declension Latin nouns in the vocative.
And here’s a chart showing five 2nd declension Latin adjectives in the vocative.
Now that you know what the vocative endings are, it is time to take a look at some full Latin sentences. Vocatives are in bold. Note that I have included vocatives from all declensions, not just second declension.
Come with me, son! = Mēcum venī, fīlī!
O queen, you are wise. = Ō rēgīna, sapiēns es.
Don’t touch the wolf, soldiers! = Lupum nōlīte tangere, mīlitēs!
How are you today, Romulus? = Quid agis hodiē, Rōmule?
Mother, why are you silent? = Māter, cūr tacēs?
Final Thoughts on the Vocative
Does everything make more sense now? I hope so. The big takeaways from this post are that the vocative is the case of direct address and that most of the time, the vocative looks like the nominative.
Note also that “vocative” is often abbreviated to “voc.” or even just “V”.
A Final Note For Grammar Nerds
I have presented the case endings of the vocative in accord with the standard rules given in most grammars. But there is actually quite a bit of debate over nouns and adjectives that end in –ius.
When does the vocative end in –ī and when in –ie? The standard explanation, as we saw above, is that proper nouns take –ī (along with fīlius and genius) and that other nouns and all adjectives take –ie.
Things are actually not quite so clear-cut. The time period makes a difference, and even ancient Roman grammarians argued about which form was correct.
If you are interested in exploring this topic in more depth, I recommend the following article by Eleanor Dickey, Professor of Classics at the University of Reading.
Dickey, Eleanor. 2000. “O Egregie Grammatice: The Vocative Problems of Latin Words Ending in –ius.” The Classical Quarterly 50:2, 548-562.
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