Cases of Nouns: When to Use Subjective, Objective, and Possessive

casesofnounsNouns in the English language have three cases: subjective, objective and possessive. The case of the noun depends on how the noun functions in the sentence. Is the noun used as the main subject of the sentence? Is the noun used to show possession of something else? Is the noun in the sentence receiving something from another object? Does the noun follow a preposition? Answering the above questions can help you determine the type of nouns found in a sentence.

The function of the noun determines its case. Sign up for Advanced English Grammar to learn more about nouns (indefinite, definite) or other parts of speech. Then follow along with this article to learn more about the three cases of nouns: subjective, objective and possessive.

First, a Word About Cases of Nouns: Changing Form (Or How Nouns Usually Don’t!)

Unlike verbs, which might change form depending upon the tense used in the sentence – ie: jog, jogging, jogged or lick, licking, licked – most nouns do not change form depending upon their case. As with most things, there are exceptions. One exception to this general rule when it comes to cases of nouns: Possessive nouns, which we will discuss later in this article, sometimes change form through the addition of an apostrophe and, possibly, an s.

Though we are discussing cases of nouns in particular, pronouns also display the same cases as nouns. Pronouns may be used as the main subject in a sentence; they may be used to display possession; and they may be used as an object of a proposition.  While cases of nouns do not typically change form, cases of pronouns can.

Now, let’s take a look at the cases of nouns separately with examples of each.

Cases of Nouns: Subjective

Subjective nouns are sometimes referred to as nominative nouns. These nouns either are the subject of the sentence or they are used as a predicate noun, which follows a ‘be’ verb and renames the main subject of the sentence.  These are likely the easiest nouns to spot, as they are typically the subject of the verb in the sentence.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of subjective/nominative nouns:

Mary drove to the store. Mary is a subjective noun; she is the one that drove.

Elvis sang for many years. Elvis was the one doing the singing; Elvis is the subjective noun.

Now, compare those two examples with the following two examples of how they may be used as a predicate noun:

The teacher was the speaker. The speaker is renaming who the teacher was and it is linked by was.

Allen is a pediatrician. Pediatrician is the predicate noun as it is renaming who Allen is and it is linked by the verb ‘is’.

Cases of Nouns: Objective

Nouns are referred to as objective when they are used as direct objects, indirect objects or objects of a preposition.  Locating the objective nouns can be a bit trickier than spotting a subjective or predicate noun, but with a little practice you will have no trouble identifying these cases of nouns in a sentence. So let’s practice!

Direct Objects: Direct objects receive action in a sentence. They can typically be found by looking at the verb in the sentence and asking ‘what?’ or sometimes ‘whom?’ As an example:

Show her the book now. (Show whom the book? Her. Her is the direct object.)

My brother licked a lizard. (Licked what? A lizard. Lizard is the direct object.)

Indirect Objects: Indirect objects receive the direct object and can be identified by locating the direct object first and then asking who received that direct object. Sounds confusing? It won’t be after you’ve had a bit of practice locating the indirect object. Let’s look at a few examples:

Mark threw his father the football. Here, the verb is throw. Throw what? The football, which is the direct object. Threw the football to whom? He threw it to his father, which would be the recipient of the direct object (the football) and, therefore, the indirect object.

Here’s another example of an indirect object:

Barbara gave her sister a dollar. To whom did she give the dollar, which is your direct object? To her sister. So, her sister is the recipient, or the indirect object, based on the rules above.

Objects of a Preposition: The object of a preposition is the noun or pronoun that follows a preposition. For example:

He eats with me. With is the preposition, so me is the object of the preposition.

We used one example above that could have been written by using an object of the preposition. Look at this:

Mark threw his father the football.

Instead, we could have written:

Mark threw the football to his father. In this instance, due to the use of the preposition ‘to’, father becomes the object of a preposition.

Cases of Nouns: Possessive

Nouns are considered possessive when they are used to show ownership of something. They will sometimes use an apostrophe, but this is not always the case. Pronouns can also be used in the possessive case, as in ‘his backpack’ or ‘her purse’.

Examples of possessive nouns include:

Mary’s backpack was red. Mary’s is the possessive noun showing ownership of the backpack.

Gerald’s shirt was blue with white stripes. Gerald’s is the possessive noun.

The course Elementary English Course EFL teaches students about possessive pronouns.

Cases of Nouns: Getting Your Toes Wet

While we have briefly broken down the different cases of nouns and given you some examples of each, this lesson is just allowing you to get your toes wet when it comes to practicing these parts of speech. We did not talk about a variety of other things, such as predicate adjectives, which describes nouns; intransitive verbs, which do not have direct objects; or verb complements. For more advanced lessons in the English language, try our Intermediate English course.

To practice more usage of nouns, along with verbs and pronouns, sign up for The Elements of English Grammar, which offers practice sessions and over 430 minutes of video instruction.