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What Is Case Government?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 23, 2024
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Just as political government refers to a group of officials that preside over citizens, government in linguistics refers to how a particular word presides over and changes other words. In most circumstances, the notion of case government particularly references how certain words depend on the verb in a sentence to determine their role in the sentence. Case government is a more prominent principle in certain languages. These ideas are studied by theoretical linguists, who develop explanations for grammar structure and meanings.

In general, cases refer to changes that determine a word’s or phrase’s grammatical role in a sentence. These changes are part of inflectional language, because words are modified to express various factors like a change in tense, number, and gender. Many forms of case government are forms of declension, which is a term that generally references when the following grammatical word categories are changed: nouns, articles, adjectives, and pronouns.

Case government specifically refers to the way that a verb can influence words directly related to it. For example, in English the most affected words by the verb are the subject and the direct object, or the “actor” and the “acted upon" words, respectively. Since determination of these words’ roles is mainly reliant on word order rather than structural changes in English, case government is not a major component of English linguistics. An exception might occur in the case of pronouns, where the structure of the word will change in accordance to its relationship with the verb. Pronouns take different forms as subjects or as direct objects, such as "he" and "him."

Several different specific cases influence case government. The impact that a verb and a direct object have on each other is known as the accusative case. Locative cases, on the other hand, refer to words and phrases that may change structure or meaning based on location. In many languages, for example, certain endings are added onto words to indicate a change in location or direction: the allative case, for example. In general, adding letters onto the beginnings or endings of a word represents one of the most common expressions of case government, as does altering certain letters within the word or using a completely different word form.

The government relationship may also impact the verb as well. Applying case government rules may give a verb several different meanings, depending on what kind of word phrase to which it is paired. This effect mirrors a concept known as overloading, where two computer programming functions may share a name but have different overall duties and restrictions.

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