Uses of Cases

A striking feaure of the Romance languages, which have descended from Latin, is how prepositional use has expanded to assume the meanings covered by cases in classical Latin; for example, miles hostem gladio interficit (the soldier kills an enemy with a sword) is in French le soldat tue un ennemi avec une epee.

In its earliest form (of which we have no direct evidence), Latin seems to have employed cases mainly, if not completely, without prepositions. As the language developed, prepositions were sometimes added for greater clarity. In classical Latin, the process was in midcourse, and yet poets retained certain constructions where the accusative and ablative cases were used by themselves but where ordinary speech added a preposition.

It is important to remember that a Roman did not speak or write with a list of case uses in the back of his head. These have been devised to help in learning Latin and in analyzing texts; distinctions are not always clearcut, and a particular example can often be interpreted in different ways.

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