Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Subjective and Objective Genitives

My friend Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, objects to some remarks I made about the genitive case. I concede his first point, but not his second. For there to be a genuine instance of the subjective genitive or objective genitive, you must be able to identify the verb inherent in the noun governing the genitive. Here are two explanations.

Guy L. Cooper III, Attic Greek Prose Syntax (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), following K.W. Krüger, § 47.7.1:
There is often a distinctly verbal relation between the adnominal genitive and its substantive .... For the analysis of all such passages where substantive and adnominal genitive stand in a semi-verbal relation to one another it is useful to think of the syntactic complex they form as a condensed or abbreviated sentence, and then to expand the statement into a fuller form. If the adnominal genitive in the abbreviated statement corresponds to the subject in the full sentence, the adnominal genitive is referred to as a subjective genitive. If the adnominal genitive in the abbreviated sentence corresponds to the object in the full sentence, it is referred to as an objective genitive.

James Mountford, 'Bradley's Arnold' Latin Prose Composition (1938; rpt. New York: David McKay, 1967), § 299:
The genitive case always implies a close relation between the noun in that case and another noun.

(i) Sometimes that relation is such that, if the other noun were converted into a verb, the word now in the genitive would become the subject of that verb.

Thus: post fugam Pompeii = postquam fugit Pompeius.

Such a genitive is called subjective.

(ii) Sometimes the relation of a genitive to its governing noun resembles that of an object to its verb.

Thus: propter mortis timorem = quod mortem timuit.

Such a genitive is called objective.

These principles apply to any language with subjective and objective genitives, not just Greek and Latin.

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