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    Latin for Moms: Understanding the Five Basic Cases

    April 16, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    So I’ve decided to stop playing around and really learn Latin. 90% of the time, Visual Latin is enough for my child. But that other 10% of the time? He doesn’t get it, watching the video over doesn’t help, and trouble starts if I haven’t studied up enough to help him. No matter how helpful videos can be (and I love them, and they are helpful), nothing can replace the mother who can answer questions, who can say it in another way.

    If your child is studying Latin, you need to know some basics so that you can answer his questions along the way. Lesson 1 explains the five basic cases.

    I hate admitting this because it means I can’t stay as I am and teach well. My children can learn a lot of stuff from books, of course, but sometimes they need me.

    This is the good thing about homeschooling, right? It makes us grow and change and learn in all these ways we never would have on our own.

    What is your child asking you questions about? Mine is asking about Latin. And subsequently, I have studied up…and fallen in love with Latin. Latin is like math: it makes perfect sense. I feel more sensible for being around my Latin books!

    Latin study tripped me up from the very beginning: the terminology.  Why can’t we say “possessive” if that is what we mean? Why do we have to get all philologist about it?

    I can’t answer those questions, but I can try and explain what the “cases” are, which is basically what this new, unscheduled and therefore unruly, series will be about. It’ll attempt to explain some of the basic nuts and bolts about Latin so that you can answer questions when your children ask.

    Or maybe you’ll even study on your own!

    So today we’ll talk about the cases using a basic English sentence:

    I used red to do to the sentence what we are asked to do in our exercises from KISS Grammar. We underline the subject, put “IO” over indirect objects, “DO” over direct objects, and parentheses around prepositional phrases. Then I noted the possessive just because. They haven’t asked us to do that in grammar (yet).

    Each of these five different uses of nouns (subject, indirect and direct objects, prepositional phrase, and possessive) has a “case” which corresponds to it in Latin.

    I’m not going to decline any Latin words, so don’t freak out. I’m just going to define relative terms, as I already did in the picture above, in blue. The nominative case corresponds to the subject of the sentence. The genitive case is possessive. The dative case is where you file all your indirect objects (as well as prepositional phrases beginning with “to” and sometimes “for” — either way, the dative noun is receiving the direct object), while direct objects are in the accusative case. Finally, there is the ablative case, which is sometimes called the “by/with/from” case — it’s used with lots of prepositions.

    When we decline Latin words, we do it in this order:

    1. Nominative
    2. Genitive
    3. Dative
    4. Accusative
    5. Ablative

    Memorize It!

    binder ring clips are your friend

    I quickly learned that there is nothing I can do to ease my way in Latin like memory work. Memorizing this stuff speeds the process up rapidly. I study Latin the exact same way I studied necessary facts in college: flash cards. I write what I want to memorize on one side of a 3×5 card, and some sort of prompt on the other. I punch a hole in a corner of the card, and I put the card onto my binder ring clips.

    These clips let me flip through cards easily. I quiz myself before I start each new study session, then clip them back to the inside of my Latin binder.

    I wanted to remember the cases, in declension order. So, my prompt was, “Name and define the five main cases.” On the back it says:

    Nominative: subject
    Genetive: possessive
    Dative: indirect object
    Accusative: direct object
    Ablative: used with by/with/for prepositional phrases

    Technically, there are two other cases. It’s true. But when you study declensions, you’ll see that these are the five you usually work with. So here we shall begin our Latin study.

    Suggested Study Helps

    If you want to teach yourself Latin, might I suggest these helpers? These are what I use myself.

    Wheelock’s is what I started with, ages ago, so it will always have a special place in my heart. But to be honest, the combination of Henle and Visual Latin is exactly what I needed. I still use Wheelock’s as an occasional reference.

    Read More in this Series:

    Lesson 1: Understanding the Five Basic Cases ←you are here
    Lesson 2: What Does Declining Mean?
    Lesson 3: A Preposition Inside the Genitive Case
    Lesson 4: A Preposition Inside the Dative Case
    Lesson 5: How to Determine the Gender of a 3rd Declension Noun (A Flow Chart)

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  • Reply Free Latin Learning Resources! - How To Homeschool For FREE October 14, 2016 at 3:02 am

    […] Free Latin for Moms Article Series […]

  • Reply Betty June 17, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    I have an 11yod who needs to start Latin. Prima Latina didn’t click with her. She is going into 6th grade but has some learning disabilities and dyslexia. I was leaning towards Visual Latin for her. I also looked at Latin for Children and though I LOVE Chris Perrin’s talks, I question whether the video would hold my daughter’s attention. Just wondering your thoughts.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 17, 2015 at 3:06 pm

      I think what I would do if I were you is download the six free lessons from Visual Latin and give it a test drive. This way, you aren’t committing to anything, and you aren’t laying out any of your school budget, but you get a chance to see if it’ll be a good fit for you. I don’t know if Latin for Children has any free lessons, but if they do I would download those, also, and do a comparison. It could be that it’ll be obvious which one works for you! 🙂

  • Reply Free Latin Resources to Get You Started - Classically Homeschooling March 30, 2015 at 4:01 am

    […] Latin for Moms: Understanding the Five Basic Cases […]

  • Reply Phyllis April 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    We have not gotten to Latin yet, and this is completely off the top of my head–no time to research–so I really don’t know if it’s right or not. However, the cases seem to be just like in Russian. Something that really helped me with understanding Russian genitive and dative was actually in Greek. Our Greek textbook gave the words “of” and “to” as the keys to those two cases. Genitive isn’t quite only possessive (at least not in Russian and Greek); it means “of [the word in that case].” Somehow that was what clicked with me. So, this sounds awkward, but using that idea, your sentence would be “Mom (of) Bob gave (to) Kelly….”

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 18, 2013 at 11:37 pm

      From what I have read, Russian is the MOST like Latin of modern languages, so I’m sure you are on to something. Yes, you are right that really the preposition “of” is wrapped into the genitive case. The idea of prepositions being inside each case is just fascinating to me! It is exactly how “to” is wrapped inside the dative case and “by/with/for” is inside the ablative case and then it gets interesting to think that by, with, and for are somehow wrapped up in each other in the Latin mind…

      I planned to get into this later on, but you are right that I probably should have done it to begin with…

    • Reply Phyllis April 19, 2013 at 10:59 am

      Yes, it is truly fascinating! Sorry to jump ahead of you. 🙂

      Maybe you have an opinion about this: I’m trying to decide if I should look for a Russian curriculum to teach my children Latin from, or an English one? They prefer Russian, and it really is close enough to Latin to see a lot of similarities. However, learning it from English might help their English more? Or would they get the English benefit from studying Latin, no matter what way?

      I’m going to ask this on the forum, too, but I’d especially like to hear what you think about it.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      I’m trying to think of it the way I do things with my own children. They are learning Latin via English. They are receiving Spanish instruction via immersion from my neighbor who is a Mexican immigrant. When they are older and study Spanish in a textbook-type of environment, the instructions will be in English. So I guess in our situation, they are learning both Latin and their modern foreign language via their native tongue.

      I know it gets complicated because you really want your children to speak YOUR native language, but it seems like it is “normal” to use the native tongue for instructions and explanation.

      With that said, *I* have noticed benefits in understanding Spanish via Latin study. I was studying last night and I kept having these moments where I thought, “Hey! So *that* is what my Spanish teacher meant!” So it seems like studying another language in general helps us studying *more* other languages.

      Of course, my *first* thought in answer to your question was that you should ask Karen Glass! 🙂

      My guess is that Latin will be easy for your children because Russian is such an inflected language.

  • Reply walking April 18, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    I will keep this in mind when we start Latin. We are waiting another year or two for Spanish to gel. 🙂

  • Reply Pilgrim April 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I have been debating what to do next around here. I was doing Henle by myself but I need a little guidance. It looks like VL just went on sale! So I am probably going to get it and dive in. Thanks for the push to get back into it.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 18, 2013 at 11:34 pm

      For me, Henle WITH VL has been great. I’m not sure Henle alone would have worked for me…I hope you like it, too!

  • Reply Garner Goings On April 17, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    We love Memoria Press First Form Latin. I’ve blogged on our Latin experiences if you want to have a laugh –

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 18, 2013 at 11:34 pm

      I finally had the chance to read your whole series and I LOVED it! Seriously! I need to share it in my link roundup this time around.

  • Reply Dawn April 17, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Have I mentioned lately how happy I am that you have gone before me? I look forward to continuing to learn from your experience. Thank you!

  • Reply Heather April 16, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Thank you a thousand times!!! You made a light bulb come on for these cases which I have been struggling with as we progress through VL. I was the opposite of Mystie, great with vocab and no understanding of the grammar, but you have made a significant change with this post, so there’s now hope. This is an answer to prayer as I knew we didn’t really know what we were doing and I didn’t know what to do about it, although my son is able to do the sentences and translations somehow. So thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.
    Please keep these lessons coming.

  • Reply amy in peru April 16, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    i sure was glad for getting started with latin, i couldn’t have done been there for my kids otherwise… 🙂 it’s fun to see your series! we too, use visual latin and love it. but we’re moving on toward lingua latina and love it too!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      I can’t wait to do Lingua Latina, Amy! So happy for you!

  • Reply Mystie April 16, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Yay for Latin for Moms! 🙂

    I’m doing LFC alongside my oldest (and, next year, I’ll do A over again with #2 while moving on to B with my oldest).

    We are learning the cases with the mnemonic: Never Give Davus Any Apples. So far, although we’re learning the endings in chants, we’ve only used nominative and accusative. We just started learning prepositions that take the accusative. Enough grammar is coming into play now (rather than just vocab and terms and chants), that I’m actually enjoying it and becoming engaged. 🙂 But, just as when I took Spanish in college, I’m great with the grammar, terrible with the vocab. I’ve been meaning to make up flashcards for both myself and my student….gotta do that!

    I just need to have a regular enough routine where we actually get to it consistently!

    I look forward to hearing about your own Latin studies. 🙂

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