Accidence – Accidental Change

Don’t have accidents spelling “accidence.”

“Accidence” comes from the Latin verb, “accido,” made up of an adverbial prefix, “ad,” meaning, “to,” and the Latin 3rd conjugation verb, “cado,” “I fall,” which reduces to the form, “accido.” Grammatical accidence thus shows the forms, which words demonstrate in their conjugations and declensions. These forms provide greater meaning to sentences by speaking of particular units. Verbal conjugations conjugate, and nominal, prominal and adjectival declensions decline. This is called, “inflection,” and inflection forms the changes in words, mainly endings, which make up the lists of accidence.

In English much of our “accidental” inflections is out of use but some forms still retain at least some of our old forms.

Pronouns retain three of the early four Germanic “cases.” When we examine our original European parent language (Indo-European) we find eight cases used to give meaning to nounal relationships. The original IE (Indo-European) cases were eight and conveyed the meaning later mostly conveyed by prepostions used with a noun. The original eight IE cases were:

  • Nominative
  • Vocative
  • Accusative
  • Instrumental
  • Genitive
  • Dative
  • Ablative
  • Locative

For the sake of example (exempli gratia) let us use the third person singular masculine and feminine pronoun and its equivalent prepositions in lieu of inflections.

  • Nom. Casus subjectivus, case of subject – “who/what”
  • Voc. Casus vocativus, case of address – “O, Who!/What!”
  • Acc. Casus accusativus, case of direct object – “whom/what”
  • Inst. Casus instrumentalis, case of instrument or accompaniment – “by/with whom/what”
  • Gen. Casus genitivus, case of possessor – “whose/what’s”
  • Dat. Casus dativus, case of indirect object – “to/for whom/what”
  • Abl. Casus ablativus, case of motion away from – “from what/whom”
  • Loc. Casus locatus, case of place in, on, at, among – “in/on/at/among whom/what”

In English and other Germanic languages these eight original cases were reduced to four, before they were nearly obliterated etirely except for some original or adopted forms in the nominative and genitive. But three of the Germanic four remain used (sometimes) in the pronouns.

Let us examine the 3rd person singular personal pronoun in its accidence.

The masculine singular declines thus:

  • Nom. He
  • Acc. Him
  • Gen. His

while the feminine singular declines;

  • Nom. She
  • Acc. Her
  • Gen. Hers

The neuter gender, including “child,” are referred to as “it.”

  • Nom. It
  • Acc. It
  • Gen. Its


This is the way our personal pronouns decline.

The “nominative” case for the most part is the “subject” of the “active” finite verb and, so, is the “logical” agent of the verb. In the passive “voice,” the logical agent of the verb is made the agent in the “instrumental” case, while the logical object of the verb becomes the “passive” subject. Thus, active sense, “the bat hits the ball;” passive sense, “the ball is hit by the bat.” To show the pronominal declension at work; “He kisses her;” or, “She is kissed by him.”

The old case endings permit prepositions to be done away with. Prepositions may or may not show more or less meaning in a sentence. But prepositions were victorious in their struggle against case endings in the modern European family.

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