Genitive a morphological case (was: RE: MIDDLE AND PASSIVE VOICE)

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Sat Oct 27 07:32:30 EDT 2001

At 10:45 PM -0700 10/26/01, c stirling bartholomew wrote:
>I read your post. All of it. One thing you said didn't quite register.
>on 10/26/01 3:06 PM, Iver Larsen wrote:
>> The genitive is a morphological case, but not a semantic case. It functions
>> to bind two nominals together.
>Could you elaborate on "but not a semantic case?"  Are you saying that
>constituents in the genitive case do not perform semantic functions?
>Somehow, I don't think you would say that so what I am wondering is . . .

Before I work on my own more complex response to Iver's two important
messages on voice and transitivity, let me quickly respond to Clay's
question, especially as it's something I've repeatedly mentioned myself in
the course of several years of discussions of the genitive.

While the ablatival and partitive functions of the genitive (which would
seem to derive historically from two originally distinct Indo-European
cases whose endings have merged with those of the genitive) are indeed
semantic, indicating respectively separation and 'partitivity,' the basic
"adnominal" genitive does nothing other than what Iver says in the sentence
cited above by Clay: it links one substantive to another without giving any
clue as to what the association between the two might be. This is what
makes the adnominal genitive so versatile a case, and it is also what
drives learners of Greek and translators up the walls in the effort to
resolve whether they're dealing with a "subjective" or an "objective"
genitive or just what association between the two substantives the
speaker/writer had in mind. This, more than any other of the Greek cases,
leads writers of grammars to invent categories and subcategories of
supposed meaning by the handfuls, categories and subcategories that Greek
speakers/writers never dreamed of when they spoke and wrote.

>Thanks for a clear, well organized presentation on a complex topic. A model
>of lucid thinking.

I agree with this characterization and have seen much that is helpful and
useful in the two most recent posts by Iver on voice and transitivity;
while I disagree on some points, quite a bit of what he's said is very
helpful and illuminating.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

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