1. Didn't any Latin grammarian catch their own mistake? If the answer is no, I'm dumbstruck. How did they miss such a giant mistake?

  2. Did anyone try to implement and popularize the more correct translation of casus causativus? Why did they fail?


[13] Accuse comes via Old French acuser from the Latin verb accūsāre, which was based on the noun causa ‘cause’ – but cause in the sense not of ‘something that produces a result’, but of ‘legal action’ (a meaning preserved in English cause list, for instance). Hence accūsāre was to ‘call someone to account for their actions’.
      The grammatical term accusative [15] (denoting the case of the object of a verb in Latin and other languages) is derived ultimately from accūsāre, but it arose originally owing to a mistranslation. The Greek term for this case was ptósis aitiātiké ‘case denoting causation’ – a reasonable description of the function of the accusative. Unfortunately the Greek verb aitiásthai also meant ‘accuse’, and it was this sense that Latin grammarians chose to render when adopting the term.

Word Origins (2005 2e) by John Ayto, p 4.

  • 9
    It's not too clear to me why ‘case denoting causation’ would be a reasonable description of the function of the accusative, either. There seem to be some discussions of the Greek names of the cases in Lallot's edition of Dionysius Thrax and in Dalimier's edition of Apollonius Dyscolus, neither of which I have access to.
    – TKR
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 0:28
  • 4
    @TKR Lallot 1985 persee.fr/doc/hel_0247-8897_1985_num_6_1_3343
    – Alex B.
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 1:21

1 Answer 1


It's not at all clear why Greek grammarians decided to call the accusative πτῶσις αἰτιατική in the first place. The accusative doesn't generally express "cause" in any sense. Going by the discussion on pp. 53-4 of Lallot (thanks to Alex B. for the link), there seem to be two suggested explanations. One, given by some ancient grammarians (Lallot doesn't say which), is that it's because the preposition διά in its sense of "because" takes the accusative. The second, preferred by modern scholars, is that αἰτιατική comes not directly from αἰτία "cause" but from the (rare) verbal adjective αἰτιατός "produced by a cause, effected".

Neither possibility seems obviously convincing to me; the use with διά is just one of many uses of the accusative and it isn't clear why it should be chosen for the name of the case, while "produced by a cause" doesn't really capture the semantics of a direct object very well.

In any case, I think the answer to your questions is that given the opacity of the Greek naming logic, it wasn't clear to Romans that accusativus was a mistake or how it should be corrected if it was. Casus causativus doesn't obviously describe the functions of the accusative either. Maybe they simply thought that, just as "to give" was a typical verb taking the dative and so gave that case its name (δοτική / dativus), "to accuse" was a typical verb taking the accusative, and left it at that.

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