Most English books of Latin use the order used by Charles E. Bennett:

  • Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Vocative, Ablative.

But most French books use the following order:

  • Nominative, Vocative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative, Ablative.

Hence the case-endings that are similar are close (nominative and vocative, dative and ablative). And that can help the memorization of the declensions. Also I feel that vocative as nominative are usually used at the start of sentences...

What is the benefit of the English order? Is there a logic behind the choice of the order, or is it just an habit to present them this way?


The Greek - and hence Roman - tradition is to list cases in the order: NOM - GEN etc. Dionysius Thrax (170-90 BCE) is considered to be the first extant record of this system - see a screenshot from Allen and Brink 1980, p. 65 The old order and the new: A case history (btw I strongly recommend this paper - imho it's the best summary of all relevant research on this question written in English):

enter image description here

cf. Jean Lallot (in Lallot 1985) argues this canonical order of the cases "certainly goes back to the Stoics" - cf. "L'ordre canonique des cas ... remonte très certement aux Stoiciens" (p. 54).

For those who read in Greek:

enter image description here

English translation (kindly translated by brianpck);

Here is a more precise account. There are three local relations: from a place, in a place, and to a place, which respectively are proper to the genitive, dative, and accusative cases. It is the case that everything moved desires to be moved around something immobile (e.g. a dancer cannot turn around if he does not place his foot upon the ground, which is immobile), and it is clear in the case of someone who is moved from one place to another that, first, he comes to be in a place, and thereby does he come to a place. The genitive and dative cases seem somewhat similar to the immobile ground. The relation "from a place" which comes to be from the genitive to a place, i.e. to the accusative, advances by means of the dative, which shows the relation "in a place." For this reason, the dative has been placed before the accusative.

Allen and Brink 1980 write that another tradition, i.e. Nom-Voc-Acc-Dat-Abl-Gen, goes back to the Danish historical linguist Rasmus Rask (1787-1832). His rationale was that the neuter forms were "the simplest" (hence the Nom-Voc-Acc block); thus, he gives the declension paradigms in the order neuter-masculine-feminine.

cf. Allen and Brink (p. 78):

enter image description here

Allen and Brink do mention some earlier historical evidence from the eighteenth century though:

  • Nom-Voc-Dat-Acc-Abl-Gen in Versuch einer an der menschlichen Sprache abgebildeten Vernunftlehre (1781) by the German language teacher and grammarian Johann Werner Meiner (1723-1789) (Bernd Naumann describes this work as "a philosophical grammar which was the result of his life-long experience as a language teacher and thus better than most contemporary works on this subject" - see the entry on Meiner in Lexicon grammaticorum: Who's who in the history of world linguistics);
  • Nom-Voc-Acc-Gen-Dat (by the Danish scholar N.L. Nissen)

Later, the Danish classical philologist (and politician) Johan Nicolai Madvig (1804-1886) adopted this case order in his Latin grammar. This caught on - via Kennedy, who used several grammars, including the one written by Madvig.

It is not quite correct to say that in German linguistics the canonical order is NGDA that is used to describe Latin declension paradigms. For example, the best Latin grammar in German (and it surely beats any Latin grammar written in English or French, imho), Lateinische Grammatik by Leumann , Hofmann and Szantyr (the last edition was published in 1977, edited by Manu Leumann) uses the following order of the cases in Latin:

Nom. Akk. Gen. Dat. Abl.

cf. Ausfürliche Grammatik by Kühner and Holzweissig (1912):

Nom. Gen. Dat. Acc. Voc. Abl.

In Russian linguistic research, the following order is the most common one: Nom - Gen - Dat - Acc - Abl - Voc. (really any Latin grammar).

In French linguistics, the following order seems to be common now:

N. Ac. G. D. Abl. (see e.g. Morphologie historique du latin by Alfred Ernout, 3rd ed. 1952; 4th ed. 2014).

So, the following order seems to be prevalent now in present-day Latin research (published in English, German, or French):

Nom. (Voc.) Acc. Gen. Dat. Abl.

Weiss 2009 (2nd corrected printing 2011), following the Indian system with some modifications, adopts a slightly different order though in his Outline of the historical and comparative grammar of Latin (and so does Sihler 1995):

Nom. Voc. Acc. Dat. Abl. Gen.

Pinkster 2015 (The Oxford Latin syntax) still uses the old order, Nom. Gen. Dat. Acc. Abl. Voc. but I suspect it's because Harm Pinkster is from the Netherlands.

I'll add more details tomorrow after classes.

| improve this answer | |
  • Of course. But you have to remember than Panini's work became known in Europe only two hundred years ago. The earliest record from Europe on the order of cases comes from Dionysius Thrax, who obviously knew nothing about Panini. – Alex B. Jul 25 '18 at 13:33
  • The Indian system does have a logic. The first three cases (Nominative, Accusative, Instrumental) are typically "strong" cases in Sanskrit (cases with longer ablaut grades). – fdb Jul 25 '18 at 16:45
  • 3
    To return to German practice: NGDA is used in all grammars of German and is known to every German school child, alternatively Werfall, Wesfall, Wemfall, Wenfall. Leumann et al. in their Latin grammar intentionally use an order closer to that of Sanskrit. Otherwise, an excellent answer. – fdb Jul 26 '18 at 17:29


| ---------------|------------------|--------------------------|
| Case ordering  | Origin           | Popular in               |
| ---------------|------------------|--------------------------|
| N-G-D-Ac-V-Abl | Antiquity        | USA, Italy, Greece,      |
|                |                  | Germany, Sweden, Russia* | 
| ---------------|------------------|--------------------------|
| N-V-Ac-G-D-Abl | 19c. Danish      | UK, France, Denmark,     | 
|                | scholarship      | Norway                   |
| ---------------|------------------|--------------------------|

The countries that use the reformed order for Latin also tend to use it for Greek and German.

*Usually in Russia, and often in the US, the final two cases are switched round (putting Vocative at the end). In the UK and sometimes elsewhere, the Vocative is often missed out unless considered specifically relevant. Allen & Brink (1980) suggested that Spain followed the traditional order, but Spain seems now to be moving towards the reformed case order.

The Roman case order is simply the Greek one with Ablative stuck at the end. (Greek has no ablative.) This suggests that the Romans didn't put a great deal of thought into it and that their ordering might not be the optimal one either for Latin or from a cross-linguistic perspective. Swapping the Vocative to the end seems an improvement.

Advantages of the Traditional (Antique) Case Order

The arguments that have been made for Nom.-Gen.-Dat.-Acc.-Voc.(-Abl.) are:

  • It represents a logical sequence in time/place: from location, in location, to location. But this is only true of Greek, not Latin.
  • It is sometimes claimed to represent the typical ordering of words/cases in a sentence.
  • It puts the Genitive directly after the Nominative, which reflects the citation form of nouns and how they're listed in dictionaries and word-lists.

(Note: The traditional order also reflects a view that the Nominative is the base form from which the other cases fall away (case=fall, oblique=slanting). But this view is just as well reflected in the reformed order.)

Advantages of the Reformed Case Order

  • It helps illustrate case syncretism and may be easier to learn. The Nom & Voc are usually the same. The Nom & Acc are sometimes the same. The Gen & Dat are sometimes the same, and Dat & Abl very often the same. And similar syncretism is seen in Greek and German and well served by the same ordering.
  • It is seen by some as more natural, the Accusative or direct object representing a more basic relationship to the Nominative than the Dative does. For the 19c. Danish scholar Madvig, the Accusative represents direct involvement in the action and so should not really have been regarded as an oblique (falling away) case but is just as fundamental as the Nominative.
  • It is more similar to the Sanskrit case order. Scholars also tend to use a similar order for (Proto-)Indo-European cases.
| improve this answer | |
  • Re: N-G-D-Ac-V-Abl (Russia): I'm afraid I have to disagree. From my own experience it is usually N-G-Acc-Abl-Voc. Voc is usually the last case. – Alex B. Aug 22 at 14:57
  • 1
    I largely treat N-G-D-Ac-V-Abl and N-G-D-Ac-Abl-V as two variations on the same order - at any rate they have much more common with each other than with N-(V-)Ac-Gen-D-Abl - although I admit the distinction is nevertheless useful, so I'll amend. – rjpond Aug 22 at 15:00

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