Grammar-Land by M.L. Nesbitt Grammar-Land by M.L. Nesbitt    

Lesson 12: The Nominative Case

The next day, Dr. Verb came bustling into the court, looking very cross, and calling out loudly for justice.
The Nominative Case

"What is the matter?" asked the Judge; "state your case quietly."

"It is not my case, it is Pronoun's case, that is the matter," answered Dr. Verb; "though I do not say it is his fault. We should get on very well if people would only mind their own business."

"If you will not tell me the state of the case clearly, I cannot help you," said the Judge.

"Well, my lord, if you will listen for a minute, I will try to explain it, so that everyone can understand. As you know very well, I am constantly agreeing with Mr. Pronoun. I showed you how I alter to suit his number and person, and it is only fair that he should alter sometimes to suit me. I only agree with him when he is in the 'Nominative Case.'"

At the words "Nominative Case" there was a real cry of horror from nearly everyone in court. You might have thought they had all turned into interjections, they made such a fuss.

"Nominative Case!" cried Noun; "shame, shame!"

"Shameful! awful! shocking!" cried Adjective.

"Fie! fie! fie!" cried Interjection, and turned three times over head and heels.

"Pray do not use such words, Dr. Verb," said Judge Grammar, "but tell us what you mean."

"Really, my lord," said Dr. Verb, "I did not mean any harm. Nominative is not such a very long word, that people should make such a fuss about it. I am sure the ladies and gentlemen of the jury will not be angry at my using it."

"That depends on how you explain it," said the Judge; "What does it mean?"

"It means the person or thing that is or does whatever my verb says about him. The cat purrs. It is the cat that does what the verb mentions. You have only to put 'who' before the verb in any sentence, and the answer will give you the Nominative. 'Who purrs?' The answer is the cat, so cat is the nominative to the verb purrs. That is the way that I find out whom I am to make my verb agree with."

"Is that your way, Brother Parsing?" asked the Judge.

"Yes, my lord," answered Serjeant Parsing, "that is my way, and therefore, of course, it is the best way. My way is always the best way. Now there is a sentence all ready for you: My way is always the best way. I'll find the nominative before you can dot an i. 'What is always the best way?' Answer, my way is always the best way;—so my way is the Nominative."

"But you asked 'what?' not 'who?' there, Brother Parsing," remarked the Judge.

"Because way is a thing, not a person, my lord. When we are talking of a thing, then we ask 'what?' instead of 'who?' If you said 'the pudding is boiling in the pot,' I should say 'what is boiling?' not 'who is boiling?' for I should hope you would not be boiling a person in a pot, unless you were the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk."

"Fi! fo! fum!" said Interjection, standing on his head, and clapping his heels together.

"Silence, sir!" cried the Judge. "Brother Parsing, please not to talk about giants till we have done with the Nominative Case. Has any gentleman anything more to explain about it?"

"Please, my lord," said Pronoun, "Dr. Verb complains that he has to agree with me when I am in the Nominative Case. But he has to agree with Mr. Noun just as much. It is no matter what part of speech stands as the Nominative in a sentence, Dr. Verb must agree with it; so he need not grumble at me more than at anyone else."

I am not grumbling at you," Dr. Verb began.

"Wait a minute, Dr. Verb," interrupted the Judge; "let us first fully understand this case. You say there is a verb in every sentence?"

"Certainly, my lord," said Verb.

"And there is a Nominative in every sentence?"

"Exactly so, my lord," answered Serjeant Parsing.

"And this Nominative may be a noun or a pronoun?" continued the Judge.

"It may, my lord," chimed in both Mr. Noun and Mr. Pronoun.

"And this verb must agree with this Nominative, whether it likes or not?" asked the Judge.

At that question Dr. Syntax suddenly started up like a jack-in-the-box, and standing bolt upright, said, "A verb must agree with its Nominative case in number and person. A verb must agree with its Nominative case in number and person; "and then sank down again.

"Ah!" said the Judge. "Very good. So you see, Dr. Verb, when you have a sentence like 'ducks swim in ponds,' you are first to find your own word swim, then to put who or what before it, 'who swim?' or 'what swim?' The answer will be ducks, the Nominative. Then you are to be sure that the verb agrees with it. You must say 'ducks swim,' not 'ducks swims;' and as ducks is the third person and plural number, swim will be third person and plural number too."

"Please, my lord," said Pronoun, "when I am Nominative you need very seldom take the trouble to ask any question to find out the Nominative, for most of my words show at once what they are in. I, thou, he, she, we, and they will never allow themselves to be used except as Nominatives. They were born Nominatives, they say, and will not degrade themselves by being anything else. They are rather angry with you for letting people use him in any way they like, but he is a good-natured little fellow, and does not mind any more about the case than he does about being called singular when he is really plural. But I, thou, he, she, we, and they, are exceedingly particular, and always are and will be Nominatives, so you need not ask any question when you see one of them in a sentence."

"You may just as well make it a rule to ask 'who?' or 'what?' in every sentence, to find the Nominative," said Serjeant Parsing. "It is such an easy way of finding the case that a baby in arms could understand it."

"Tut! tut! tut! tut!" laughed Interjection again.

"Oh! be quiet, do!" said Serjeant Parsing; "and, my lord, if the ladies and gentlemen of Schoolroom-shire like to find out the Nominatives in these verses..."

"Yes," said the Judge; "hand them up, brother. No, do not begin again, Dr. Verb; no more complaints today. And remember, friends, that in these lines every verb must have a Nominative, unless there is a little to before the verb. Then it has none. It does not agree with anything. And remember, too, that every noun or pronoun that is in the Nominative case is to get an extra mark on your slates. I wish you good-morning, gentlemen."

So saying, the Judge rose. The verses were handed to the people of Schoolroom-shire, and the court was cleared.

You may read these verses in the Lesson Guide section.

    Grammar-Land by M.L. Nesbitt Grammar-Land by M.L. Nesbitt    

Lesson 12: The Nominative Case


Over the two weeks:

  • Read or review the lesson each week.
  • Complete the assigned enrichment activities for each week.


The Nominative Case is the case used for a noun or pronoun that is the subject of the verb. For example, in the sentence, 'Sally baked a pie,' 'Sally' is the nominative to the verb 'baked.' In the sentence, 'The stag runs,' 'stag' is the nominative to the verb 'runs.' A verb must agree with its nominative case in number and person.


Activity - Week 1 Part 1: Identify the Verb and its Nominative

  • Identify the verb and its nominative in the sentences below.
  • Example: The fox ate the cookies. (nominative = fox, verb = ate)


  • Susan rolls out the dough.
  • They sit on a bench together.
  • We hug each other.
  • The boy plays marbles.
  • The dog barked at the bird.
  • The ducks waddle across the road.

Activity - Week 1 Part 2: Identify the Erroneous Sentences

  • Some of the sentences below are erroneous in that the verb fails to agree with its nominative case.
  • Identify whether each sentence is correct or erroneous.


  • Edgar bake the pie.
  • He loves to play games.
  • She run around the track.
  • They plays a duet on the piano.
  • We sits down at the table.
  • The boy asked for a piece of cake.
  • The dog run in circles.
  • The ducks quacks at the fox.

Activity - Week 2: Find the Nominatives

Find the nominatives in Serjeant Parsing's Verses.


  • The hen guards well her little chicks,
  • The useful cow is meek;
  • The beaver builds with mud and sticks,
  • The lapwing loves to squeak.
  • ***
  • In Germany they hunt the boar,
  • The bee brings honey home;
  • The ant lays up a winter store,
  • The bear loves honeycomb.
  • ***
  • I lost my poor little doll, dears,
  • As I played on the heath one day;
  • And I cried for her more than a week, dears,
  • But I never could find where she lay.
  • ***
  • The maidens laughed, the children played,
  • The boys cut many capers,
  • While aunt was lecturing the maid,
  • And uncle read the papers.