Chapter OneThe Nominative Case
Overview of Nominative Uses
Primary Uses of the Nominative 29 1. Subject 29
2. Predicate Nominative 30
3. Nominative in Simple Apposition 33
Grammatically Independent Uses of the Nominative 34 4. Nominative Absolute 34
5. Nominativus Pendens (Pendent Nominative) 34
6. Parenthetic Nominative (Nominative of Address) 35
7. Nominative for Vocative 35
8. Nominative of Exclamation 36
INTRODUCTION: UNAFFECTED FEATURES
The nominative is the case of specific designation. The Greeks referred to it
as the "naming case" for it often names the main topic of the sentence. The main
topic in a sentence semantically is, of course, very similar to the syntactical subject,
but the two are not always identical. Hence, the most common use of the nominative
case is as subject. The nominative occurs more than any other case form
in the NT, though the accusative and genitive are not far behind.
Primary Uses of the NominativeExSyn 38-49
1. SubjectExSyn 38-40
a. Definition. The substantive in the nominative case is frequently the subject
of a finite verb. The verb may be stated or implied. Conversely, the subject
may be implied, "embedded," as it were, in the verb (e.g., [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] means "he
comes"). This usage is the most common for the nominative case.
Relation to verb voice. The relation of the subject to the action or state of
the verb is largely determined by the voice of the verb. If the voice is active, the subject does the acting; if passive, the subject is acted upon; if middle, the
subject acts on itself or in its own behalf, or the stress is placed on the subject.
There are, of course, exceptions to this: e.g., the deponent middle and
passive have active meanings, and the equative verb does not imply action, but a state.
Relation to verb type. In addition to analyzing verbs by their voice, it is
profitable to analyze them as to whether they are transitive, intransitive, or
equative. Briefly, transitive verbs take a direct object and can typically be
transformed into a passive construction ("the boy hit the ball" can become
"the ball was hit by the boy"). Intransitive verbs do not take a direct object
and cannot be transformed into a passive ("she came to the church" cannot be changed to "the church was come to by her"). Equative verbs are somewhat
in between: they function like transitive verbs in that there are typically
two substantives joined by a verb. But they also function like
intransitives in that they cannot be transformed. They are unlike either in
that the second substantive will be in the same case as the first substantive
("John was a man"). It is important to keep these verb types in mind as you
think about syntax in general.
Missing elements. The verb (especially the equative verb) may be absent
from the clause, though implied (e.g., [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["I am a voice"] in John 1:23).
Also, the subject may be absent, though implied in the verb (e.g., [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["they were bringing children to him"] in Mark 10:13).
John 3:16 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] God loved the world
Rom 6:4 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Christ was raised from the dead
2. Predicate NominativeExSyn 40-48
a. Definition. The predicate nominative (PN) is approximately the same as the
subject (S) and is joined to it by an equative verb, whether stated or implied. The
usage is common. The equation of S and PN does not necessarily or even normally
imply complete correspondence (e.g., as in the interchangeability of A=B, B=A in a
mathematical formula). Rather, the PN normally describes a larger category (orstate) to which the S belongs. It is important to keep in mind, however, that there are
two distinct types of S-PN constructions; these will be discussed below.
The kinds of verbs used. The verbs used for this "equation" are, most
frequently, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. In addition, the passives of
some transitive verbs can also be used: e.g., [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
Translation of subject-predicate nominative clauses. English translation
requires that the S be translated first. Such is not the case in Greek. In
John 1:1, for example, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] should be translated "the Word was
God" rather than "God was the Word." But since Greek word order is far
more flexible than English, this creates a problem: How do we distinguish
S from PN if word order is not a clear guide? The following section will
offer a solution.
The semantics and exegetical significance of the subject-predicate
(1) Two Kinds of Semantic Relationships
The significance of the S-PN construction affects more than mere translation
precisely because S and PN do not normally involve total interchangeability.
The usual relationship between the two is that the predicate nominative describes
the class to which the subject belongs. This is known as a subset proposition (where S
is a subset of PN). Thus the meaning of "the Word was flesh" is not the same as
"flesh was the Word," because flesh is broader than "the Word." "The word of
the cross is foolishness" (1 Cor 1:18) does not mean "foolishness is the word of
the cross," for there are other kinds of foolishness. "God is love" is not the same
as "love is God." It can thus be seen from these examples that "is" does not necessarily
But there is another, less frequent semantic relationship between S and PN.
Sometimes called a convertible proposition, this construction indicates an identical
exchange. That is to say, both nouns have an identical referent. The mathematical
formulas of A=B, B=A are applicable in such instances. A statement such
as "Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player in NBA history" means the
same thing as "the greatest player in NBA history is Michael Jordan." There is
complete interchange between the two. These two kinds of relationships are
graphically represented in chart 4 below.
Thus in examining S-PN clauses, two fundamental questions need to be
answered: (1) How can we distinguish between S and PN since word order is not an
infallible guide? (2) What is the semantic relationship between the two: Is the S a
particular within the larger class of the PN, or is it interchangeable with the PN?
(2) How to Distinguish Subject from Predicate Nominative
The general principle for distinguishing S from PN is that the S is the known
entity. This principle is valid for both kinds of S-PN constructions. In Greek