AskDefine | Define vocative

Dictionary Definition

vocative adj : relating to a case used in some languages; "vocative verb endings" n : the case (in some inflected languages) used when the referent of the noun is being addressed [syn: vocative case]

User Contributed Dictionary



Late Middle English < from Middle French vocatif < vocativus ("calling") < vocatus ("invocation") < vocare ("to call") < .


  1. Of or pertaining to calling; used in calling or vocation.
  2. used in address; appellative; — said of that case or form of the noun, pronoun, or adjective, in which a person or thing is addressed; as, Domine, O Lord.


of or pertaining to calling
  • Finnish: kutsumuksellinen
  • French: vocationnel
  • Greek: κλητικός
  • Japanese: 天職の
  • Russian: призывающий, зовущий
grammar: used in address
  • Croatian: vokativan
  • Finnish: vokatiivinen
  • French: vocatif
  • Greek: κλητικός
  • Hungarian: megszólító
  • Japanese: 呼格の
  • Russian: звательный


  1. The vocative case


grammatical case

See also



  1. Feminine plural form of vocativo



vocative n p
  1. Plural of vocativ

Extensive Definition

The vocative case is the case used for a noun identifying the person (animal, object, etc.) being addressed and/or occasionally the determiners of that noun. A vocative expression is an expression of direct address, wherein the identity of the party being spoken to is set forth expressly within a sentence. For example, in the sentence, "I don't know, John," John is a vocative expression indicating the party who is being addressed.
Historically, the vocative case was an element of the Indo-European system of cases, and existed in Latin, Sanskrit, and Classical Greek. Although it has been lost by many modern Indo-European languages, some languages have retained the vocative case to this day. Examples are Modern Greek, Albanian, Baltic languages such as Lithuanian and Latvian, Slavic languages such as Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Ukrainian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, and the modern Celtic languages such as Scottish Gaelic and Irish. Among the Romance languages the vocative was preserved in Romanian: it is also visible sometimes, in languages such as Catalan which employ the personal article but drop it in front of vocative forms. It also occurs in some non-Indo-European languages, such as Georgian, Arabic, Chinese, and Korean.

The vocative case in various languages


In Latin the form of the vocative case of a noun is the same as the nominative, except for singular second-declension nouns that have the endings -us or -ius in the nominative case. An example would be the famous line from Shakespeare, "Et tu, Brute?" (commonly translated as "And you, Brutus?"), where Brute is the vocative case, whilst Brutus would be the nominative case. When "-ius" nouns are put into the vocative, however, they lose this ending and replace it with a "ī". Therefore, "Julius" becomes "Julī". When Latin names in the vocative case are translated into English, the nominative case is usually used, as English normally uses the nominative case for vocative expressions but sets them off from the rest of the sentences with pauses as interjections (rendered in writing as commas) but may also be shown by prefacing the noun or noun phrase with the English word "O," especially in poetic or solemn rhetorical speech: …clothe you, O ye of little faith. (see also Apostrophe (figure of speech) and below).

Four historical Indo-European languages

Take, for example, the word for "wolf": Notes on notation: The elements separated with hyphens denote the stem, the so-called theme vowel of the case and the actual suffix. The symbol "Ø" means that there is no suffix in a place where other cases may have one. In Latin, e.g., the nominative case is lupus and the vocative case is lupe, whereas the accusative case is lupum. The asterisk in front of the Proto-Indo-European words means that they are theoretical reconstructions, not attested in a written source. The symbol ̥ (ring below) indicates a consonant serving as a vowel; it should appear directly below the "l" or "r" in these examples, but may appear after them due to font display issues.


In Polish, unlike in Latin, the vocative (wołacz) is almost always different from the nominative case, except neuter nouns and nouns in plural and is formed according to a complex grammatical pattern. Here are some examples.
In informal speech, the nominative is increasingly used in place of the vocative, but this is regarded as a bad style in formal situations.
The vocative is popular for addressing people in a rude or offensive manner, e.g.
  • Zamknij się, pajacu! ("Shut up you buffoon!")
  • Co się gapisz, idioto? ("What are you staring at, idiot!")
  • Nie znasz się, baranie, to nie pisz ("Stop writing, idiot, you don't know what you're talking about!")
  • Spadaj wieśniaku! ("Get lost, peasant!")
Use of the vocative does not, in itself, imply anything negative, and in informal situations it is sometimes used instead of nominative, especially with nicknames and among teenagers. It is often employed in affectionate contexts such as Kocham Cię Krzysiu! ("I love you, Chris!")


In Czech, the vocative (5. pád) is used in a similar way as in Polish. The vocative differs from the nominative in masculine and feminine nouns in singular.
In informal speech, it is usual that the male surname (see also Czech name) is in nominative when addressing men, e.g. pane Novák! instead of pane Nováku! (Female surnames are adjectives, thus they are the same in the nominative as well as in the vocative - see Czech declension). Teachers often address their pupils with the surname in nominative. However, such addressing can seem impolite. Using the appropriate vocative is strongly recommended in the official and written styles.


Traditional names usually have a vocative case. Modern and foreign names don't.
Иван (nominative case)
Иване (vocative case)
Some nouns also have the vocative case.
бог (god)
господ (god)
Иисус, Иисус Христос (Jesus, Jesus Christ)
Иисусе, Иисусе Христе
другар (comrade)
поп (priest)
It can also be constructed for nouns that normally don't have the vocative case as an attempt to achieve a particular stilistic effect - as in books for children etc.
жаба (frog)
жабо (somebody talks to the frog)


Historical vocative

The historical Slavic vocative has been lost in Russian, and currently can only be found in certain cases of archaic expressions. Few of those expressions, mostly of religious origin, are very common in colloquial Russian: "Боже!" (Bozhe, vocative of "Бог" Bog, "God"), often also used in expression "Боже мой!" (Bozhe moy, "My God!"), and "Господи!" (Gospodi, vocative of "Господь" Gospod, "Lord"), which can also be expressed as "Господи Иисусе!" (Gospodi Iisuse!, Iisuse vocative of "Иисус" Iisus, "Jesus"). Both expressions are used to express strong emotions (much like English "O my God!"), and are often combined ("Господи, Боже мой"). More examples of historical vocative can be found in other Biblical quotes that are sometimes used as proverbs, e.g. "Врачу, исцелися сам" (Vrachu, istselisya sam - "Doctor, heal thyself", cf. nominative "врач", vrach). Vocative forms are also used in modern Church Slavonic. The patriarch and bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church are addressed as "владыко"(vladyko, hegemon, cf. nominative "владыка", vladyka). In the latter case the vocative form is often also incorrectly used as nominative to refer to bishops and the patriarchs.


In modern colloquial Russian given names and a small family of terms often take a special "shortened" form that some linguists consider to be a reemerging vocative case. This form is applied only to given names and nouns that end in -a and -я, which are optionally dropped in the vocative form: "Лен, где ты?" ("Lena, where are you?"). This is basically equivalent to "Лена, где ты?", the only difference being that the former version suggests a positive personal, emotional bond between the speaker and the person being addressed. Names ending in -я acquire a soft sign in this case: "Оль!" = "Оля!" ("Olya!"). In addition to given names, this form is often used with words like "мама" (mama, mom) and "папа" (papa, dad), which would be respectively "shortened" to "мам" (mam) and "пап" (pap).
Such usage differs from historical vocative (which would be "Leno" in the example above) and is not related to such historical usage.


Ukrainian has retained the vocative case, in contrast to the other, closely-related East Slavic languages, Belarusian and Russian. See Ukrainian grammar#Morphology for details.


In Georgian, the vocative case is used for addressing the second singular and plural persons. For the word roots ending with a consonant, the vocative case suffix is -o, and for the words ending with a vowel, there is no suffix for the vocative case (the suffix used to be -v in old Georgian, but is now considered archaic). For example, kats- is the root for the word "man." If one addresses someone with this word, it becomes, katso!
Adjectives are also declined in the vocative case. Just like nouns, consonant final stem adjectives take the suffix -o in the vocative case, and the vowel final stems are not changed. Compare:
lamazi kali "beautiful woman" (nominative case)
lamazo kalo! "beautiful woman!" (vocative case)
In the second phrase, both the adjective and the noun are declined. The second singular and plural personal pronouns are also declined in the vocative case. Shen you(singular) and tkven you (plural) in the vocative case become, she! and tkve!, with the drop of the final -n. Therefore one could, for instance, say,
She lamazo kalo! "you beautiful woman!"
with the declination of all the elements.


The vocative case can generally not be found in Icelandic, although a very few words retain an archaic vocative declension from Latin, like the word Jesús, which is in vocative Jesú. This comes from Latin, as the Latin word for Jesus is simply Jesus and the vocative of that word is Jesu.
  • Jesús (nominative) elskar þig.
    Jesus loves you.
  • Ó Jesú (vocative), frelsari okkar.
    O Jesus, our saviour.


The vocative case in Romanian is inherited from Latin. Morphologically it is formed using specific endings, occasionally causing other morphophonemic changes (see also the article on Romanian nouns):
  • singular masculine/neuter: "-e" as in
    • "om" - "omule!" (man, human being),
    • "băiat" - "băiete!" or "băiatule!" (boy),
    • "văr" - "vere!" (cousin),
    • "Ion" - "Ioane!" (John);
  • singular feminine: "-o" as in
    • "soră" - "soro!" (sister),
    • "nebună" - "nebuno!" (mad woman),
    • "deşteaptă" - "deşteapto!" (smart one (f) , but this vocative is always used sarcastically),
    • "Ileana" - "Ileano!" (Helen);
  • plural, all genders: "-lor" as in
    • "fraţi" - "fraţilor!" (brothers),
    • "boi" - "boilor!" (oxen, used toward people as an invective),
    • "doamne şi domni" - "doamnelor şi domnilor!" (ladies and gentlemen).
More often than not the vocative simply copies the nominative/accusative form, even when it does have its own. This happens because the vocative is often perceived as very direct and thus can seem rude.

Scottish Gaelic

In Gaelic, the vocative case causes lenition of the initial letter of names. In addition, male names are slenderized, if possible (that is, adds an 'i' before the final consonant). Also, the word a is placed before the name unless it begins with a vowel, e.g.:


The vocative case in Irish operates in a similar fashion to Scottish Gaelic. The principal marker is the vocative particle a which causes lenition of the initial letter.
In the singular there is no special form except for first declension nouns. These are masculine nouns ending in a 'broad', i.e. non-palatal, consonant which is made 'slender', i.e. palatal, to form the singular vocative (as well as the singular genitive and plural nominative). Adjectives are also lenited. In many cases this means that (in the singular) masculine vocative expressions resemble the genitive and feminine vocative expressions resemble the nominative.
The vocative plural is usually the same as the nominative plural except once again for first declension nouns which show the vocative plural by adding -a.


In Chinese, the vocative is used with name, kinship term or even positional title in casual situations. This is done by prefix 阿 (a); it is interchageable with 亞 in Cantonese. The use of vocatives is commonly found in Cantonese dialects.
For example:
  • Someone named 陳小明 (pinyin: chen xiao ming) can predictably be addressed as 阿明 (pinyin: a ming)
  • When addressing one's own father and mother it is often said: 阿爸 (a ba) and 阿媽 (a ma) which are equivalent to "dad" and "mom" in English. This practice can applied to other simple single syllable kinship terms. As honorific, a stranger can be addressed as 阿伯 (a bak) for an old man, and 阿婆 (a po) for an old woman. This is found commonly in Cantonese dialects.
  • When addressing someone of authority such as a male police officer or even male teacher, particularly in Hong Kong, 阿 Sir (a sœ in common Hong Kong English accent) would be the popular expression. Note also the anglicism in the Hong Kong speech. A female equivalent of the vocative expression, however, less common.


The vocative case in Korean is used only with first names in casual situations. This is done by suffixing 아 (a) if the name ends in a consonant and 야 (ya) if in a vowel:
미진은 집에 가겠어? (Mijin-eun chibe kagesseo?) "Is Mijin going home?"
미진아, 집에 가겠어? (Mijin-a, chibe kagesseo?) "Mijin, are you going home?
동배 뭐 해? (Dongbae meo hae?) What is Dongbae doing?
동배야, 뭐 해? (Dongbae-ya, meo hae?) "Dongbae, what are you doing?


Properly speaking, Arabic only has three cases, the nominative, accusative and genitive. However, a meaning similar to that conveyed by the vocative case in other languages is indicated by the use of the particle ya () placed before a noun. In English translations, this is often translated literally as O instead of being omitted.


The vocative case in Venetian is not marked by any ending, since Venetian has lost case endings as most Romance languages, but it is still visible on feminine proper names due to the absence of the determiner, i.e. the personal article Ła / L' which usually precedes feminine names in other cases, even in predicates. Thus, vocative case is distinguished from both nominative and accusative cases although none of them bears endings nor prepositions. On the contrary, masculine names and other nouns only rely on intonation and voice breaks.
The (presence/absence of the) personal article in feminine proper names also distinguishes the vocative case from predicates, differently from the definite article ła of common nouns which is dropped even in predicative constructions.
In some vernacular German, where it is common to use the (gender-)appropriate article before a person's name, the article is, as in Venetian, omitted when calling the person.


vocative in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Клічны склон
vocative in Bosnian: Vokativ
vocative in Bulgarian: Звателен падеж
vocative in Czech: Vokativ
vocative in Danish: Vokativ
vocative in German: Vokativ
vocative in Modern Greek (1453-): Κλητική
vocative in Spanish: Caso vocativo
vocative in Esperanto: Vokativo
vocative in French: Vocatif
vocative in Galician: Vocativo
vocative in Croatian: Vokativ
vocative in Icelandic: Ávarpsfall
vocative in Italian: Vocativo
vocative in Latin: Vocativus
vocative in Hungarian: Megszólító eset
vocative in Dutch: Vocatief
vocative in Japanese: 呼格
vocative in Norwegian: Vokativ
vocative in Norwegian Nynorsk: Vokativ
vocative in Polish: Wołacz
vocative in Portuguese: Caso vocativo
vocative in Romanian: Cazul vocativ
vocative in Russian: Звательный падеж
vocative in Slovak: Vokatív
vocative in Serbian: Вокатив
vocative in Finnish: Vokatiivi
vocative in Swedish: Vokativ
vocative in Ukrainian: Кличний відмінок
vocative in Venetian: Vocativo
vocative in Chinese: 呼格
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