Is this the accusative case or dative?

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Senior Member
(1) She unpacks her suitcases and puts everything away in the drawers and cupboards.
I think most English speakers will take "in" as the accusative case. But if we separate the sentence and make this:

(2) Put everything away in the drawers and cupboards.
Do you interprete "in" as the accusative case, or the dative case?
If it is the dative case, "in" modifies "everything."
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    I'm not the best at discussions of grammar, but it seems to be that they are both in the accusative case. For "in" to modify "everything", the sentence would have to be modified, as I see it:

    "Put everything in the drawers and cupboards away", or, to be clearer,
    "Put everything that is in the drawers and cupboards away."

    (Of course, this seems like an odd command. If they are already tucked away in the drawers and cupboards, what other "away" is the command referring to?)


    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    We don't really have the old Latin cases in AE. It's all "objective." Our terms for parsing sentence structure include direct and indirect objects (of the verb) and objective complements (of the object). "Paint it black" is an example-- "it" is the direct object, "black" is the complement.

    "Adverbial complements" modify the verb in a way that involves information about the nouns-- for this function we have no case endings, and so we use word order and prepositional phrases.

    "In the drawers" is an adverbial prepositional phrase modifying the phrasal verb "put away." "Everything" is the direct object of that verb.

    To continue the word-order examples in a way that clarifies this:

    "Put away everything in the drawers." The placement of "away" is a little idiomatic, but its function in the sentence (as part of a phrasal verb) is clarified.

    You aren't putting "everything that is in the drawers" away-- they aren't in the damn drawers until you put them there, right?


    Senior Member
    USA English

    I had to think about this question for a bit because it is very unusual to discuss prepositional phrases in terms of case in modern English. I know these distinctions are marked in other languages (maybe Greek or German?? etc..) but they're not important English.

    So, if I have it right dative would mean that the the things she puts away are already in the drawers and cupboards. The first clause stands pretty much alone..she unpacks her suitcase AND then (incidentally) puts the things away that were already located in the drawers and cupboards.

    The accusative case would mean that she puts the things in the suitcase into the drawers and cupboards.

    Without context, I would assume it was in the accusative case. It's ambiguous. It could be either. One piece of evidence that it might be dative is that you can move the particle "away" to the end of the clause. She put everything in the drawers and cupboards away. That reading can only be dative.

    Context --intonation--emphasis would all make a difference in interpretation.
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