What Is the Nominative Case? (with Examples)

Our Story

Nominative Case

The nominative case is the case used for a noun or pronoun which is the subject of a verb. For example (nominative case shaded):
  • Mark eats cakes.
  • (The noun "Mark" is the subject of the verb "eats." "Mark" is in the nominative case. In English, nouns do not change in the different cases. Pronouns, however, do.)
  • He eats cakes.
  • (The pronoun "He" is the subject of the verb "eats." "He" is in the nominative case.)
  • They eat cakes.
  • (The pronoun "They" is the subject of the verb "eats." "They" is in the nominative case.)
nominative case examples


The nominative case is also used for a subject complement. For example:
  • Mark is a businessman.
  • (Here, "Mark" is in the nominative case because it's the subject of "is," and "businessman" is in the nominative case because it's a subject complement; i.e., it renames the subject.)
  • It was I.
  • (Here, "It" is in the nominative case because it's the subject of "was," and "I" is in the nominative case because it's a subject complement; i.e., it renames the subject.)
The nominative case is also known as the subjective case.

Only Pronouns Change Their Forms

In modern English, a noun does not change its form in any of the cases (other than the possessive case). For example:
  • The woman saw the cat.
  • (Here, "woman" is in the nominative case because it's the subject of "saw.")
  • The cat saw the woman.
  • (This time, "woman" is in the objective case, but there has been no change in spelling.)
A pronoun, however, does change its form depending on case. The nominative pronouns (or subjective pronouns as they're better known) are "I," "you," "he," "she," "it," "we," "they," "who," and "whoever." Look at this example:
  • I saw the cat. The cat saw me.
  • ("I" is the subject of the verb "saw." It is a subjective pronoun. However, it changes to "me" when it is not in the nominative case; i.e., when it's not the subject of a verb or a subject complement.)

Nominative Pronouns

Here is a list of nominative pronouns and objective pronouns:
Nominative PronounObjective PronounComment
Ime 
youyouThere is no change.
hehim 
sheher 
ititThere is no change.
weus 
theythem 
whowhom Read more on who & whom.
whoeverwhomever 

Why Should I Care about the Nominative Case?

Here are five good reasons to care about the nominative case.

(Reason 1) Ensure subject-verb agreement.

A nominative-case noun or pronoun must agree in number with its verb. This just means that a singular noun must be matched with a singular verb. Similarly, a plural noun must be matched with a plural verb. In other words, we must say "The cat was" and not "The cat were." This is called subject-verb agreement.

This seems simple enough, but mistakes are common. The most common mistake is treating a modifier as the subject. Look at this example:
  • A list of names were written on the paper.
  • (This is wrong because the noun in the nominative case is "list," which is singular. The phrase "of names" is just a modifier. It doesn't govern the verb.)
  • A list of names was written on the paper.
There are other traps too. Read about them on the page about subjects or the page about subject-verb agreement.

(Reason 2) Learn the cases if you're learning a foreign language.

The nominative case (also called the "subjective case") is the main case. It is the version of the word for the subject of your sentence. Any changes that occur in the other cases (called "the oblique cases") can be considered changes to the nominative-case version. So, the nominative case is the baseline. If you are learning a foreign language or teaching English, you must be comfortable with the function of the nominative case. It's the first thing you'll learn or teach.

(Reason 3) You can't use "I" as the object of a verb or the object of a preposition.

"I" is a nominative-case pronoun. Therefore, it must be used as the subject of a verb. It can't be an object of a verb (e.g., They saw I ) or as the object of a preposition (e.g., with I , to I ). This includes when "I" features in terms like "my wife and I" and "between you and I." Look at these examples:
  • They invited my wife and I.
  • (The nominative pronoun "I" must be the subject of a verb. Here, it's the direct object of the verb "invited." It should read "They invited me and my wife." Of note, the word order "my wife and me" sounds awkward to most native English speakers, who prefer "me and my wife." This is also contributes to writers saying "my wife and I.")
  • I presented a certificate from my wife and I.
  • ("I" cannot be the object of a preposition. This should be "...from me and my wife.")
  • My wife and I presented a certificate.
  • (This time, "I" is fine. It's the subject of the verb "presented.")
  • Between you and I, I think the plan will fail.
  • (The term "between you and I" is always wrong. It should be "between you and me.")

(Reason 4) Don't use "myself" with an order.

The subject of an order (i.e., an imperative sentence) is an inferred "you." For example:
  • Phone me on Tuesday.
  • (There is an inferred "you" in this order. In other words, "you" is the subject of an imperative verb.)
  • [You] Phone me on Tuesday.
  • (Even though we don't say the "you," it is inferred.)
This is worth remembering because you can only use "yourself" or "yourselves" with an imperative verb (i.e., an order). You can't use "myself." Look at this wrong example:
  • Email your proposals to Brian or directly to myself.
  • (You can't use "myself" with "you" (even an inferred "you" in an order). This should be "me" not "myself.")
Read more about this writing mistake on the "reflexive pronouns" page.

(Reason 5) "Who" is the nominative case. "Whom" isn't.

You can only use "who" when it's the subject of a verb (i.e., in the nominative case). If it isn't the subject of a verb, use "whom." For example:
  • Who was that?
  • (Here, "who" is the subject of "was." It is correct.)
  • I know the boy who stole your washing.
  • (Here, "who" is the subject of "stole." It is correct.)
  • Who are you talking to?
  • (Here, "who" is not the subject of a verb. Therefore, it must be wrong. It should be "whom." The subject of "are talking" is "you.")
Read more about "who" and "whom."
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is case in grammar? What is the subject of a verb? What is a subject complement? What is the objective case? What is the possessive case? What are subjective pronouns? What are objective pronouns? Glossary of grammatical terms