In their efforts to create accessible pedagogical grammars of Tamil, early missionaries applied the reference model of Latin and Portuguese grammars and other missioners’ works to the nominal and verbal paradigms they constructed of the language. In so doing, they met with difficulties in formulating the terminology to express the phenomena they encountered. For example, the early missionary grammarians regularly classed several distinct Tamil terminations as ‘ablatives’, because the various senses of these are subsumed in Latin within one ablative case (itself historically derived from three Proto-Indo-European cases: separative ablative, comitative/instrumental, and inessive locative). Different configurations were proposed over the centuries, but, despite the emerging knowledge of the native Tamil grammatical tradition, which had long been influenced by Sanskrit declensional standards, always with a Latinate foundation. The missionaries’ grammars created among Europeans a perception of Tamil that its declensional patterning was akin to that of Latin, and that morphologically realised divergent senses are related because their equivalents in Latin are, readings which persist in many modern didactic descriptions.