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Latin word for Woman

Hello, Duo friends. I'm glad that Latin is finally live, but where on earth did you come up with the word "femina" for woman? The standard Latin word for woman is "mulier." I've read more classical and medieval Latin than I care to remember, and I have NEVER seen "femina" as the word for woman. What's up?

September 1, 2019



The L&S cites examples of 'femina' from Cicero, Ovid, Caesar, Lucretius, Juvenal, Propertius, Suetonius, Pliny and more. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=femina&la=la#lexicon

If you ctrl. search for femina in Cicero's texts, it pops up quite frequently. Same with Livy. In Ovid's Ars Amatoria femina occurs 30 times. Mulier 4 times. Etc. This is golden age Classical Latin.

But yes, mulier is common, and will often feel more natural. I'm sure they'll add it as they develop the tree.


Isn't fēmina a bit more respectful in tone than mulier? That's how I'd had it explained but I've nothing to cite.


I agree it feels a bit more respectful, but it is difficult to judge, just from citations. All the dictionaries I have say femina means female/woman, and that it is synonymous with mulier. 'Wife' can also be understood in certain contexts, but the standard word for that would be 'uxor'.

Note that 'femina' can mean simply 'female', referring to gender.

as in Livy, book 27: ...incertus mas an femina esset... 'uncertain whether he was male or female'.


https://logeion.uchicago.edu/mulier -> mulier is the 493rd most frequent word https://logeion.uchicago.edu/femina -> femina is the 576th most frequent word Of course it doesn't state the period, but generally, it seems like mulier is more common. I'm a master student in Latin and I've rarely seen femina used in the way it is used in this course, i.e. as the female equivalent of vir. Mulier is the more natural option there, while femina is more used when one wishes to put emphasis on the gender (women as opposed to men), as it can also be used for animals and, as you pointed out already, the female gender.


I agree with you all the way here. My point was to argue against a possible claim that femina 'never' occurs in Classical Latin.

I said that mulier is more common, which you proved. I wouldn't have thought that femina was as common as it is. Very interesting to see some statistics on that!

I think the reason why femina is introduced very early, as the 'standard' word for woman in the course (and other Latin courses) is as follows:

  • The concept of 'woman' is very basic, and would naturally be taught early. In most Duo courses you learn the word for 'woman' in lesson 1.

  • Femina is a regular 1st. declension noun. These are commonly taught before 3d. declension nouns, as they are easier to decline, and more regular.

  • If you sift out only nouns of the 1st. declension from those 576 most common words, I believe you would find that femina is a relatively high-frequency 1st. declension noun, and since that declension is taught from the start, a very logical one to include.

From these arguments one should probably include domina early as well, although that has some connotations of its own.


okay you've got a point there, femina is indeed easier to decline than mulier, I didn't think about that :) I don't mind them using the word but it just feels wrong to use it as the standard word for woman throughout the whole course. Especially in sentences like 'Puella non est femina' the use of femina is rather off :P


'Puella non est femina'

Yes, that's awkward :P

I'm sure mulier will be added in the next round. There are tons of very frequent words that are missing in the course (not to mention 90% of the grammar).


We've actually already added "mulier" as an accepted translation for the sentences containing "femina" - it just takes a little bit of time for the updates to make it through the system, so it's possible that it might be marked wrong in some sentences until the update goes through. If you are marked wrong for writing "mulier" instead of "femina," please do send a report anyway, though! It's totally possible that we've missed some. :D


very nice that you added mulier as an accepted translation, but it really should be the base translation for 'woman'... it is a) more common and b) more specific as it can only refer to a woman, while femina is used for anything feminine, so also female animals or even the female gender.


And so 'female' ought to be an acceptable translation for femina, at least in sentences where that would not sound entirely illogical.

But then, should mas be brought to the table as well?

I think the easiest 'fix' here would be to introduce mulier in the Latin sentences a bit later, along with the 3d. declension, and explain the 'difference' between the two in the tips and notes at that point.


Cool, Mulier (the latin word for Woman) and Mulher (the Portuguese word for Woman) are very similar, That is so cool how Latin is a base language.


In Spanish, it's "mujer". In French, on the other hand, "femme" -- they chose the other option. Italian with "donna" is an outlier. ;-) (It might be based on "domina", perhaps ...).

This is really extremely interesting! :-)


Femina is what I remember learning 50 years ago.


Latin has changed since then.



I agree, I have always know latin women to be feminae


I do agree, they tried to make our learning easier with "femina", but really, I would prefer to learn the most common way to say something! Femina also exist in Latin for woman, it's easy to find this word in Latin literature


, but I say it again, the most common way is really preferable when one learns a language.


The Latin texts I’ve seen till now all used ‘femina.’

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