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Latin: Noun Declensions

[Long Post Incoming]
First off, I would like to offer another huge thank-you to the volunteers who not only made this course possible, but also took the time to make it a reality. Seriously, guys, treat yourself to some milk and cookies or something - you've more than earned it. :D
So ... for this post, I've decided to offer some pointers for Latin nouns - especially how to use dictionary forms and a conjugation cheat sheet for all five declensions. (I might eventually do another for verbs.)
Before starting, let me note a few things. First off, I don't use macrons, and I'm not using them here. I will, however, make note of spots where macrons would ideally be included with an (*). Second of all, this post is meant to be a companion to the course, and so assumes you've already had at least some familiarity with the material covered therein. And third, I won't (fully) include locative or vocative.

Dictionary Form

Dictionary form is what you see when looking up a particular word in a Latin dictionary. For nouns, this consists of the nominative singular and the genitive singular forms - for instance, the dictionary form of the word puella is puella, puellae; and the dictionary form for the word vir is vir, viri. This setup is used because the nominative singular form alone isn't enough to determine the declension or the stem of the noun. For example, the word tempus looks like it would be second declension masculine, but is in fact third declension neuter - tempus, temporis, where the stem is tempor-; similarly, the word manus is actually fourth declension feminine - manus, manus, stem man-.

Now, to better understand how this is helpful, we'll need to know the conjugation patterns for each declension. Let's get started.

1st Declension - Usually feminine, but certain words - particularly occupations - are actually masculine. Common examples of 1st declension masculine nouns: agricola, agricolae (farmer); nauta, nautae (sailor); poeta, poetae (poet). Example used here: Puellae, puellae (girl).

Singular Plural
Nominative puella puellae
Genitive puellae puellarum
Dative puellae puellis
Accusative puellam puellas
Ablative puella* puellis

Extra Notes:
- Ablative singular has a longer stress on the end.
- Locative for this declension ends in -ae - e.g. Romae, Philadelphiae, etc.

2nd Declension - Usually masculine or neutral, with two possible patterns for masculine and another for neuter. Exceptions tend to be types of trees, which are often feminine (corylus, coryli - hazel tree - is one such example). Examples used here: masculine, vir, viri (man) and equus, equi (horse); neutral, verbum, verbi (word).

Masculine Neutral
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative equus, vir equi, viri verbum verba
Genitive equi, viri equorum, virorum verbi verborum
Dative equo, viro equis, viris verbo verbis
Accusative equum, virum equos, viros verbum verba
Ablative equo, viro equis, viris verbo verbis

Extra Notes:
- Neuter Law - A rule that stipulates two things: one, that neuter nouns will always be identical in nominative and accusative forms, singular and plural; and two, that nominative and accusative plurals always end in -a. This rule holds across all declensions involving neuter nouns.
- Locative for this declension is identical to the genitive form - i.e. Novi Eboraci, humi.
- Vocative: 2nd declension nouns ending in -us usually change to -e in the vocative. Exception: deus, dei, the word for god, which (typically) remains deus in the vocative.

3rd Declension - Can be any of the three genders; unlike the first two, gender cannot be easily inferred from the dictionary form. New and foreign words were most commonly fitted into this declension. Masculine and feminine are identical; neuter follows the Neuter Law. The stem for conjugation is found in the second part of the dictionary form by taking off the -is ending. Examples used: feminine, cornix, cornicis (crow); neuter, tempus, temporis (time).

Masculine/Feminine Neutral
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative cornix cornices tempus tempora
Genitive cornicis cornicum temporis temporum
Dative cornici cornicibus tempori temporibus
Accusative cornicem cornices tempus tempora
Ablative cornice cornicibus tempore temporibus

Extra Notes:
- The neuter noun rus, ruris takes the locative - ruri or rure.

I-Stems - A subset of regular 3rd declension nouns, these nouns include an extra i in their conjugations. I-stems are not often marked in dictionaries, and there are no set rules for identifying them, making these words extra tricky. An easy go-to rule is to look at the dictionary form - if the two parts are identical, it's almost certainly an i-stem. Like regular 3rd declension nouns, feminine and masculine behave the same; neuter follows Neuter Law. Examples used: masculine, ignis, ignis (fire); neuter, mare, maris (sea).

Masculine/Feminine Neutral
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative ignis ignes mare maria
Genitive ignis ignium maris marium
Dative igni ignibus mari maribus
Accusative ignem ignes mare maria
Ablative igne ignibus mari maribus

As you can see, for masculine and feminine, genitive plural (the -um ending) is the only one to receive an i; but in neuter, all of the plurals (that didn't have one already) got an i, and the ablative singular ending -e also changed to -i.

4th Declension - Can be any of the three genders; neuter can be told apart at a glance by means of the dictionary form. Once again, masculine and feminine behave the same, while neuter follows Neuter Law. Examples used: masculine, fructus, fructus (fruit); neuter, cornu, cornus (horn).

Masculine/Feminine Neutral
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative fructus fructus* cornu cornua
Genitive fructus* fructuum cornus cornuum
Dative fructui fructibus cornu cornibus
Accusative fructum fructus* cornu cornua
Ablative fructu fructibus cornu cornibus

Extra Notes:
- Starred entries have a long u sound which distinguishes them from nominative singular.
- The word domus, domus (home) takes a locative form, domi.

5th Declension - Only masculine and feminine, no neuter; very few nouns (around twenty or so) occupy this declension. Masculine and feminine nouns behave the same. Example used: masculine/feminine, dies, diei (day).

Singular Plural
Nominative dies dies
Genitive diei dierum
Dative diei diebus
Accusative diem dies
Ablative die diebus

Whew, that was a longlengthy post. :D I hope at least someone finds this helpful, and if there are errors (as I'm sure there are), let me know and I'll fix as best I can.
Bona nox!

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.

September 3, 2019


[deactivated user]

    You got it a bit wrong with domus, as apart of the 4th declension some forms of 2nd declension may appear. The Gen Pl is more often domorum than domuum. Look here:


    There is also the form domi, locative (an extinct case, existing in some forms only)


    I was wondering if I should use fructus, fructus as an example instead, since it's a bit more regular. Now it seems I will. :) Thanks!

    And I quite forgot the locative. How silly of me. XD

    Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


    Domus can show up in 2nd declension, but only singular. In the plural it's always 4th (from my experience and what I've been taught).


    Wiktionary is really not a reliable source. 'Domuum' is found in several texts. According to the L&S, 'domorum' is more often found in poetry, whereas 'domuum' is more usual.


    Wiktionary can leave things out and can also be corrected when wrong. However in this case it seems to be silent on the question which it is being accused of being unreliable about – it merely gives the two or three possible declension forms.


    Lexica like the L&S are based on academical study, and provide citations for every possible meaning of the words. Wiktionary often lists these as sources, but it is not clear what info is taken from where. The way it is put together is often random. As you say, it gives some different forms, but it is typically not clear why there are different forms, and why they are in that order.

    Formulations like 'At least in later Latin, the most common declension is as follows:...' shows that the Wiktionary contains uncertainties and unclearness. When was 'later Latin'? What about 'earlier Latin' then?

    Yes, Wiki pages can be corrected, but they are also liable to be 'corrected' back and forth in eternity by anonymous people who use different sources of different quality, and who are in no way qualified for editing a dictionary in the first place.

    At any rate, I think any Latin student should learn how to consult proper Latin dictionaries and lexica. It is a good habit.

    Sorry for ranting. And I'll admit that the Latin entries are in Wiktionary are not the worst, so far as I've seen. (The Old Norse entries on the other hand, are so full of mistakes that it hurts all the way back to the Viking age).


    There's probably a case for a policy clean up at Wiktionary on sourcing and referencing, which is much clearer in Wikipedia I would agree. On the other hand, for the early stages of Latin learning, Wiktionary has a few great advantages:

    1. All word forms are listed, not just the main form;
    2. There are audio recordings of the most common words;
    3. The main form shows you the full declension or conjugation

    You can argue these make things too easy and form lazy habits, but personally I've found these features extremely helpful.


    No, you are right. So far as the info is correct, it is a great site for beginners. Absolutely.

    Still, one has to know when to move on to other sources, and learn how to use those, which is not always as easy or as comfortable as Wiktionary, but more rewarding by far.

    I don't mean to be a total Rupert here. I had good use of Wiktionary when I started learning Latin on my own. However, when I tried using it for Old Norse, I ended up fleeing in terror into the wilderness, and I haven't dared go back since.


    @JimKillock It seemed the ON entries were written by some Icelandic person making very sloppy assumptions as to noun cases and the like, based on modern Icelandic.

    And as you say, with few readers, such atrocities are likely to stand uncorrected. It could probably be much worse too.

    And you know, most of us who know/study the language are often more likely to rage about it online, than try to help fix it :P It is a special kind of people who take it upon them to become dictionary editors in their spare time, out of pure charity. For better or worse.


    That's a shame about Old Norse. I guess someone who thought they knew better did the entries, and there are not enough people who feel it is worth their time to do the corrections.

    That is the problem with Wikis; the fewer the likely readers, the less likely the material is to be checked and corrected. It's a longer conversation about what WikiMedia might do about this.

    Luckily Latin does have many great public domain resources for dictionaries.

    [deactivated user]

      The problem is that many grammar books confirm the declension (eg. Jan Wikarjak – Gramatyka języka łacińskiego, the best source for Polish speakers). I just referred to a source known to virtually everybody, but this particular declension is broadly described in many books, no need to blame Wiktionary's "unreliability" this time.


      For a post that covers the whole system of nouns, that was actually really short and to the point!


      Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.

      What does that mean?


      It's a sentence in one of my conlangs, meaning "Two rivers do not flow the same direction." I use it to mark my comments (and posts) so I can find them again, as Duolingo has no function to search by username, and my Followed list is too long to hold onto everything. Conlangs in particular are great for this purpose, as they form sentences unique from any true language.

      Thanks for asking! :)

      Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


      Awesome. I'm very interested in conlangs. Is it possible that I have heard about yours? Have any of them been reviewed (butchered) by Conlangcritic on YouTube for instance?


      No. Or, at least, I hope not. Having not published any of mine as of yet means that it would be very odd if it did pop up there ... though I do hope to publish at least some of them someday. (The rest need work or rework.)

      Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


      Alright. Awesome anyhow. If you do publish a conlang, make sure to make a big post about it in the forums here :)


      Excuse my ignorance, but does anyone know if the four German grammatical cases (nominative, genitive, dative and accusative) are based on the corresponding Latin ones? To a large degree, I find the grammatical cases of both languages to be formidable, head-spinning moving targets!


      They are not 'based' on them, but the cases they have in common are in principle the same, since Latin and German are related languages. That is to say, they have a common ancestor language called Proto Indo-European that was spoken 5-6000 years ago. PIE had 8 cases.



      In general, you could say, that the 4 German cases serve the same function as the corresponding Latin cases. German dative also serves some of the functions that ablative and locative is serving in Latin.

      Fun fact: in all IE Languages accusative and nominative for neuter words is the same...


      Thank you for highlighting the multiple functionality of the German dative. The Deutsch grammar plot thickens ...


      @karasu4: Yes, of course, the languages are related. Thank you for the reminder. However, for all the PIE connection, complicated grammatical cases would not be found in the other Germanic languages, curiously. Hence my wondering whether German cases originate from a particular Latin historical influence.


      complicated grammatical cases would not be found in the other Germanic languages, curiously.

      As far as noun declension goes....

      • Icelandic has 4 cases
      • Faroese has 4 cases
      • Low German has 4 cases (or 3 – depending on who you ask)


      @Robert-Alexan: Thank you just as I was going to make a walk back with Icelandic in particular. It has the same cases as German.

      EDIT: How are quotes indented like that?


      > This symbol turns this ...

      Into this.

      Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


      There are no noun cases in English, Norwegian, Swedish or Danish. However, go back 1000 years in time, and all these languages had them.

      I've studied Old Norse, and there we have the same four cases that German has, with far more different declension paradigms than German has, depending on gender and noun classes - both in the singular and in the plural.

      Even further back in time, Roman times actually, the extinct Gothic language (east Germanic), apparently had 5 cases, and some vestiges of a sixth, called the instrumental case.


      English does have cases, in a couple of places:

      1. Pronouns: Nominative I, Accusative me, (or 'subject' and 'object' case): or he, him, she, her
      2. Genitive, or 'possessive' case: add 's to the end of most words, like the man's joke, the mother's job

      There are other vestiges like who and whom (whom being an object form)

      The fact that English has an actively used genitive case, which is quite similar to the German genitive case unsurprisingly, never seems to be mentioned to people. Perhaps if it was people would be slightly less frightened.


      noun cases. Yes, all those languages have a rudimentary pronoun case-system.

      And they all have a simple possessive suffix that functions as a genitive. We don't usually call this a case any longer, however. It doesn't affect determiners or adjectives, as in German, and it doesn't change with gender or number.

      Today the 's' suffix has taken over all the different case forms of the genitive that once were. For instance, Old Norse hesta is today 'hesters' (hester ('horses') + s). The distinctive genitive case ending has here completely dissappeared, and been replaced by a fit-all suffix.


      Sure. (Pronouns are still nouns, let's not be nasty to them.)

      As an aside, although I've not studied Italian or Spanish, they also preserve more of the case system in their pronouns, which is interesting.


      Yes, it's very interesting how the Romance pronoun system has evolved. It is somewhat more complex than it was in Latin, and there are more different forms now.

      Also, Latin didn't have a conditional mood, such as the Romance languages have developed (to the joy of all their students).


      From what I understand about the instrumental case per WK, the modern German dative does extra duty in that function: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrumental_case#German


      I've studied a bit of Old English. Old English has five cases - nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental.

      So yes, English too had cases before they (mostly) got dropped.

      Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


      Greek has the same; Nominative, Genitive, Dative, and Accusative. Did Latin in school first, made the Greek easier at first (as well as German :D )


      thanks - great!

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