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  5. Declension vs Case?


Declension vs Case?

I understand cases decently enough that I don’t have trouble using them but what is the difference between a case and a declension? I saw in the notes that Latin has five declensions?

September 4, 2019



Cases: The forms nouns can take depending on the role they play in a sentence. Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative, Vocative + (sometimes) Locative

Declensions: A declension is a pattern for how to change the form of nouns, to make them change case. All nouns fit into one of the five main patterns - hence five declensions. The five declensions have subsets however, and there are irregular nouns that follow their own pattern. These always lean close to one of the five declensions however, and are grouped with other nouns of the same declension.

You should always learn both the nominative and genitive singular of a new noun, because that will tell you which declension to put it in, and consequently you will know how to form all the other cases for that noun based on that (except when it is irregular, which is relatively rare.)

For example, if you know that ara (nominative singular) is arae in the genitive singular, you can be sure that it belongs to the first declension, and thus it will be declined according to that pattern, as (most) other nouns of the first declension.


Thank you so much. That was really helpful.


No problem! If you want to get to know all the declensions really well, with their subsets, typical irregularities, and gender-patterns, take a look in Bennett's New Latin Grammar, under 'First Declension' and further down: http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/bennett.html#sect20

It is a lot to take in, spend time learning one declension at a time. The third declension is the one with the most subsets and irregularities. The other four are relatively straightforward.


A declension is a SET of endings for the various cases that apply to a group of (usually) nouns. For example in Latin, a "first declension" noun like mensa has the "root" "mens-" and then you add "a" for the nominative case, "a" for the vocative case, "am" for the accusative case, "ae" for the genitive case, and so on. All the nouns that are designated as regular first declension have the same endings. And most of them are feminine.

In the second declension (i.e. the second set of nouns that follow a regular set of endings for each case, but different from the first declension), the nominative case is usually an ending of "-us" (which are mostly masculine in gender, with a smaller number of neuter gender ending in "-um" just to confuse you!). e.g. Dominus ("lord", or just "sir" - often used to mean "The Lord"): Nominative - Dominus, Vocative - Domine, Accusative - Dominum, Genitive - Domini and so on.

But remember that even Latin has the occasional exception!

Verbs, similarly, have groups where the endings are the same for (almost) every verb in the group. These are called conjugations. So "I love" - amo, would have a different ending to "You love" -amas, and so on. And every verb "belonging" to the first conjugation would have the same endings, with very few (if any) exceptions.

I think the best way to learn Latin case endings is actually to recite the declensions over and over. Learn the ORDER you're putting them in (various resources use different orders) but I think the "traditional" way is Nominative, Vocative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative, Ablative and then the same order for the plural. Then say all the various cases for "mensa" over and over and over in your head until it's automatic. Then start on the second declension. And so on. And, of course, learn to recognise by the layout and meaning of a word which declension it's likely to be.

Believe me, it's really MUCH easier than it sounds !


I would really say the most 'traditional' order must be nom. gen. dat. acc. abl. (+ the two others). Possibly with voc. before abl., but you don't really need to put the voc. in your drill, since it is so regular and, and far less frequent than the others.

I have seen that order more often than any other, and it makes especially good sense to put the genitive second, as that is the second form you need to know, to know how to decline the noun. Hence dictionary entries for nouns always have them in the nominative, and show the genitive form right behind that.


Well, I understand what you say, but I bet I started learning Latin many, many years before most people here, and all the (school) textbooks at the time (1966 to 1971) used the order I suggested. It worked for me.

Also, I think the Latin declensions have a much better rhythm, and are therefore easier to memorise, if you use the order I suggested. Just try saying them out loud - they're almost poems, if you pick the right noun to say them with!! If, of course, you choose to learn them that way.

So whatever the most popular modern order for declining the cases, I'll still maintain that the "traditional" -1960s - order would work better for most people.

** and yes, before someone mentions it, I do know that "The Eton Latin Grammar", the most popular Latin school textbook of the 18th century and later, used Nominative/Genitive/Dative/Accusative/Vocative/Ablative as the order.


karasu4 is right. The order you learned was introduced by Benjamin Hall Kennedy in the mid 19th century (in his Public School Latin Primer, 1866). Until then, from the time of the Roman grammarians onward, the order nom., gen., dat., acc., abl. was used. Kennedy's order has prevailed in Britain and in some areas of Europe, but not all. In the U.S., generally, the original order is still used, as also in many places in Europe, incl. sometimes Russia (I've seen textbooks from there w/ either sequence).

. . . I think the Latin declensions have a much better rhythm . . .

And of course those who learned the original order think that that has a much better rhythm.

[added] Here's what Donatus' Ars minor (mid 4th century grammar), says:

casus nominum quot sunt? sex.
qui? nominatiuus genetiuus datiuus accusatiuus uocatiuus ablatiuus.


I think the best way to learn Latin case endings is actually to recite the declensions over and over. [...] Then say all the various cases for "mensa" over and over and over in your head until it's automatic.

[Shameless self promotion. I'm sorry - but I wouldn't mention it, if it wasn't helpful. But I'm sure there are alternatives]

That's my take on it. Macrons, audio (an attempt), all declension classes, most common irregular (or mixed) nouns:


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