The morphology of classical Latin


3. Nominal morphology

Latin is a language with a rather complex morphology, more complex than French. It is actually an inflected language. Inflection is an addition made to the form of a nominal lexeme. The inflectional addition takes place always after the nominal lexeme, and therefore is a final ending. Only the combination of the signifier of a lexeme with a final morphological segment is an autonomous syntagmatic form, and represents a word-form, that is separated by spaces in today’s writing, and appears in dictionaries. It is possible that terminations of inflection had originally independent meanings, but in historic Latin they are nothing else other than morphological segments.

So, the lexeme “earth” terr- appears always with one of following morphological endings: -am, -a, -ae, -ā, -ārum, -ās or -īs, that grammarians range according to their linguistic context and their syntactic function in series of six casual endings, called nominative, vocative, genitive, dative, ablative and accusative, that correspond respectively to segment -a, -a, -ae, -ae, -ā, et -am. Traditionally, grammars speak of a second series of six casual endings which is in fact a series of morphological combinations of a case and the morpheme of plural. These combinations of plural with nominative, vocative, genitive, dative, ablative and accusative are for the lexeme “earth”, respectively -ae, -ae, -ārum, -īs, -īs, and -ās. All these morphological segments and combinations constitute a declension, called the first declension, which determines thus a family of words. Therefore nominal lexemes have all the morphological features of belonging to one and only one declension.

The adjective has the morphological particularity of having three declensions which grammarians distinguish by the gender. There is the masculine, feminine and neuter declension of the adjective.

Another morphological feature of nominal lexemes is their gender. There are three genders in Latin: masculine, feminine and neuter, which often, but not necessarily so, correspond to the sex of the objects denoted by the nominal lexeme, like puer (m.) “boy”, puella (f.) “girl”, rex (m.) “king”, regina (f.) “queen”. In fact, it is the form of the adjective joined with the noun that shows the gender of this noun: only the feminine form of the adjective bona can be joined with the noun puella, *bonus puella being impossible. So, lapis magnus “a great stone” shows that the noun lapis is masculine, whereas manus mea “my hand” shows that the noun manus is feminine.

Grammars teach some general rules about gender:

Names of Male beings, and of Rivers, Winds, Months, and Mountains, are masculine: pater “father”, Iūlius “Julius”, Tiberis “the Tiber”, auster “south wind”, Iānuārius “January”, Apennīnus “the Apennines”1), with the exception of Alpēs (f.) “the Alps”.

Names of Female beings, of Cities, Countries, Plants, Trees, and Gems, of many Animals (especially Birds), and of most abstract Qualities, are feminine: māter “mother”, Iūlia “Julia”, Rōma “Rome”, Ītalia “Italy”, rosa “rose”, pīnus “pine”, sapphīrus “sapphire”, anas “duk”, uēritās “truth”.

Many nouns may be either masculine or feminine, according to the sex of object. These are said to be of Common Gender: exsul “exile”, bōs “ox” or “cow”; parēns “parent”.

Several nouns of animals have a grammatical gender independent of sex. These are called epicene. Thus lepus “hare” is always masculine, and uulpes “fox” is always feminine2).

The Latin declension with its two series of six cases is more complicated than the German declension, which has only twice four cases, namely nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. But it contains another form of complication, since the two series of six casual forms know five systems of alternations, which constitute the five Latin declensions. In order to identify the declension of a noun, it is necessary to give the nominative of this noun and at least its morphological segment of genitive, like terr-a, -ae or puell-a, -ae, but we’ll see that for the nouns of the third declension, it is preferable to give also the segment of plural genitive. There are thus five families of nouns.

There are a few general rules of Latin declension. The Vocative is always the same as the Nominative, except for nouns and adjectives in -us of the second declension, which have the vocative in -e. The Nominative and Accusative are always alike in neuters. The Dative and Ablative plural are always alike. From the point of view of the quantity, final -i, -o, -u of inflection are always long; final -a is short, except in Ablative of the first declension; final -e is short in the second and third declension, but long in the fifth; final -is, -es, -os, -us are long in plural cases.

  • 3.1. First declension

The nouns of first declension, the traditional pattern of which is ros-a, -ae “the rose”, have the following forms:

singular(+0) PLURAL
NOMINATIVEros-aros-ae
VOCATIVEros-aros-ae
GENITIVEros-aeros-ārum
DATIVEros-aeros-īs
ABLATIVEros-āros-īs
ACCUSATIVEros-amros-ās

These nouns are feminine, with exception of nouns that design a masculine activity, like naut-a, -ae “sailor” or agricol-a, -ae “farmer”, or a few family or personal names, like Murena or Scaeuola.

Some allomorphs of casual forms.

The genitive keeps its ancient form in -āī (dissyllabic), particularly in poetry, (Verg., Aen. 3,354: aulāī mediō “in the inner court”; Verg., Aen. 9, 21: diues pictāī uestis “rich in embroidered clothes”). The juridical syntheme pater familias (or mater familias, filius familias) preserves an old genitive in -ās.

The genitive plural in -um instead of -ārum is sometimes used in Greek patronymics like Aeneadum “sons of Æneas” (Lucr. 1,1), and in compounds with -cola and -gena signifying “dwelling” and “descent”, like caelicolum “celestials” (Verg., Aen. 3,21), Troiugenum “sons of Troy” (Cat., 64,355).

The nouns dea “gotting” and filia “daughter” have a plural ablative and dative in -abus, in order to be distinguished from the corresponding cases of second declension nouns deus “god” and filius “son”, deis and filiis.

Generally, first declension nouns borrowed from Greek are entirely Latinized. But some of them keep traces of their Greek origin and have case-forms of Greek only in the singular. Thus the proper name of Electra shows also in the nominative Electrā and in the accusative Electrān, like Greek Elektra/‘Hλεκτρα and Elektran/‘Hλεκτραn; and so, musica “art of music” has besides the normal Latin declension a Greek declension with a nominative musicē, a genitive musicēs, an accusative musicēn, and an ablative musicē. When these nouns are in plural, they have regular Latin case-forms, like cometae, -ārum “comets”.

  • 3.2. Second declension

The example of the second declension is double: there are on the one hand masculine nouns in -us, on the other hand neuter nouns in -um. It is the same declension, nominatives excepted. Nouns of the second declension are declined as follows:

singular (+ 0) + PLURAL
NOMINATIVEdomin-usdomin-ī
VOCATIVEdomin-edomin-ī
GENITIVEdomin-īdomin-ōrum
DATIVEdomin-ōdomin-īs
ABLATIVEdomin-ōdomin-īs
ACCUSATIVEdomin-umdomin-ōs

Neuter nouns show a first metamorphosis of this declension. They have a Nominative in -um as the Accusative, since in neuters the Nominative and Accusative are always alike. So, except for the Plural Nominative, and therefore the Plural Accusative, which are in -a, the other casus-forms are the same as for the masculine nouns:

singular (+ 0) + PLURAL
NOMINATIVEtempl-um templ-a
VOCATIVEtempl-umtempl-a
GENITIVEtempl-ītempl-ōrum
DATIVEtempl-ōtempl-īs
ABLATIVEtempl-ōtempl-īs
ACCUSATIVEtempl-umtempl-a
singular (+ 0) + PLURAL
NOMINATIVEpuer-Øpuer-ī
VOCATIVEpuer-Øpuer-ī
GENITIVEpuer-īpuer-ōrum
DATIVEpuer-ōpuer-īs
ABLATIVEpuer-ōpuer-īs
ACCUSATIVEpuer-umpuer-ōs

Only some masculine exceptions have always the Nominative form -us, like: erus (herus) “master”, numerus “number”, umerus “shoulder”, uterus “belly, abdomen”, taurus “bull”, hesperus “evening star”.

There is no morphological difference in the declension of ager, gr-i and puer, -i. In both cases, the casus-form of Nominative is the waited Ø: /agr-Ø/ as well as /puer-Ø/. But the phoneme /r/, in the sequences /gr/, shows an allophone [er], when the sequence is in the end of word, and /agr-Ø/ becomes phonetically [ager]. This phonological rule concerns every consonant, so magister, tr-i “master”, minister, tr-i “servant”, arbiter, tr-i “judge”, faber, br-i “smith”, fiber, br-i “beaver”, liber, br-i “book”, caper, pr-i “goat”, cancer, cr-i “crab”. The lexical morphemes ending with r, in which e belongs to the stem, are not many: uesper, -i “evening”, Liber, -i “Bacchus”, socer, -i “father-in-law”, gener, -i “son-in-law”, adulter, -i “adulterer”. There are also the adjective liber, -a, -um “free”, of which liberi, -orum “children” is the Plural, and the compounds in -fer and -ger: like lucifer adj. “light-bringing”, noun (m.) “morning star”, armiger adj. “bearing arms”, noun (m.) “squire”.

Is it a third metamorphosis? According to Latin grammars,

  • Allen & Ghreenough, p. 22 : proper names in -āius, -ēius, -ōius (like, Auruncuēius, Bōī), are declined like Pompēius ‘Pompey’ :
singular (+ 0) + PLURAL
NOMINATIVEPompēi-usPompē-ī
VOCATIVEPompē- īPompē-ī
GENITIVEPompē-īPompēi-ōrum
DATIVEPompēi-ōPompē-īs
ABLATIVEPompēi-ōPompē-īs
ACCUSATIVEPompēi-um Pompēi-ōs

Does it mean that the proper name Pompēius has two allomorphs /pompe:i/ and /pompe:/? When we carefully examine the question, we note that the lexeme has the form Pompei- except before the casus-form in of Genitive, Vocative and Nominative Plural, which could be a problem not of morphology, but phonology. Actually, if we suppose that the signifier is always the same: /pompei/, we know that according to the phonological rule

  • /i/ → [jj] / V [- closed] — V

/pompei-us/ becomes [pompejjus] and is written Pompēius. And if we admit that before an /i:/ long, the phoneme /i/ is absorbed, then in accordance with the phonological rules

  • /i/ → [j] / — /i:/
    [j] → Ø / — /i:/

/pompei-i:/ phonetically will become [pompei:]. Thus morphologically, the declension of Pompēius is not a metamorphosis of the declension in -ius; but it is exactly the same declension. And the apparent differences are phonological.

Some problems peculiar to some case-morphemes:

The Vocative form being always the same as the Nominative except in the nouns of the second declension in -us, which have a Vocative in -e, it is not surprising that the Vocative of nouns such as ager and puer is also without -us and therefore in Ø puer as the Nominative in the academic language

  • Cicéron, de orat. 2,247: puer, abige muscas
    “boy, brush away flies”,

while puere is largely attested by Plautus (Asin. 382, Curc. 75, etc.). The Vocative of nouns in -ius is in , like Publi Corneli (C.I.L I3), 10), and O Vergilī. It is also the case of the noun filius: like,

  • tu quoque, mī filī
    “you also, my son”.

According to Gellius (13,26), P. Nigidius, a contemporary with Cicero, stressed the first syllable of the vocative [‘waleri:], which shows that the vocative originally was in and not in -ie, but the second syllable of the genitive [wa’leri:]. Nevertheless, we find in Livius Andronicus a vocative filie, which is quoted by Priscian (Gr. Lat. II, 305 K). And the proper name Dārīus, with an ī transliterating the Greek diphthong ei, has the vocative Dārīe. And so, the adjectives in ius, which have the expected form in i-e of vocative, when they are used as nouns, have the same vocative, like

  • Lacedaemoni-e
    “O Spartan”.

The genitive of nouns ending in -ius or -ium, until the Augustan Age, in a single , which is

  • Ernout, 19534), p. 28: a contraction of -iī like the stressing Va’lerī of Nigidius proves”

like: fīlī “of a son”, ingenī “of genius”, which is stressed [iŋ’geni:], as in the nominative [iŋ’genijum]. Forms of the genitive with double i, like filii or ingenii, which unfortunately we find in our school textbooks, are late and analogical, created according to the following proportionality :

  • domin-us == fili-us
    domin-i == domin-ī ?

It is a fact that the genitive in -ii occurs once in Virgil : Aen. 3,702: fluui-i, but constantly in Ovid; and it was certainly unknown to Cicero.

But nouns in -ius have the Nominative Plural in -iī, grammarians taught that the Noninative Plural had to have the same number of syllables as the nominative singular. So Lucretius has radii (1,147), Vergil fluuii (Aen. 1,607), radii (Aen. 12,160). Like the genitive plural of the first declension, the genitive plural of the second declension sometimes is -um instead -ōrum, in poetry:

  • rex deum
    “king of gods” = rex deorum.

The gender of nouns of the second declension normally is masculine, excepted for some feminine nouns, which are names of countries and towns, like Aegypt-us.. “Egypt”, Corinth-us “Corinth”, many names of plants and trees, like aln-us “alder”, fag-us “beech-tree”, fic-us ‘fig-tree”, popul-us “poplar-tree”, isolated nouns, like alu-us “belly”, col-us “distaff”, hum-us “ground”, and Greek nouns, which retain their original gender, like arct-us “the Polar bear”, method-us “method”. There are also three neuter nouns: pelag-us “sea”, uir-us “poison”, uulg-us “crowd” (but occasionally masculine as in expression: Caes., Gall. 6,14,4 : in uulgum “to the general public, publicly”).

These nouns have an accusative, as with all neuters, which is the same as the nominative, and do not have a plural, except pelagus, which has a rare nominative and accusative plural pelagē (Lucr. 6,619), like in Greek Πελαγη.

  • 3.3 Third declension

The third declension seems more difficult and complicated, because it has a great deal of allomorphs both for the lexemes and for the casual segments.

Casual segments.
The Nominative corresponds to four allomorphs: -is or -s, for the masculine or feminine nouns, like cīu-is m. “citizen” or dux (= duk-s) (m.) “guide” or urb-s (f.) “city”, and -e or , for the neuters, like mar-e (n.) “sea” or fulgur (n.) “flash of lightning”. But when the Nominative segment is -s, it leads to some phonological variations in the signifier of the lexical morpheme.

We know that in Latin, the opposition between voiced and voiceless obstruents is neutralized before s (and t), which are voiceless5) . So, according to the phonological rule :

  • [+ voiced] → [- voiced] / — s

the sequences of phonemes /re:g-s/, /ple:b-s/ and /kusto:d-s/ of rex, rēg-is, -um, plebs, plēb-is, -um, and custōs, ōd-is, -um are phonetically realized [re:ks], and [ple:ps] (written rex and plebs, and [kusto:ts], which becomes, because of the phonological rule of variation of /t/ into [s] before [s]

  • [t] → [s] / — s

[kusto:ss], which finally is realized [kusto:s], because of the simplification of group [ss] in word-final position6) , i.e. the phonological rule :

  • [s] → Ø / — s #

When the morphological segment of Nominative is Ø, it leads also to phonological variations for the lexemes ending with an obstruent. If the obstruent is an s, as in the neuters tempus, tempor-is, tempor-um “time” or cinis, ciner-is, ciner-um “ash”, the differences in the signifier of lexemes are not morphological, but phonological: [tempus] being the phonetic realization of /tempos/ because of the neutralization of the opposition between the vowels /u/ and /o/ before an s in word-final position7) : it is the phonological rule:

  • /o/ → [u] / — s #

and [tempor-] being the realization of /tempos-/ before a vowel, because of the phonological rule of variation, called the rhotacismus, which changes the strident phoneme /s/ into a liquid [r], when it is between two vowels, and before (or after) a morpheme border, according to phonological rule:

  • /s/ → [r] / [vocalic] — + [vocalic]8).

The rhotacismus explains also the difference between the [s] in word-final position of /kinis-Ø/ and the [r] inside the word [kiner-is], and the neutralization of the opposition between the vowels /i/ and /e/ before [r]9) explains the difference between /kinis/ and [kiner-].

When the Nominative Ø is after an /r/ or /l/ like in calcar, calcār-is, -ium, soror, sorōr-is, ōr-um, tribūnal, nāl-is, nāl-ium, the neutralization of the oppositions of quantity before every word-final consonant other than /s/ explains the difference between the short vowel of the nominative calcar, soror, tribūnal and the long vowel of all the other cases calcāris, calcārium, sorōris, sorōrum, tribūnālis, tribūnālium, etc. And if there is an obstruent before the phoneme /r/, then this /r/ has a syllabic realization, according to the phonological rule:

  • /r/ → [er] / [obstruent] — #

Thus the visible difference between pater or māter and patr-is, patr-umor mātr-is, matr-um is not morphological, but phonological.

The phonological variation of /t/ into [s] before /s/, and the simplified realization of the geminate consonants in word-final position erase the dental consonant in the nominative, as in uetustā-s beside uetustāt-is, uetustāt-um or aestā-s beside aestāt-is, aestāt-um. But this is still a phonological variation, not a morphological variation.


The Genitive, which is characteristic to the third declension, always corresponds to the same segment -is, and the Dative to the same . But on the other hand the Genitive Plural of the third declension is sometimes -ium sometimes -um, and it isn’t possible to know whichone is to be retained. Then, traditional grammars found an educational ploy. They pretended that the nouns which have the same number of syllables in the nominative as in the genitive (which they call parasyllabic nouns) have the form in -ium, like cīu-is, cīu-is and thus gen. pl. cīu-ium, or mar-e, mar-is and thus gen. pl. mar-ium, and the nouns which do not have the same number (which they call unparasyllabic) have the form in -um, like: fulgur, fulgur-is and thus gen. pl. fulgur-um, or dux, duc-is (m.) and thus gen. pl. duc-um. But the genitive plural of the unparasyllabic urb-s, urb-is is urb-ium. Grammars then spoke of “false unparasyllabics”. But there are also some parasyllabic nouns whose plural genitive is in -um; they were then “false parasyllabics”. It is therefore better to give up these concepts, which are not really operating, and commit to memory the Genitive (singular) and the Genitive Plural, for nouns of the third declension, whereas the Genitive (singular) is enough to know the other declensions, like ros-a, ae for the first declension, domin-us, -ī for the second, manus, -ūs for the fourth, and diē-s, e-ī for the fifth.


If we want at all costs to use these false concepts, we can only say that the unparasyllabic lexemes ending with two consonants have always -ium as a plural Genitive (cf. urb-s, gen. pl. urb-ium; nox, noct-is (f.) “night”, gen. pl. noct-ium; ar-s, art-is (f.) “art”, gen. pl. art-ium; etc.), and the other unparasyllabic lexemes have normally -um as a plural Genitive (cf. dux, duc-is, gen. pl. duc-um; plēb-s, plēb-is “common people”, gen. pl. plēb-um; imperātor, imperātōr-is (m.) “commanding officer”, gen. pl. imperātōr-um; consul, consul-is (m.) “consul”, gen. pl. consul-um; fulgur, fulgur-is, gen. pl. fulgur-um; ratiō, ratiōn-is (f.) “calculation”, gen. pl. ratiōn-um; tempus, tempor-is (n.) “time”, gen. pl. temporum; and /patr-Ø/, patr-is (m) “father”, gen. pl. patr-um; /ma:tr-Ø/, mātr-is (f.) “mother”, gen. pl. mātr-um; etc. And so, the lexemes ending with a dental (like: aestā-s, aestāt-is (f.) “summer”, gen. pl. aestāt-um; custō-s, custōd-is (m) “guardian”, gen. pl. custōd-um), apart from dō-s, dōt-is (f.) “dowry”, cīuitā-s, cīuitāt-is (f.) “city”, Penāt-ēs “tutelary gods”, optimāt-ēs (m.) “nobility” and Quirīt-ēs (m.) “citizens of Rome”, which have both forms, respectively dōt-um and dōt-ium, cīuitāt-um and cīuitāt-ium, Penāt-um and Penāt-ium, optimāt-um and optimāt-ium, Quirīt-um and Quirīt-ium; and līs, līt-is (f.) “lawsuit”, whose plural Genitive is only līt-ium.

As for the parasyllabic nouns, the Genitive Plural generally is -ium, with some exceptions. It is not rare finding beside this form also the casus-form -um, like clād-ēs, -is (f.) “disaster”, gen. pl. clād-ium and clād-um, caed-ēs, -is (f.) “killing”, gen. pl. caed-ium and caed-um, ap-is, -is (f.) “bee”, gen. pl. ap-ium and ap-um. Sometimes the Genitive Plural -um is more usual than -ium, like in uāt-ēs, uāt-is “prophet”, gen. pl. usual uāt-um and seldom uāt-ium, mens-is, -is (m.) “month”, gen. pl. mens-um more rarely mens-ium, sēd-ēs, -is (f.) “seat”, gen. pl. sēd-um rarely sēd-ium, and sometimes even alone usual, like can-is, -is “dog”, gen. pl. can-um, iuuen-is, -is “young man”, gen. pl. iuuen-um, and senex, sen-is ”old man”, gen. pl. senum.

The segment of Accusative Plural is -īs for the masculine or feminine nouns the Genitive Plural of which is -ium, but -ēs for the nouns which have -um as a segment of Genitive Plural: e.g. acc. pl. ciu-īs for ciu-is, -is, -ium, urb-īs for urb-s, -is, -ium, but acc. pl. cān-ēs for cān-is, -is, -um and duc-ēs for dux, duc-is, -um. And it is -ia for the neuters the Genitive Plural of which is -ium, but -a for the neuters which have a segment of genitive -um: like acc. pl. mar-ia for mare, -is, -ium¸ but acc. pl. fulgur-a for fulgur, r-is, r-um.

The segment of Nominative Plural is -ēs for all the masculine or feminine nouns. And the neuters of course have a segment -a or -ia, depending on whether they have an Accusative Plural -a or -ia.

The segment of Ablative is, for our Latin grammars, the second great problem of the third declension: it is sometimes -e sometimes . But how is it possible to know whether it is -e or ? It is quite easy, when we remark that firstly, it is always -e with the masculine and feminine nouns, as in: cīv-e, urb-e, can-e, duc-e, etc., secondly, it is always in the neuters which have -ium as a Genitive Plural, because these neuter nouns have an -e as a Nominative and Accusative (cf. mar-e, -is, -ium, abl. sg. mar-ī) or had an -e (cf. animal < animāl-e, -is, -ium, abl. sg. animāl-ī; tribūnal < tribūnāl-e, -is, -ium “court of law”, abl. sg. tribūnāl-ī; puluīnar, puluīnār-is, puluīnār-ium “cushioned couch”, abl. sg. puluīnār-ī; calcar, calcār-is, calcār-ium “spur”, abl. sg. calcār-ī; but fulgur, r-is -rum, abl. sg. fulgur-e. Even if the nominative in -e is not to be found any more, the segment of plural nominative -ia

  • Liv. 2,20: subdit equo calcaria “he spurs on a horse”

or plural genitive -ium are enough to say that this nominative existed, which diachronic phonetics confirms (cf. Niedermann, 1953, p. 51).

The segment of Accusative is -em for the masculine or feminine nouns, and -e or Ø for the neuters and the casual segments of the Dative Plural and Ablative Plural are both -ibus and are common to all the nouns of the third declension.

The whole set of the morphological segments which form the third declension can be set out by the following table of six words:

masculine Feminine neuter masc./fem. neuter
NOM. cīu-is urb-s mar-e can-is ; dux fulgur-Ø
VOC. cīu-is urb-s mar-e can-is ; dux fulgur-Ø
GEN. cīu-is urb-is mar-is can-is ; duc-is fulgur-is
DAT. ciu-ī urb-ī mar-ī can-ī ; duc-ī fulgur-ī
ABL. cīu-e urb-e mar-ī can-e ; duc-e fulgur-e
ACC. cīu-em urb-em mar-e can-em ; duc-em fulgur-Ø
NOM.PL cīu-ēs urb-ēs mar-ia can-ēs ; duc-ēs fulgur-a
VOC.PL cīu-ēs urb-ēs mar-ia can-ēs ; duc-ēs fulgur-a
GEN.PL cīu-ium urb-ium mar-ium can-um ; duc-um fulgur-um
DAT.PL cīu-ibus urb-ibus mar-ibus can-ibus ; duc-ibus fulgur-ibus
ABL. PLcīu-ibus urb-ibus mar-ibus can-ibus ; duc-ibus fulgur-ibus
ACC.PL cīu-īs urb-īs mar-ia can-ēs ; duc-ēs fulgur-a

Other allomorphs of casus-forms

Some allomorphs are to be added to these morphological segments which define the third declension. Concerning the lexemes which have a segment -ium as Genitive Plural, some of these have a segment of Nominative -ēs beside -is, like uall-ēs and uall-is, -is, ium “valley”, ap-is (ap-ēs), -is, -ium (-um) “bee”, or instead of -is, like sēd-ēs, -is, -ium, “seat”, nūb-ēs (nūbis, once in Plaut., Merc. 879), -is, -ium “cloud”, uāt-ēs (uāt-is -is, -um (-ium) “prophet”.

The Ablative segment , and the Accusative segment -im are found exclusively in the following nouns: uīs (f.) “violence”, sitis (f.) “thirst”, tussis (f.) “cough”, securis (f.) “axe”, and Tiberis (m.) “Tibre”, and sometimes in puppis (f.) “poop” and turris (f.) “tower”; the accusative in -im sometimes also in febris (f.) “fever”, restis (f.) “rope”, and the ablative in , sometimes in auis (f.) “bird”, febris “fever”, finis (f.) “limit”, ignis (f.) “fire”.

Concerning the lexemes which have a segment -um as Genitive Plural, the masculine or feminine lexemes with final n have a special Nominative, which is not a segment added to the lexeme, but an internal modifying of the lexeme itself, which erases simply the final n, if it is preceded by a long vowel, otherwise, it changes the vowel with an ō long. The Nominative is thus equivalent to a replacive as

  • /o:← (o:n)/ or /o:← (in)/

as in:

ratiō (f.) “reason” (= /ratio:n-o:←(o:n)/ = /ratio:n-\n /),ratiōn-is, ratiōn-um; praedō (m.) “pirate”, praedōn-is, praedōn-um; leō (m.) “lion”, leōn-is, leōn-um; Dīdō (f.) “Dido”, Didōn-is;

or in:

homō (m) “human being” (= /homin-o:←(in)/), homin-is, homin-um; uirgō (f.) “girl“, uirgin-is, uirgin-um;

but exception daemōn (m.) ”supernatural spirit”, daemon-is, daemon-um (gr. Δαιμωv).

If the lexeme with final n is a neuter noun, then its nominative is simply a segment Ø, and the lexeme shows the morphological alternation called the synchronic apophony, i.e. the opening of the short closed vowel in a final syllable: the nominative of nōmen (n.) “name”, nōmin-is, nōmin-um is explained by the lexeme /nōmin/+ Ø, which corresponds thus to /nōmi~e←(i)n-ø#/, realized [no:men].

In the masculine and feminine nouns, when the Nominative is /-s/ or Ø, it brings sometimes but not always a lengthening of the final vowel of lexeme, as in pē-s (m.) “foot”, ped-is, ped-um, pariē-s (m.) “wall”, pariet-is, pariet-um, pūbēs (m.) “grown-up person”, pūber-is, pūber-um, ariē-s (m.) “ram”, ariet-is, ariet-um; arbōs (f.), arbor-is, arbor-um, phonetic realizations of /arbos-is/, /arbos-um/. But there is no lengthening in pede-s (m.) “infantryman”, pedit-is, pedit-um, lapi-s (m.) “stone”, lapid-is, lapid-um, come-s (m. or f.) “companion”, comit-is, comit-um, lepus phonetic realization of /lepos-Ø/ (m.) “hare”, lepor-is, lepor-um, etc.

Morphological alternation in the lexical morphemes of the third declension:

We know that from the diachronic apophony, which is the closing of short unclosed vowels in open interior syllable, it results, in classical Latin, a morphological rule of alternation between a short closed vowel in open interior syllable and an unclosed vowel in a closed final syllable, which we can call “synchronic apophony” and note from the following way:

  • /i (or u) Cons + ~ e Cons + s #/
    or
    e ← (i) or (u) / ̶ Cons - s #

as in:

iūdex (= /iu:de←(i)ik-s#/, iūdic-is, iūdic-um (m.) “judge”, auceps (= /auke←(u)up-s#/), aucup-is, aucup-um (m.) “bird-catcher”, mīle-s, mīlit-is, mīlit-um (m.) “soldier”,

with moreover the phonological rule of neutralization of the opposition between voiced and voiceless obstruents

  • rēmex (=/re:me←(i)ig-s#/), rēmig-is, rēmig-um (m.) “oarsman, rower”,

and the variation of /t/ before /s/ and the simplification of group [ss] in word-final position

  • obses (= /obse←(i)id-s#/), obsid-is, obsid-um (m.) “hostage”.

Some lexemes present specific alternations in word-final position, i.e. most of the time in nominative; so, /kapot-/ is an allomorph of capit- in caput (n.) “head” (= /kapot-ø/, phonetically realized [kaput] with the neutralization of the opposition between /o/ and /u/ before a final apicodental /t/), capit-is, capit-um; senek- of sen- in senex (m.) “old man”, sen-is, sen-um; femur of femin- in femur (n.) “thigh of human being”, femin-is, femin-um; iecur of iecinor- in iecur (n.) “liver”, iecinor-is, iecinor-um; and iter of itiner- in iter (n.) “line of travel”, itiner-is, itiner-um. But, since, besides the genitives feminis and iecinoris, there are genitives like femoris and iecoris, it is better if we see femur and iecur as phonetic realizations of /femor/ and /iekor/ because the same neutralization of the opposition between /o/ and /u/ before a final apicodental /r/ or /t/ as before the final apicodental /s/ of tempus, corpus, etc. Then, it becomes possible to say that 1) femur, femor-is, femor-um was a secondary regularization of the declension femur, femin-is, femin-um, which seemed strange, and femen, attested at least by Ampelius (30,2) in the second century AD, is another way to regulate; and 2) the nominative of iter and iecur can be described by the erasing of the segment /in/ from their signifier: iter corresponding to it(in)er, and iecur, phonetic realization of /iekor/, to iec(in)or. The morphological alternation between onus (n.) “burden” and oner-is, oner-um is actually an alternation between /onos/, the second /o/ of which is phonetically realized [u] before an apicodental s, and /onis-is/, the phoneme /s/ of which is phonetically realized [r] because the rhotacismus, and the phoneme /i/ is opened before the [r], because the neutralization of the opposition /i/ ~ /e/ before [r].

Grammars indicate some other irregular nouns of the third declension:

The noun uīs, the ablative of which is and the accusative uim, has a plural “formed on analogy of mores”, i. e. as if uī-s was *uīs-Ø, *uīs-is and hence with the rhotacismus *uīr-is, and the plural uīr-ēs, -īum.

carō, carn-is, carn-ium, with the Nominative /ō ← (n)/ instead /ō ← (in)/. The Genitive Plural -ium is the only one known for carō, whereas the lexemes in /ō ← (in)/ have normally -um as Genitive Plural (cf. uirgō “maiden”, uirgin-is, uirgin-um; homō “man”, homin-is, homin-um; imāgō “image”, imāgin-is, imāgin-um; similitūdō “ressemblance”, similitūdin-is, similitūdin-um, etc.), which could justify the educational explanation by the difference between parasyllabic and unparasyllabic words! But the explanation is immediately invalidated by the unparasyllabic word nix (f.) “snow”, niu-is, niu-ium, which has two allomorphs: /niu/, and /nik/ before consonant. The genitive plural niu-ium, is, according to the database of “itinera electronica”, found 13 times by 7 writers in 12 books.

The other words quoted among the irregular nouns of the third declension, like os (n.) “bone”, oss-is, oss-ium, sū-s (m. and f.) “swine”, su-is, su-um, grū-s , gru-is, gru-um, bō-s (m. and f.) “ox, cow”, bou-is, bo-um, Iuppiter (m.) “Jupiter”, (Iūpiter), Iouis, are all regular, if we know the rules of the Latin phonological system. The lexeme os shows the simplification of the group [ss] in word-final position. If we admit a signifier /su:/ for sū-s, su-is, su-um, only the usual Ablative Plural and Dative Plural -bus in sū-bus, which the grammars give as usual, is irregular. But su-ibus seems more classical: it is found in Var., L. L. 5,110, Cic., fin. 5,38 and Plin., nat. 8,213, whereas sū-bus is attested by Var., Men. 127, and Lucr. 5,90, and su-bus by Lucr. 6,974 and 977 (probably by analogy of su-is, su-ī, su-em, where the long phoneme /u:/ is phonologically abbreviated before a vowel). As for grū-s, gru-is, gru-um, it is totally regular, since its ablative plural is only gru-ibus. As for the lexeme bō-s (m. and f.) “ox, cow”, bou-is, bo-um, it is regular, if we admit that the phonemes /ou/ are phonologically realized [o:] before a consonant, and [ow] before vowel; but before the vowel u, /bou-um/, which is phonetically realized [bowum], is spelled boum, with only one u (cf. Niedermann, 195310).

Gender in the third declension

Masculine are the nouns in -tor, like orātor (m.) “orator”, orātōr-is, orātor-um, imperātor (m.) “commanding officer, general”, imperātōr-is, imperātōr-um, mercātor (m.) “merchant”, mercātōr-is, mercātōr-um, etc.

Feminine are the nouns in -tio, and -tas realization of /ta:ts/, like natio (f.) “people”, natiōn-is, natiōn-um, rātio (f.) “reason”, rātiōn-is, rāortiōn-um; cīuitā-s (f.) “city”, cīuitāt-is, cīuitāt-um and cīuitāt-ium, aetā-s (f.) “period or time of life”, aetāt-is, aetāt-um and aetat-ium, etc.

Neuter are the nouns in men, min-is like: nōmen (n.) “name”, flumen, fulmen, etc.; in -ma, -matis, -al like pŏēma (n.) “poem”, pŏēmātis, pŏēmātum (gr. Πoíημα), animal (n.) “animal”, animāl-is, animāl-ium, tribūnal (n.) “court of law”, tribūnāl-is, tribūnāl-ium, etc. with the exception of sāl (m.) “salt”, sal-is, sal-um; in -ale, -ar, -are, -ur like rōbur (n.) “oak-tree”, rōbor-is, rōbor-um, fulgur (n.) “flash of lightning”, fulgur-is, fulgur-um, etc. but with the exception of turtur (m.) “turtle-dove”, turtur-is, turtur-um, and uultur (m.) “vulture”, uultur-is, uultur-um; in -us like corpus (n.) “body”, corpor-is, corpor-um, tempus (n.) “time”, tempor-is, tempor-um, pecus (n.) “flock”, pecor-is, pecor-um, etc. with the exceptions of lepus (m.) “hare”, lepor-is, lepor-um and pecus (f.) “pet”, pecud-is, pecud-um; also lac (n.) “milk”, lact-is, lact-um, and caput (n.) “head”, capit-is, capit-um.

  • 3.4. Fourth and fifth declension

These two declensions don’t concern many nouns, but any very much used and usual nouns. The fourth declension is defined by a Nominative in -us for the masculine or feminine nouns or in for the neuters, and by a Genitive in -ūs, which is common to all the nouns. This Genitive thus distinguishes the words of the fourth declension from the ones of the second declension.

The following table shows the different morphological segments of the fourth declension:

+ PLURAL + PLURAL
NOM. exercit-us exercit-ūs corn-ū corn-ua
VOC. exercit-us exercit-ūs corn-ū corn-ua
GEN. exercit-ūs exercit-uum corn-ūs corn-uum
DAT. exercit-uī (ū) exercit-ibus corn-ū corn-ibus
ABL. exercit-ū exercit-ibus corn-ū corn-ibus
ACC. exercit-um exercit-ūs corn-ū corn-ua

Some lexemes show allomorphs of case-endings; lacus, -ūs (m.) “lake”, arc-us, -ūs (m.) “bow”, and quercus, -ūs (f.) “oak-tree” have -ubus as segments of Ablative Plural and Dative Plural. The lexeme domus, -ūs (f.) “house” hesitates between the fourth declension and the second declension. It has all the casus-forms of the fourth declension, but some of the second declension are preferred and more usual: it is the Genitive and Ablative: dom-ī and dom-ō (including the Genitive traditionally called the locative: dom-ī), and the Accusative Plural and Genitive Plural: dom-ōs and dom-ōrum.

Most nouns of the fourth declension are masculine, like: exercitus, -ūs (m.) “army”, senātus, -ūs (m.) “senate”, fluctus, -ūs “billow”, magistrātus, -ūs “magistrate”, artus, -ūs “joint”, etc. but a few nouns are feminine, like: mān-us, -ūs (f.) “hand”, tribus, -ūs (f.) “tribe”, portic-us, -ūs (f.) “portico”, querc-us, -ūs (f.) “oak-tree”, and the plural tantum: id-ūs, -uum (f.) “the 15th (or 13th) day of the month”. There are only four neuters: corn-ū, -ūs (n.) “horn”, genū, -ūs (n.) “knee”, uer-ū, -ūs (n.) “spit”, and pec-ū, -ūs “farm animals”, which moreover varies between the fourth and third declension (cf. pecus, pecor-is, pecor-um (n.) “flock”).

The fifth declension concerns even fewer nouns than the fourth; they are all feminine (rē-s, -ī (f.) “thing”, spēs, -ī (f.) “hope”, speciēs, ī (f.) “visual appearance”, fidē-s, -ī (f.) “trust”), except merīdiē-s, -ī (m.) “midday, noon” and diē-s, -ī (m.) “day”, which, however, sometimes is feminine, especially in phrases indicating a fixed time and when it means time in general, like constitūtā diē “on a set day” or longa diēs “a long time”.

Several nouns vary between the fifth and the first declension: like māteriē-s, -ī (f.) and māteri-a, -ae “material”, saeuitiē-s, -ī (f.) and saeuiti-a -ae “savageness”. The genitive and dative in e-ī of these words are rarely found.

Other words vary between the fifth and the third declension: like requiē-s, requiēt-is “rest” with acc. requi-em, and ablative requi-ē, plēbē-s, ī (f.) and pleb-s, b-is “common people” with genitive plēbī in tribūn-us plēb-ī and dative plēbe-i, famēs “hunger” with genitive fam-is and ablative fam-ē.

Morphological segments of the fifth declension are shown in the following table for the two nouns which alone are declined throughout:

+ Pl. + Pl.
NOM. rē-s rē-s diē-s diē-s
GEN. re-ī rē-s die-ī diē-s
DAT. re-ī rē-rum die-ī diē-rum
ABL. rē-Ø rē-bus diē-Ø diē-bus
ACC. re-m rē-bus die-m diē-bus

The genitive was, in the archaic period, in -s, like diēs (in Ennius, ann. 413), but also at the classical time, according to Gellius (IX, 14), who cites Cicero

  • Cicero, Sest., 28: poenas illius dies

and even Vergil

  • Vergil, georg. 1,208: dies somnique horas.

Thus he concludes that “the Ancients declined”…

  • Gellius, IX, 14,2 : Sic enim pleraque aetas veterum declinavit: haec facies, huius facies,quod nunc propter rationem grammaticam “faciei” dicitur.
    … which is now said faciei because of the grammatical analogy”.

But according to Ernout,

  • Ernout, 195311), p. 69 : early, as in the first declension, the segment ī replaced the -s, which gave “diēī” and “faciēī” (cf. Vergil Aen., 9,156: nunc adeo, melior quoniām pārs/āctă dĭ/ēī, and Plautus Mil. 103: māgnā/ĭ rē/ī pūb/lĭcā/ī grā/tĭā). Then, the vowel ē becomes short before another vowel, and according to Niedermann, * Niedermann 195312), p. 58 : ei” is become ”ī” in the first half of the 2nd century BC, after it has been through an ””.

Gellius note that this evolution is attested by Vergil

  • Vergil Aen. 1,636: munera laetitiamque dii
    “the gifts and the delight of the day”.

And he adds that

  • Gellius, IX, 14,8 : quod inperitiores “dei” legunt ab insolentia scilicet vocis istius abhorrentes. “some not very well informed persons read dei, because they refuse this unusual form” .

He concludes thus that

  • Gellius, IX, 14,9 : Sic autem “dies, dii” a veteribus declinatum est, ut “fames, fami”, “pernicies, pernicii”, “progenies, progenii”, “luxuries, luxurii”, “acies? acii
    “the Ancients declined also dies dii, like fames fami, pernicies pernicii, progenies progenii, luxuries luxurii, acies acii” ,

which he proves by giving a long list of examples, one of which in Cicero

  • Cicero, Sext. Rosc. 131: pernicii causa
    “in order to destroy”.

The three forms of the Genitive segment, which actually appeared at different times, coexist in classical Latin, since they are found both in Cicero and in Vergil. But Gellius points out that

  • Gellius, IX, 14,25 : Sed C. Caesar in libro de analogia secundo “huius die” et “huius specie” dicendum putat.
    “C. Caesar, in the second book De analogia, thinks that huius die and huius specie must be said” ,

and says that he found the genitive die in an excellent manuscript of Sallustus’

  • Sallustus , Iug. 97: uix decima parte die relicua
    “while only the tenth part of the day still remained”.

There were therefore four forms of Genitive, at least for the word diē-s: an archaic form diē-s, the usual form diē-ī or die-ī, and some perhaps progressive forms diī and die.

The Dative of the fifth declension, which is in -ei or , is rare, because in prose and spoken language, the usual dative (and genitive) of the type māteriē-s was materi-ae. And according to Gellius,

  • Gellius, IX, 14,21 : qui purissime locuti sunt, non “faciei”, uti nunc dicitur, sed “facie” dixerunt.
    “in the dative, the purists didn’t say faciei¸ but facie” .

Unlike the genitive, the final -ei seems always monosyllabic in the ancient poets13) except Lucrecius, who alone uses a dissyllabic dative rēī like the genitive (cf. Lucr. 1,688 and 2,236).

The Nominative Plural is very rare, except for diē-s and rē-s; there are only some examples of faciē-s, spēciē-s and spē-s, among which, beside the expected nominative plural spē-s (Plaut., Rud. 1145), we find the nominative spēr-ēs14) , which was treated as if it was from the third declension, and was thus analyzed like /spēs-ēs/, which became, because of the rhotacismus, spērēs.

In genitive plural and dative-ablative plural, we found actually only diē-rum rē-rum and diē-bus rē-bus. Priscianus quotes a genitive faciē-rum (Gr. lat. II, 368 K) which was said to have been used by Cato, but Cicero says that if specierum and speciebus could exist in Latin, he himself could not use them, because they have no declension (Top. 2,30); and Quintilianus did not know “what spes will do in plural” (1,6,26).





Retour au plan ou Aller au § 4.

1) , 2) Allen & Greenough, 1888, p. 15
3) If *fluui doesn’t exist in Vergilius, we find the nominative plural fluuii (Aen. 1,607), the dative plural fluuiis (Aen. 4,489), the accusative plural fluuiosque (Aen. 12,180), the genitive plural fluuiorum (Aen. 12, 140), and 8 accusative fluuium, 9 the ablative fluuio.
4) Cf. Touratier, Système des consonnes , 2005, p. 118-119. Alvarez Heurta, Neutralisation consonantique en latin, 2005, p. 146-147.
5) Cf. Touratier, Système des consonnes , 2005, 118-119. Alvarez Heurta, « Neutralisation consonantique en latin », 2005, 146-147.
6) 123 et 126-127. Lehmann, 2005, La structure de la syllabe latine , p. 169-170 et 183-184
7) Cf. Touratier, 2005, Système des voyelles , p. 222.
8) Cf. Touratier, 1975, Rhotacisme synchronique du latin classique et rhotacisme diachronique , in : Gl 53, p. 267.
9) Cf. Touratier, 2005, p. 222.
10) Cf. Touratier, Système des consonnes, 2005, 118-119. Alvarez Heurta, Neutralisation consonantique en latin, 2005, 146-147., p. 104-105
11) , 12) Cf. Touratier, Système des consonnes, 2005, 118-119. Alvarez Heurta, Neutralisation consonantique en latin , 2005, 146-147.
13) Cf. Plaut., Amph. 276: die; 674: re elided; Merc. 300: rei monsyllabic; Trin. 757: rei monosyllabic; Pers. 193: fide elided; Poen. 890; Trin. 117 and 142.
14) Cf. Ennius, ann. 128 and 429.