Latin Nouns I

The first topic at hand will be the idea of Latin nouns. In this, we will investigate what a noun looks like and how it may function in a sentence. I will also give a few words to expose you to Latin words. Topics in this lesson include:

  • Noun Endings
  • Noun Genders
  • Noun Declensions
  • Declining Nouns:
    • Nominative
    • Accusative
    • Genitive

The Noun Endings

As we know, Latin is an inflected language, so the role of a word in Latin is determined by its ending, a little different from English. Thus, the nouns in Latin may have different endings yet be the same word. Consider the sentence:

  • Agricola agricolam alterum vidit.

You see that two words appear highly similar: "agricola" and "agricolam". That is because both of these words refer to some farmer, but their roles are different since they have different endings. The sentence in fact translates to "The farmer saw the other farmer."

Thus this will be the focus of the study of nouns in Latin. What are the endings and what are they used for?

Noun Genders

There are three typical genders to consider in all that we speak: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Some things, even when speaking in English, seem to be more related to the male gender than to the female gender, and vice versa. For instance, we tend to associate the name "Joseph" as a boy name. "Mary" on the other hand is a girl name. Finally, there is a third gender commonly thought to be a neutral kind of thing, for instance "it". Latin is the same way, but it is more specific.

Latin also has these three genders manifested in nouns and adjectives. Each noun can be one of three genders, masculine, feminine, or neuter (though some words can be more than one gender, this is rare). This is important because depending on the gender, the noun may use endings different than normal. This is especially evident in the neuter gender as it is quite different from the other two.


Noun Declensions

Other than gender, there are five types of nouns that are categorized under five different declensions. These categories are called declensions because when you determine all the possible endings of a noun, it is called declining the noun. Thus, there are five different ways nouns can be declined (though a noun only fits under one declension).

Each declension is unique in the way nouns under them are declined. Here is a brief description on each declension:

Declension Description Word Examples
First The first declension is comprised mostly of feminine nouns and deals a lot with the letter "a" as an ending. The only masculine nouns in the first declension are those of job positions, like farmer or sailor. Mora, Fabula, Patria
Second The second declension, in contrast to the first, doesn't really contain any feminine nouns and deals mostly with the other two genders. The endings for these nouns mostly follow "o". Animus, Fatum, Amicus
Third The third declension is what most nouns fall under, and all three genders are included into this class. The endings in the third declension mostly follow "i". Canis, Mons, Iter
Fourth The fourth declension is like the third in that all genders are accounted for, but there aren't many fourth declension nouns. The endings deal a bit with "u". Domus, Vultus, Cornu
Fifth The fifth declension deals primarily with feminine nouns, though it rarely includes masculine nouns. The endings for this declension center around "e". Dies, Spes, Res

Nouns can only take one declension. Because of declensions, we can know that the two words Mora and Fabula have similar ending patterns when we decline them. These sort of help us give rules.

Declining Nouns

For now, we will only discuss the first two declensions when actually determining the ending. In a typical dictionary, two forms of a noun are given along with its gender. For example, you may find this in a dictionary:

  • mora, morae f

These two forms tell you exactly what declension the noun is in so that you can discover the rest of the forms assuming you know the rules for declining nouns. These forms specifically are the nominative singular and genitive singular forms.

The first thing you may want to consider is that there are six different cases that a noun can decline into, and each case consists of a singular and plural form. For instance, consider the following sentences:

  • The delay was bad.
  • We had bad delays.

In the first sentence, "delay" is the subject and singular. In the second, it is the direct object and plural. Thus these immediately account for two different forms. Here are the Latin equivalents:

  • Mora mala fuit.
  • Moras malas habuimus.

All the cases of a noun include:

  • Nominative
  • Genitive
  • Dative
  • Accusative
  • Ablative
  • Vocative

Thus, a standard chart like the ones used in this dictionary would look like this:

Singular Plural
Nominative Mora Morae
Genitive Morae Morarum
Dative Morae Moris
Accusative Moram Moras
Ablative Mora Moris
Vocative Mora Morae

For now, all that will be discussed is how to find the declension of a noun and actually declining first and second declension nouns in the nominative, genitive, and accusative cases.

Declining First and Second Declension Nouns

Now, we will discover how exactly to form certain Latin nouns. First, we will want to know what nominative, genitive, and accusative refer to.

The nominative case of a noun is used whenever the noun is the subject of the sentence. For example, in "The farmer was happy", the farmer would be written as a nominative singular noun because it is the subject of the sentence.

The genitive case of a noun is used whenever the noun becomes possessive. For instance, in "We came to the fields of the farmer", the farmer would be written as a genitive singular noun because it is the possessive of the fields. Possession is often indicated by either the word "of" proceeding the noun or an apostrophe s directly after the noun ("of the farmer" versus "the farmer's". Genitive nouns will often act as an adjective, but they don't look like them.

The accusative case of a noun is used for direct objects (and other things, but those will be discussed later). For example, in "We like the farmer", the farmer would be accusative because it is the direct object.

So here are examples. What case (and number, meaning singular or plural) would the underlined noun be in? Highlight the answer box for the answer.

Sentence Answer Latin Equivalent
The boys ate the food. Accusative Singular Pueri cibum ederunt.
The woman married the man. Nominative Singular Femina viro nupsit.
The sailor's son was sad. Genitive Singular Filius nautae miser erat.
Walk the dogs. Accusative Plural Ambula canes.
What are the names of your friends? Genitive Plural Qui nomina amicorum sunt?

So, we will now learn how to decline the first declension under the nominative, genitive, and accusative cases. But how do we know what declension of a particular word is?

There is a reason dictionaries give two forms of the verb. Together, they tell you the declension. Look at the following words:

  • Mora, Morae f
  • Animus, Animi m
  • Mons, Montis m
  • Domus, Domus f
  • Dies, Diei m/f

By looking primarily at the second form (genitive singular), we can tell what declension the word is. Here is how the second parts should end in the five declensions:

Declension Ending
First -ae
Second -i
Third -is
Fourth -us
Fifth -ei

The stem of the noun is then found by removing this ending from the second part. Thus, with just these two forms, we can determine declension (and thus how a noun is formed in sentences) and the stem (what we add endings to).

Take the word Mora, Morae f. We know it is of the first declension because the second part ends in -ae. The stem is Mor- because we removed the -ae from that second part. Now, we can add the following endings:

Singular Plural
Nominative -a -ae
Genitive -ae -arum
Accusative -am -as

Thus, we can find these six forms of the word Mora.

Singular Plural
Nominative Mora Morae
Genitive Morae Morarum
Accusative Moram Moras

Now, if I were to ask, "Translate the following sentence: 'We had a bad delay.'", you could first determine the position of delay. It is a direct object, and it is singular. Thus, we will use the form "moram" for delay.

For masculine second declension nouns, you follow the same process and use the following endings:

Singular Plural
Nominative -us/-r1 -i
Genitive -i -orum
Accusative -um -os

Neuter second declension nouns are a little different. They instead use these endings:

Singular Plural
Nominative -um -a
Genitive -i -orum
Accusative -um -a

Now you might be wondering, "Gee, some of the endings are the same. How can I tell the difference?" To be truthful, it takes practice translating some sentences to get the experience on when one form is used over another. In general, though, direct object will come after the subject. Plus you must use common sense. You can't translate "Agricolae viros bonos sunt" as "Of the farmers men good are" or "Of the farmers are good people". Therefore, you can conclude that "agricolae" is nominative, not genitive. The correct translation is "Farmers are good people."

Now you have been introduced to Latin nouns. In the next section, you will learn about Latin verbs and their basics. Below is a small test on if you memorized the above forms and some suggested words to start memorizing.

What case and number are the following words?

Word Form
Agricolas Accusative Plural
Forma Nominative Singular
Amici Nominative Plural or Genitive Singular
Amicam Accusative Singular
Gaudia Nominative or Accusative Singular
Puer Nominative Singular
Virorum Genitive Plural

Suggested words:

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