[back to list of essays]

Latin Noun Inflection

(A Solution to Latin 10)

Latin nouns are inflected for case and number by suffixation. The inflections for two numbers (singular and plural) and six cases (nominative, accusative, dative, ablative, and genitive) are accounted for in this analysis. A sample of the range of types of noun stems is given in Table 1, and ten sets of suffixes are given in Table 2.

[back to outline]


Table 1. Latin Noun Stems. Relevant information for each noun includes its citation stem (Column 1), for some nouns a variant stem (Column 2), a gloss (Column 3), and its gender (Column 4). Nouns are inherently masculine (MASC), feminine (FEM), or neuter (NEUT), although some that are termed common (COMM) may be either masculine or feminine, depending on the sex of the human referent. The nouns included in Table 1 are some that are used as exemplary paradigms by Latin grammars. The order in which they are listed is determined by pecularities of their forms, especially to the final phoneme of each citation stem, which is used (together with the noun's gender) to determine its proper set of suffixes from Table 2.

  Stem Variant Gloss Gender
  stella -- star FEM  
  servo servu slave MASC
  bello bellu war NEUT
  Pompeio Pompeiu Pompey MASC
  puero puer boy MASC
  agro ager field MASC
  viro vir man MASC
  deo deu god MASC
  pri:ncip pri:ncep chief COMM
  ra:dic -- root FEM
  mi:lit mi:let soldier MASC
  cu:sto:d -- guard COMM
  duc -- leader COMM
  re:g -- king MASC
  ariet arie:t ram MASC
  comit comet companion COMM
  lapid -- stone MASC
  iu:dic iu:dec judge MASC
  corni:c -- raven FEM
  cord -- heart NEUT
  capit caput head NEUT
  poe:mat poe:ma poem NEUT
  co:nsul -- consul MASC
  leo:n -- lion MASC
  virgin virgo:n maiden FEM
  patr pater father MASC
  no:min no:men name NEUT
  gener genus race NEUT
  corpor corpus body NEUT
  aequor -- sea NEUT
  siti -- thirst FEM
  turri -- tower FEM
  i:gni -- fire MASC
  imbri imber rain MASC
  sedi:li sedi:le seat NEUT
  anima:li animal animal NEUT
  calca:ri calcar spur NEUT
  nu:b(i) nu:be: cloud FEM
  urb(i) -- city FEM
  noct(i) -- night FEM
  client(i) clie:nt client MASC
  aeta:t(i) -- age FEM
  bo:v -- cow, ox COMM
  sen senec old man MASC
  carn caro:n flesh FEM
  oss -- bone NEUT
  vi:(ri) (sg.(pl.)) force FEM
  suv -- swine COMM
  Iov Iu(:/p)piter Jupiter MASC
  nigv -- snow FEM
  itiner iter march NEUT
  manu -- hand FEM
  lacu -- lake MASC
  genu -- knee NEUT
  domu -- house FEM
  re: -- thing FEM
  die: -- day MASC
  fide: -- faith FEM

[back to outline]


Table 2. Latin Noun Inflectional Suffixes. Table 2 contains ten sets of suffixes, six in Table 2a, and four in Table 2b. Which of these 10 sets should be attached to a given noun depends on the gender of the noun, and on the final phoneme of its citation stem, as listed in the first column of Table 1. The relevant stem-final phonemes are given at the head of each of the six columns in Table 2: a, o, e, u, i, or C (where C = any consonant). (The numbers of the traditional declension classes are also given, but they are not relevant to this analysis.) Neuter nouns take their suffixes from Table 2b; while the other genders (masculine, feminine, or common) take theirs from Table 2a. A carat (^) preceding a vowel-initial suffix indicates that that vowel replaces the stem vowel, if any. A tilde preceding a consonantal suffix indicates that the preceding vowel is always short. A # stands for a zero suffix.

Table 2a

MASC/FEM 1st: a 2nd: o 5th: e: 4th: u 3rd: i 3rd: C
NOM S # s s s s s
ACC S ~m ~m ~m ~m ~m em
DAT S e : i: : / i: i: i:
ABL S : : : : : e
GEN S e ^i: i: :s ^is ^is
NOM P e ^i: :s :s ^e:s ^e:s
ACC P :s :s :s :s :s e:s
DAT/ABL P ^i:s ^i:s bus bus / ^ibus ^ibus ^ibus
GEN P :rum :rum :rum um um um

Table 2b

NEUT 1st: a 2nd: o 5th: e: 4th: u 3rd: i 3rd: C
NOM S   ~m   : # #
ACC S   ~m   : # #
DAT S   :   : : i:
ABL S   :   : : e
GEN S   ^i:   :s s is
NOM P   ^a   a a a
ACC P   ^a   a a a
DAT/ABL P   ^i:s   ^ibus ^ibus ^ibus
GEN P   :rum   um um um

[back to outline]

Combining stems.

The citation stem combines with each of the suffixes, unless there is a variant stem. Variant stems are deviant stems used in the NOM S (and for neuter nouns, in the ACC S as well).

Stem Variant Gloss Gender
imbri imber 'rain' MASC
sedi:li sedi:le 'seat' NEUT
Combining Stems
NOM S imber (variant) sedi:le (variant)
ACC S imbri   sedi:le (variant)
DAT S imbri   sedi:li  
ABL S imbri   sedi:li  
GEN S imbri   sedi:li  
NOM P imbri   sedi:li  
ACC P imbri   sedi:li  
DAT/ABL P imbri   sedi:li  
GEN P imbri   sedi:li  

The pattern of combining stems set forth here and below is given in broad strokes for purposes of overall simplicity. As noted in connection with Table 2, some of the final vowels of these combining stems end up being replaced by the initial vowels of some suffixes (those introduced by a carat (^).

[back to outline]

O-stems as exceptions. Masculine o-stems deviate from the above picture in having a variant ACC S combining stem that ends in u, which may be different from the Variant Stem used as the NOM S combining stem. Thus puero (shown below) has three combining stems. Others, like servo, vary between a pattern with two combining stems (with an u-stem Variant in both NOM S and ACC S) and one with a single combining stem, the basic o-stem used without variation.

Stem Variant Gloss Gender
puero puer 'boy' MASC
servo servu 'slave' MASC
  Combining Stems
NOM S puer (variant) servu (u-variant) ~ servo
ACC S pueru (u-variant) servu (u-variant) ~ servo
DAT S puero   servo    
ABL S puero   servo    
GEN S puero   servo    
NOM P puero   servo    
ACC P puero   servo    
DAT/ABL P puero   servo    
GEN P puero   servo    

[back to outline]

Confusion between the i-stem and C-stem paradigms. Some forms of i-stem and C-stem nouns appear to be identical. Without additional information, one cannot be sure which paradigm the noun belongs to. Thus users confused as to membership of a given noun may decline it according to the other paradigm, and thereby create variants for those forms not identical in the two paradigms. Two such nouns are compared below. The rows with seemingly identical inflections show an equals sign (=) between the two forms; the others show the attested and expected variants (the latter in square brackets []) that result.

  Stem Variant Gloss Gender
i-stem turri   'tower' FEM
C-stem patr pater 'father' MASC
  Inflections Variants   Variants Inflections
NOM S turris       pater
ACC S turrim ~ turrem   [~patrim] patrem
DAT S turri:   =   patri:
ABL S turri: ~ turre   [~ patri:] patre
GEN S turris   =   patris
NOM P turre:s   =   patre:s
ACC P turri:s ~ turre:s   [~ patri:s] patre:s
DAT/ABL P turribus   =   patribus
GEN P turrium [~ turrum]   [~ patrium] patrum

[back to outline]

Mixed i-stems. Out of this paradigm confusion, a mixed pattern developed in which some nouns were inflected as C-stems in the singular and as i-stems in the plural. Nouns of this sort are show with their stem vowels in parentheses in Table 1. But even within this mixed pattern, variation persisted as in the illustration above.

Stem Variant Gloss Gender
urb(i)   'city' FEM
client(i) clie:nt 'client' MASC

[back to outline]

The Other Stem Vowels. A close examination of Table 1 shows that it is only o-stems, C-stems, and i-stems that may have variant stems. For the other stem vowels (a, u, and e:), the citation stem serves as the combining stem across the board.

Stem Variant Gloss Gender
stella -- 'star' FEM
domu -- 'house' FEM
re: -- 'thing' FEM

  Combining Stems        
  NOM S stella domu re:
  ACC S stella domu re:
  DAT S stella domu re:
  ABL S stella domu re:
  GEN S stella domu re:
  NOM P stella domu re:
  ACC P stella domu re:
  DAT P stella domu re:
  ABL P stella domu re:
  GEN P stella domu re:

[back to outline]

Sandhi rules.

Most of the sandhi phenomena concern reduction of the final consonant clusters caused by suffixation of -s in the NOM S.

The s drops following the liquids r and l.

pater + s > pater 'father'
co:nsul + s > co:nsul 'consul'

Both the s and a preceding n are dropped.

leo:n + s > leo: 'lion'

Voiced stops devoice, and t and v are dropped preceding the s-suffix, as are stem-final s's.

re:g + s > re:cs 'king'
mi:let + s > mi:les 'soldier'
cu:sto:d + s > cu:sto:s 'guard'
bo:v + s > bo:s 'cow'
nigv + s > nics 'snow'
oss + s > os 'bone'

In addition, stem-final rd simplifies to r before a zero-suffix.

cord + # > cor 'heart'

Some sandhi phenomena may affect other case forms:

The sequence gv is reduced to v intervocalically.

nigv + ^is > nivis (GEN S) 'of the snow'

Any combination of identical vowels and vowel length resulting in more than two moras reduces to two, that is, to simply a long vowel.

i:gni + i: > igni: (DAT S) 'to the fire'
die: + : > die: (ABL S) 'on the day'

Finally, the uv combination posited for suv 'swine' becomes u: before a consonant, and simply u elsewhere (preceding vowels.)

suv + s > su:s (NOM S) 'the pig'
suv + ^e:s > sue:s (NOM P) 'the pigs'
suv + e:s > sue:s (ACC P) 'the pigs'

[back to outline] [back to list of essays]